Friday, October 17, 2008

Pork Tacos: Better Without the “Taco” Part

So, here’s a question: when did hard taco shells become acceptable vesicles for food? I know millions of perfectly happy and sane Americans use them daily with little-to-no trouble, but I HATE the damn things. Besides their distinct particle board flavor, I’ve never met a taco shell that doesn’t crumble into shirt-staining oblivion after the very first bite. They’re the culinary equivalent of being punched in the neck: messy, tasteless, and when inflicted on loved ones, kind of mean.

Despite this, The Boyfriend is a taco fan. It’s a natural extension of his deep and abiding love and for nachos. (The guy would live in a Tex-Mex restaurant if given the chance.) I don’t usually bother with them because (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this) I loathe their carrying cases. But pork was on sale, and I found a decent-looking recipe in Cooking Light. So … tacos were made.

And beyond the hideous store bought shells (which – surprise! - had all the crunch and taste of Styrofoam packing material), they were good. The pork itself was VERY good, in addition to being ridiculously easy to make. Scallions were a nice finishing touch, tomatoes brought some much-needed moisture, and the onions … henceforth, I will never cook them any other way. With apologies to taco shell fans, if the meat and veggies had been served differently – on rice, with a salad, in a flour tortilla wrap – it would have been the perfect weeknight meal.

If you’re interested (and you should be!), I have three quick notes:

1) Instead of pork tenderloin, I used a 1-lb. center cut pork loin roast (cut in half for cooking purposes – picture on the right). It was AT LEAST $2 cheaper than the leaner cut. Granted, the calories and fat were slightly greater, but not enough to pay double.

2) The recipe specified ancho chile powder, but I only had the regular stuff on hand. It worked, so use whatever floats your boat (or your taco).

3) Seriously, skip the taco shells for something else. I won’t hold it against you if you don’t, but … okay, I’ll hold it against you.

And that does it for this week, my friends. If I’m not here on Monday, it’s because my heart has been torn from my chest by a 47-inning ALCS baseball game. (Boston … HOW DO THEY DO IT?) Have a great weekend!

Pork Tacos
Makes 8 tacos
Adapted from Cooking Light.

1 tablespoon chile powder (regular, ancho, or otherwise)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed OR 1 pound center cut pork loin, trimmed and cut into two tenderloin-sized pieces
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 cups thinly sliced onion
8 hard taco shells
1/2 cup chopped tomato
8 teaspoons chopped green onions

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a broiler pan with cooking spray.

2) In a small bowl, mix chile powder, brown sugar and salt. Using your hands, rub mixture evenly all over your pork.

3) Arrange pork on broiler pan. Roast until your meat thermometer reads 160°. It should be around 20 minutes. Remove pan and turn off oven. Place pork on a cutting board. Let cool a few minutes. Slice.

4) As pork is cooking, "heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat." Add onion. Cover. Cook until onion is golden brown, around 10 minutes, lifting cover to stir a couple of times. When 10 minutes are up, remove cover and saute another minute, stirring all the while.

5) Spread pork and toppings evenly among taco shells. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
211 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.67

1 tablespoon chile powder (regular, ancho, or otherwise): 24 calories, 1.3 g fat, $0.04
1 teaspoon brown sugar: 11 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1/2 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1 pound center cut pork loin, trimmed: 945 calories, 43.5 g fat, $1.99
Cooking spray: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon vegetable oil: 44 calories, 5 g fat, $0.01
3 cups thinly sliced onion: 145 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.60
8 hard taco shells: 498 calories, 24 g fat, $1.32
1/2 cup chopped tomato: 16 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.50
8 teaspoons chopped green onions: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.33
TOTAL: 1688 calories, 74.3 g fat, $5.33
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 211 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.67

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Anonymous said...

Why not use soft corn tortillas? That's how I always eat them. I lived in Mexico for a semester, and never saw a single corn chip or hard taco shell. I haven't had a hard taco shell since I was a kid. I also haven't had a taco made with ground beef and "taco seasoning" since I was a kid.

Carolyn said...

this is going on my grocery list.

Sassy said...

I was just gonna say what anon said. Use Soft corn tortillas - they are SO much better! And healthier. :-)

Jesse Harris said...

Here's another vote for soft corn tortillas. Just lightly fry them in oil before you use them and they will get a delightfully chewy texture that's the perfect complement to your carnitas.

Hunter_H said...

You can make your own hard taco shells...I use an Eating Well recipe. Basically, you just spray corn tortillas with cooking spray, then lay them over your oven racks and cook at 350 for approx. 7 mins. Crunchy and much better than store-bought. Also, if you want more flavor, sprinkle the tortillas with chili powder or other spice.

SK said...

I second the vote for frying corn tortillas in oil...we've been eating that wait since I was a kid...yummy.

katie said...

Well, since 6 people beat me to the "make your own taco shells with corn tortillas," I'll vote for soft tacos in flour tortillas. In Texas, we don't hardly use the corn tortillas for anything unless its being fried.

Stephanie said...

My ten year old has us hooked on making double decker tacos a la Taco Bell. You get the crunch of the hard shell but the soft shell controls the mess.

Robin Marie said...

What Stephanie said. I like to wrap my hard-shell tacos in tortillas. Or, even better, make soft tortillas and toss a couple of your favorite tortilla chips into it for crunch! Or, even better, Taco Salad.

Becca said...

You don't even have to spray the corn totillas with oil or anything if you bake them in the oven. Or you can make them into tostadas too.

Alicia said...

Alicia's Tacos:

(This recipe works great for pork, beef, chicken, or even beans, I haven't tried tofu)

Chose your protein, put the protein in a crockpot with a can of Rotel (or store brand) tomatoes and diced chiles and a tablespoon of ground cumin, to taste. Cook on low 10-12 hours.

Just before you're ready to eat:
Chop some cilantro, finely chop some white onions, chop some radishes, prepare a few lime wedges. Put corn tortillas in the microwave and zap 30 seconds or so until pliable.

Plop the protein on your torilla. Top with toppings and squeeze of lime. Sometimes put some salsa on it if you like.

Buen provecho!

Tina Marie said...

Everyone mentioned tortillas, but I can't stand the prepackaged store-bought ones. Some grocery stores here sell freshly-made ones, or you can make them at home. It takes very little time and not much skill. Corn tortillas require a press, but flour ones can just be rolled out with a rolling pin.

We eat a lot more "tacos" now that I make the tortillas.

Michele F. said...

I don't like the store bought shells that much either but I found the best ones I've ever had at Trader Joe's. They are made of stone ground corn and have a lot of flavor, inexpensive too.