For Perfectly Puffy Fried Taco Shells, Oil Temperature Is Key

Hot oil in a pot with thermometer
Hot oil in a pot with thermometer - Alexander Donin/Getty Images

Puffy taco shells are crispy, light, and airy, with a major crunch factor. To make them at home, you can whip up your dough from scratch, using just three ingredients: Water, salt, and masa harina -- a flour made from corn that has been through the important process of nixtamalization.

When making a puffy taco, the most important factor is making sure your oil is hot enough. Most recipes suggest 375 degrees Fahrenheit to make the crispy shells. The high heat ensures that the taco will puff up fast -- within about ten seconds. The hot oil helps air bubbles form as the moisture in your masa dough vaporizes, which means it can then be removed from the liquid before it absorbs too much and turns greasy.

It's best to use a food-safe thermometer to monitor the oil temperature to be sure, and your frying oil can be canola or peanut -- or one of the other 9 best oils for deep frying which have high smoke points.  A cast-iron pot or Dutch oven both work well, but you will want a deep vessel with handles to prevent spillage or burns.

Read more: The 101 Best Pizzas In America

What Is The Origin Story Of The Puffy Taco?

Stack of tortillas
Stack of tortillas - Santiago Castillo Chomel/Shutterstock

While today you can find the puffy taco on menus from California to New York City, the Mexican-inspired treat has Texas roots. The trademark for "puffy taco" was issued in November of 1992, to a family-owned business based in San Antonio called Ray's Drive Inn. The restaurant was opened back in the 1950s by the Lopez family, and it functioned as a community spot that served everything from fried chicken to lemonade and even screened free movies. But the family legacy is strongest in the form of the puffy taco. It even spawned a spinoff location operated by one of the Lopez children -- his namesake, Henry's Puffy Tacos (also in San Antonio).

While Ray's younger brother and fellow puffy taco pioneer, Arturo Lopez, died in San Antonio in 2015, Ray's Drive Inn still takes great pride in its creation, boasting its status as the "Home of the Original Puffy Taco." And customers still respond, ordering more than 500 per day. This fried treat is so beloved that Henry's has turned it into a walking mascot available for party rentals, and Henry the Puffy Taco even has its own email address.

Puffy Taco Tips

Trays of Texas puffy tacos
Trays of Texas puffy tacos - travelingtastetester / Instagram

When you make puffy tacos at home you can follow a few tips beyond oil temperature to ensure a quality finished product. It's best to make the shells fresh, as you're not likely to get as much as a puff from a dough that's been made too far ahead of time. You can purchase fresh masa from a Mexican market (or even a Mexican restaurant or tortilleria), but avoid picking up packaged, pre-made masa, as it won't be light enough to puff and form those important air bubbles.

Fresh-from-the-fryer is the best way to serve your puffy tacos, so prepare your toppings in advance so you can fill and eat quickly. Classic puffy tacos are often filled with seasoned and simmered beef, but you can also make them with chicken, pork, or veggie fillings. Top your taco with crisp lettuce such as iceberg, as well as sliced tomatoes. Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack will melt well on your hot taco, while a dollop of sour cream helps add a creamy, cool contrast to your hot, crunchy shell. As long as you adhere to that high temperature for your oil, your puffy taco will be the stuff of legends no matter how you fill it.

Read the original article on Daily Meal