It's Hard Shell Taco Night
and also Home Movies Tuesday
Hello and welcome to Home Movies Tuesday! If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
Leave the labne and tinned fish at home, ladies. Tonight, it’s Hard Shell Taco Night.
Taco Tuesday has many meanings. Maybe on Tuesdays, you go to Casa Vega for “tacos and margs” with the coworkers, maybe you have The Boys over to watch The Game (talking about sports), or maybe you simply find yourself making tacos for dinner and look up only to realize…it’s Tuesday. Here, Taco Tuesday is one thing and one thing only. It’s…Hard Shell Taco Night.
Hard Shell Taco Night is a bad-but-good hard taco shell made of yellow corn purchased at the grocery store, so fragile you’re wondering how they made it to Shop Rite in one piece. It’s ground meat of your choosing (great place to use Impossible meat), browned with onions and garlic, seasoned with spices, saucy and brown and perfect. It’s cheddar cheese, the orange kind. It’s lettuce, the iceberg variety. It’s earnest, genuine, uncomplicated, enthusiastic enjoyment.
Less Mexico City/Southern California, more Taco Bell (though I was always more of a Del Taco gal, just a little fun fact about me)/Tex-Mex, these tacos are nostalgic, comforting and a seasonally agnostic, year-round delight. My favorite thing though, is that it’s just about the most incredible dinner party wildcard one could pull. Imagine your guests surprise when they think they’re coming over for a whole roasted chicken and some elegant yet punchy vegetable sides. Perhaps a nice tomato salad? A little herby chickpea number?
Tonight….It’s Taco Tuesday.
Kids! Dinner’s ready! If you finished your homework, we’ll let you stay up to watch Seinfeld!
Like I said, these tacos are personal—if you have specific preferences or grew up making them a different way, customize them! This is your taco night journey. You can make them with pork, impossible/beyond meat, or ground turkey or chicken (though if you’re going that route, start with a couple tablespoons of neutral or olive oil in the pot to add a little richness). If you prefer a different blend of spices (like onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, or ground cumin), or want more or less heat, you should absolutely feel empowered to go for it. Set out every hot sauce you’re hoarding in your fridge (it can’t just be me), make a little toppings bar, and let everyone experience the joy of assembling their personal ideal taco(s).
Thank you to Maker’s Mark for sponsoring this week’s episode of Home Movies! To get your own bottle of Maker’s Mark, head here.
Hard Shell Taco Night
serves 4 (easily doubled or tripled)
Hard Shell Tacos– you know them, you love them. Ground beef (Impossible/Beyond work beautifully here, so does pork, turkey or chicken if you must) cooked with onions and garlic, seasoned with spices, spicy or not, gingerly stuffed into a store-bought corn tortilla shell and topped with bright yellow cheese, lots of shredded lettuce and plenty of hot sauce. The sour cream is optional (none for me), the FUN is mandatory. My biggest piece of advice here is don’t overthink it. Decorate your taco however you want. Add more spices or make it less spicy. It’s Hard Shell Taco Night!
For the Filling:
1 pound ground beef (85/15 preferred), pork, turkey, chicken* or version of Impossible beef/Beyond beef
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
4-6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped, divided
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more if you like
2 ½ teaspoons cumin seed or 1 teaspoon ground cumin
*If using turkey or chicken, please start with 2 tablespoons neutral oil to cook
For the Tacos and Assembly:
12 hard shell corn tortillas
8 ounces sharp yellow cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded/thinly sliced
1 tomato, finely chopped, if you must
½ bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
Sour cream, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
Pickled or fresh jalapeños, sliced
For the filling:
1. Heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium–high heat. Add meat (if using turkey or chicken, add 2 tablespoons of oil first) and season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat, cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat starts to cook through but isn’t yet browned, 8–10 minutes (it’ll be a little gray, that’s alright, the browning happens in the next step).
2. Add garlic, half the onions and season again with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has really started to brown and the garlic and onions are totally softened, 6–8 minutes.
3. Add paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and cumin. Stir so that everything is evenly coated and the spices get to toast and bloom in the fat, 1-2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet, creating a sort of gravy-ish, delicious sauce. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer until sauce is nicely thickened (should not be soupy or watery, just thick and luscious), 1–2 minutes (this happens fast- if it cooks a little longer or meat appears dry, don’t panic, just add a bit more water and keep cooking). Season again with salt and pepper, maybe more crushed red pepper flakes if you want it spicier. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the tacos and assembly:
4. Preheat oven to 425° (unless you’re going Full Roman Family and frying your own shells or doing this in a toaster oven). Remove your taco shells from their little box or plastic or however they came, and release them from one another, laying them individually on a rimmed baking sheet (or your little toaster oven tray). Toast until lightly golden brown on the outside, 5–6 minutes.
5. Serve your warm shells next to a skillet of warm hard shell taco filling, small bowls of cold, crisp vegetables (lettuce, onion, tomatoes, cilantro) and lots of dairy products (cheese, sour cream). Hot sauce and jalapeños always encouraged. There is no easy way to fill one of these pre-made taco shells with your beef mixture, but using a spoon helps and remember: go slow, do your best, and don’t overfill.
While I have at least a dozen hot sauces in my personal collection, for my HST, I like a standby like Cholula, which has a nice acidity and pleasant heat, a touch of sweetness and with complex flavor that goes past “this is spicy.”
The top I’m wearing is from J. Crew, currently sold out in this cream color but still available in green.
The ribbon I’m wearing in my hair was from a friend’s wedding, and while I have lost sunglasses, my car keys and also a wallet in recent memory, I have somehow never lost this ribbon. I highly recommend repurposing any ribbons that find their way into your life (you can also buy black satin ribbon from your local craft store) and tying them into your hair when you’re feeling like you need a boost of “AM I CUTE?”