Oh, puffy tacos, the unofficial mascot of San Antonio. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this delicacy, you’re really missing out on an experience. They’re definitely not crunchy taco shells, and they couldn’t possible be soft tortillas. Their puffy shell is made by frying uncooked masa in hot oil until the moisture has evaporated. The result is an addictive delicious crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-airy on the inside, puffy taco shell.
The birthplace of puffy tacos may be from Ray’s Drive In, which opened in 1956, but they really became famous nationwide when Bobby Flay issued a throwdown challenge in 2007 with San Antonio chef Diana Barrios TreviHo. After she beat him handily, she went on to serve her famous “puffies” to President Obama on the White House lawn.
Why do you want these tacos? Because they have the most amazing texture and they’re kind of magical. No matter what you choose to fill them with, the juices from the filling seeps into the crispy air pockets of this unique taco shell. Comfort food re-defined. You may never go back to any other type of taco!
Luckily, you don’t have to be in Texas to eat like a Texan: we have the low-down on how to make these unique style tacos.
Making the Tortilla
It starts with fresh masa. You can work with Masa Harina, found in almost every grocery store in the Mexican aisle, but the fresh stuff makes the best puffy tacos. It gives you a full corn flavor and texture that can’t be beaten. A local tortilleria is the best place to look for fresh masa.
Take a piece of the masa and roll it into a golf ball-sized ball. You’re looking for a texture that is soft and moist but doesn’t stick to your hands. Line your tortilla press with plastic (you can use plastic wrap, but I like to cut a gallon-sized plastic bag in half).
Give it a press and bam: tortilla! You want it to be flat, but it doesn’t need to be super thin. Peel the tortilla off of the plastic and place it in the palm of your hand. You’re ready to fry!
Don’t have time for all of that tortilla making? The next step totally works with store bought corn tortillas, too!
Just make sure to check the ingredients: you’re looking for tortillas that list masa as their first ingredient.
Heat oil in your deep fryer to 375 degrees. You can also use a cast iron skillet, since you only really need about 3-inches of heated oil. You want to use a neutral oil, like canola or peanut oil. Toss the tortilla disc into the deep fryer and watch as it begins to sizzle and bubble up.
Gently press down in the center of the disc with a metal spatula, forming a U-shaped shell. It only needs about 45 seconds to puff up to perfection. If you’re using store-bought tortillas, you only need to fry them for 20-30 seconds.
This style taco can be filled with anything to fit your heart’s desire. Ground beef and cheddar cheese are classic fillings in my house. You can go vegetarian by sauteeing up some mushrooms and zucchini. Shredded chicken with sauteed onions and bell peppers will make these puffy tacos fajita-style.
No matter how you fill it, we think you’ll be in love with these homemade puffy tacos. Talk about elevating Taco Tuesday!