From taco trucks to Mexican restaurants, tacos are just about everywhere these days. And why not? A taco is exactly as handy, versatile and filling as a sandwich, and crunchy to boot. Lots of folks dream of making these fried corn tortillas at home, but some pull up short at the prospect of having to deep-fry them. The solution? Don't fry them. Baking will bring tacos to crispy perfection and allow you to shape them into shells in the process.
That said, I discovered while developing this recipe for Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Cole Slaw and Chipotle Cream that not all corn tortillas are created equal. Some are thick-ish and some are thin-ish. Some are drier and some are moister. Given that there's no way of predicting these qualities in the brands you buy at the store, you just need to pay attention to the tortillas as they bake and adjust accordingly. Some brands will require more time than others to become crispy.
Before being baked, the tortillas need to be steamed a bit so they don't crack when you shape them. Then you brush them very lightly on both sides with oil (or with vegetable oil spray, if you prefer), drape them directly over a bar of the oven rack and bake them until crispy. (See recipe for details.)
I recommend baking them in two batches of four tortillas each because when you open the oven to shape them, the oven temperature drops. If you're shaping all eight at once, the temperature will drop a lot and the tortillas will take forever to crisp.
The shells can be made ahead and parked in a bowl at room temperature. Then you can turn to the preparation of whichever fillings you want. (Here I propose coleslaw, grilled shrimp and chipotle cream.) When the dinner bell chimes, just set out all the fixings and let people dig in for themselves.
Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Cole Slaw and Chipotle Cream
Start to finish: 1 hour
Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing the tortillas
1/4 cup mayonnaise (low-fat if you prefer)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
1 teaspoon minced chipotle in adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce from the can
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
3 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 cup coarsely shredded carrots
1 cup thin strips red bell pepper (about 1-inch long)
1 pound medium shrimp (31/35), peeled and deveined
1 firm ripe avocado, cut into cubes
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Wrap 4 tortillas in foil and heat them on the middle shelf of the oven until they are pliable, about 5 minutes (or wrap them in a moist towel and microwave them for 30 seconds). Remove them from the foil, brush them lightly on both sides with the oil and carefully (so as not to burn yourself) drape each tortilla over a metal bar on the middle rack of the oven so that the sides of the tortillas are hanging down and bake them for 5 minutes. Open the oven, and using tongs, lift up the tortillas, spread them open a bit by pulling the two sides apart (they will still be pliable), and bake them on the rack for another 3 to 5 minutes or until they are crispy all over. Prep and bake the remaining 4 tortillas following the same procedure.
Meanwhile in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, chipotle, adobo sauce and 1 teaspoon of the lime juice and stir well. Add salt to taste and about 1 tablespoon water or enough to make the sauce pourable.
In a medium bowl combine the cabbage, carrots, red pepper, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and salt to taste and toss well.
Preheat the grill to medium. In a medium bowl toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and salt. Thread the shrimp onto skewers (preferably double skewers) and grill them, turning them once for 2 to 3 minutes total or until just cooked through. Transfer to a serving bowl.
To serve: Put all of the components of the tacos — the shrimp, coleslaw, avocado, chipotle cream and cilantro — onto a serving platter and let your guests build their own tacos.
Nutrition information per serving: 486 calories; 249 calories from fat; 28 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 150 mg cholesterol; 861 mg sodium; 39 g carbohydrate; 11 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 21 g protein.