Ground Beef Tacos

If your children are anything like mine, they could eat tacos every night. As a matter of fact, every time I make a meal that they don’t like my boys remind me that I need not experiment, tacos would be fine.

So it’s no surprise that standard issue ground beef tacos are on the regular rotation in my house. When I don’t know what to cook, the beef starts sizzling in the pan, lettuce is shredded, cheddar is grated (or sometimes even poured from that horrid bag), salsa is popped and sour cream is opened. A “no complaints” dinner in a jiffy. I will tell you that I’ve never used those taco seasoning packets. I’m no purist but one look at the long list of ingredients had my head spinning. So I just season the meat with a pinch of salt, a dash of cumin and some chill powder. All done by look, smell and feel so I’ve never been able to share a recipe here on Sly Rooster. Until now…

An article entitled, “The Harder They Come” in The New York Times Magazine got me all excited. In it, Sam Sifton waxes nostalgic over the hard-shell tacos of suburban dinners of yore. As he explains, while often maligned, these hard-shell tacos (affectionately referred to as “gringo tacos”) served their purpose as ambassadors of Mexican food at a time when there weren’t as many Mexicans spread across the country. And they still serve the purpose of getting people around the table to share a meal.

Armed with an actual recipe, I decided to give these tacos a try. Same shredded lettuce, cheese, salsa, sour cream but this time I offered barely warmed hard shells along with the usual slightly charred flour tortillas. The ground beef was seasoned similarly to mine with the addition of paprika, crushed red pepper, corn starch and broth instead of the water that I normally add in increments to create a thick gravy. 

The verdict…delicious! Not too different than my tried and true but slightly more flavorful. As a matter of fact, one of my sons determined that the taco didn’t need any salsa because it had enough zip. If you are using those seasoning packets, I am going to beg that you replace them with this recipe and if you are currently winging it with your ground beef tacos, I’ll only suggest that you incorporate a few of these tricks. Enjoy!

Beef Tacos

Beef Tacos
Serves 6
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  1. 2 Tbls canola oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  3. 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  4. 2 lbs ground beef
  5. 2 Tbls chile powder
  6. 1 Tbls ground cumin
  7. 2 tsp Kosher salt, or to taste
  8. 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  9. 2 tsp cornstarch
  10. 2 tsp smoked, hot or sweet paprika
  11. 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  12. 1 c low-sodium chicken or beef broth
  13. 12-18 hard taco shells
  14. Toppings
  15. Grated cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced jalapeƱos, diced tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, etc.
  1. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil.
  2. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and cook until softened and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so until starting to soften, and then add the ground beef, stirring and chopping up the meat until browned, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Pour off all but a tablespoon or two of fat.
  4. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cornstarch, paprika and red pepper flakes and stir to combine.
  5. Add broth, stir, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  6. As sauce cooks, warm the taco shells on a sheet pan in a 325F oven until they are crisp and smell nutty (a few minutes), if desired.
  7. Serve a few tablespoons of meat in each taco, along with whatever toppings you like.
Adapted from The New York Times Magazine
Adapted from The New York Times Magazine
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