Back in December I started my search for the puffy taco, a deep fried delicacy, which according to popular convention hails from San Antonio, yet is impossible to find just a few hours away here in Dallas. That first blog post kicked off a dialogue with Eddie Dominguez, who says he's been tweaking his own puffy taco since the post.
Dominguez tells me he went online, put puffy tacos in YouTube and checked out different recipes people were trying. Then he started testing different variations. He said he tried recipes that added baking powered to the raw masa used in making puffy tacos and he tried recipes that left it out. He tried different frying temperatures and different frying times. He says he even drove to San Antonio to try puffy tacos at Henry's and a few other places.
He came back to Dallas with pictures and a few more ideas. And now there's a menu placard on the tables in his restaurant offering San Antonio style puffy tacos with rice and beans for $8.25.
Dominguez told me the most important part of the puff taco process is the thickness of the pressed masa and how long you fry it. He's right. While he'd been testing puffy tacos in his kitchen, I was testing them in mine. I used the recipe in Robb Walsh's Tex-Mex Cookbook, filled a saucepan with oil and proceeded to make my house smell like a fast food stand while frying taco after taco.
After slipping the masa into the hot oil it quickly puffs up, just like the softball shaped puffy tacos you can get at Tupinamba if you order their original style, or at Ojeda's or other Tex-Mex restaurants around Dallas. At this point, you have to flip the thing over, crimp it with a spoon, and hold it in a sort-of-taco-shape while the shell firms up a bit and becomes golden brown.
If you fry a puffy taco too long, or in oil that's too hot, it becomes too crisp. It will still be puffy, but your first bite will cause a fissure if you're lucky, but more likely a taco explosion that leaves you eating the rest of your homemade delicacy with a fork. At that point you're better off going out for puffy tacos. And your house won't smell like the state fair.
If you pull the shell from the oil a little earlier, though, it maintains a pliable consistency that gives under light pressure, while the exterior of the shell is crisp and almost flaky. The result is a taco you can eat in entirety with your hands -- no forks required.
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Back at Tupinamba, the improved shells are pliable, but a little thin. My tacos didn't crumble into a taco salad like the previous versions I tried there, but they did blow out at the bottom, forcing me to pick up a fork. This points to the final tenet of puffy taco construction, also noted by Eddie Dominguez. "That is a taco shell you have to make to order," he told me.
If you let a puffy taco shell sit it gets soggy, greasy and soft. It won't fall apart in delicious crunchy shards, but instead tears in a wet, soppy mess. "And they're time consuming," he added, noting the enchiladas and other Tex-Mex dishes he serves at his restaurant that can be made ahead of time and reheated to order.
Honestly, making puffy tacos at home is sort of a pain in the ass. I'm hoping a puffy taco trend kicks off in the area, and more Dallas Tex-Mex restaurants deliver a taste of this San Antonio delicacy, soon. When they're done right, they're absolutely delicious.
It's possible. The Taco Trail reports Señor Locos in Plano may feature the puff this April.