I’ve been very fortunate to represent Tourism Victoria at many events in the United States. One such trip to San Francisco was where I first encountered – what the Melbourne food media has dubbed – Cal/Mex food, a kind of fusion of authentic Mexican flavours with American locavore spirit. There were many new, fun, relaxed, produce-focused and really tasty dishes, all of which helped to inspire this napa chicken salad served in crispy and buttery puffy taco shells with lashings of tomatillo verde. These tacos can be cooked well ahead of time and reheated for just a minute in the oven as required.
- 1 x quantity tlayudas dough (see below)
- plain (all-purpose) flour for dusting
- sunflower oil for deep-frying
- 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) tomatillo verde (see below)
- 80 g (2¾ oz) salted ricotta or hard goat’s cheese, finely chopped
- lime to garnish (optional)
Napa chicken salad
- 1 smoked boneless, skinless chicken breast, finely shredded
- ⅓ head napa or Chinese cabbage (wombok), very finely shredded
- 70 g (2½ oz) butternut pumpkin (squash), finely shredded
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 3 breakfast radishes
- 1 small handful of flat-leaf parsley
- 1 small handful of tarragon leaves
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) Latin vinaigrette (see below)
- 150 g (5½ oz/1½ cups) fine white masa harina (see Note)
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- pinch of salt
- 180 ml (6 fl oz) soda water (club soda)
- vegetable oil for shallow-frying
- sea salt to taste
- 250 g (9 oz) tinned or fresh tomatillos, drained if tinned or outside leaves removed if fresh (see Note)
- 1 red onion, thickly sliced into rounds
- 2 green jalapeños
- 3 garlic cloves
- 125 g (4½ oz) cherry tomatoes
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) chicken or vegetable stock
- juice of 3 limes
- 1 large handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves
- 1 small handful of oregano leaves
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- sugar to taste
- sea salt to taste
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) sweet sherry, or reposado tequila (see Note)
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) sherry vinegar
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 150 ml (5 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) sesame oil
- 1 large handful of oregano leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp sea salt
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 30 minutes
Freezing time 15 minutes
Roll your dough into 30 g (1 oz) balls. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into 7 cm (2¾ in) discs, approximately 1 cm (½ in) thick.
If you don’t have a special taco frying basket, simply drape the discs over a wooden spoon and pinch the ends together. Place in the freezer for 10–15 minutes to firm up.
Meanwhile, to prepare the salad, combine all of the ingredients, except the dressing, in a medium bowl.
Half-fill a medium heavy-based saucepan with oil and heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). Arrange the tacos, ends facing upwards, into the oil and place a sheet of folded aluminium foil on top. (This applies just enough pressure to maintain the shape of the tacos.) Cook for about 3–4 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Lightly season with salt. If some tacos are still sealed, simply cut through them with a pair of scissors.
Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat.
To assemble, spoon a little of the tomatillo verde in the tacos, top with a small pile of chicken salad and sprinkle generously with cheese. Alternatively, place the tacos on a serving plate and the salad, cheese and tomatillo verde in separate serving bowls and invite your guests to build their own tacos. Add other condiments such as jalapeños, avocado, chopped iceberg lettuce, and a squeeze of lime, if desired.
Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Mixing at medium speed, gradually pour in the soda water to make a dough. Form the dough into a ball and press to flatten, when the dough is the right consistency it should not split at the sides. Add a little more soda water if necessary. Work the dough on medium speed for 10 minutes, to aerate. Alternatively, knead by hand on a work surface.
Cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized balls. Using a tortilla press, flatten the balls between 2 pieces of baking paper, creating thin discs. Alternatively roll out between 2 sheets of baking paper using a rolling pin – but your discs will not be so perfectly round.
Heat 50 ml (1¾ fl oz) oil in a medium frying pan over medium–high heat. Once the oil is hot add a disc to the pan, shaking the pan a little to create some airflow and increase the rise of the dough. Cook for 1 minute on each side until puffed, crisp and golden. Transfer onto paper towel to drain. Season lightly with salt.
Repeat with the remaining discs, adding and heating a little oil before cooking each one. Tlayudas can be prepared in advance, cooled and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Preheat an overhead grill (broiler) to high heat. Place the tomatillos, onion, jalapeños and garlic on a grill tray and grill (broil), turning occasionally, for 10–15 minutes, until soft, caramelised and charred black. Allow to cool slightly then roughly chop. Place the charred vegetable mixture into a food processor or blender. Add the tomatoes, stock, lime juice, coriander, oregano and cumin and process to make a smooth sauce. Season with sugar and salt. Depending on how thick you like your sauce, either strain through a fine-mesh sieve for a thin sauce or leave as is if you prefer a thicker sauce. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Combine the sherry or tequila, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour into a medium bowl and set aside to cool. Continuously whisking, gradually add the oils, one at a time, to the spiced vinegar mixture, until emulsified. Stir in the oregano leaves and season with salt. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
• These tacos are great with left-over roast chicken or cooked prawns (shrimp) and Jalapeño and finger lime crema.
• Masa harina is a finely ground flour made from hominy (nixtamalised corn). It is used for making masa dough. It is available from some supermarkets, health food stores and gourmet or Mexican grocery stores
• Also known as Mexican green tomato, the tomatillo is a small, green tomato-like fruit. It is a staple in Mexican cooking and can be found at some supermarkets and greengrocers.
Recipe and image from Cantina by Paul Wilson (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95, hbk, available here)