The following is excerpted from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, co-authored by this columnist with recipes by Adriana Almazan Lahl.
Tacos de Canasta/Tacos in a Basket:
These tacos, typical to Central Mexico, were originally a sort of peasant fast food, commonly seen in a large basket tied on the back of a bicycle, cover with plastic and a large tablecloth. Tacos de Canasta were a simple solution, allowing women to prepare and bring warm food to their husbands, laborers who were working under the hot sun. With the wave of immigration to Mexico's urban centers, Tacos de Canasta evolved to become a street food in the cities, where they are very popular.
What you'll need:
52 small (about 4½-inch) tortillas
Chorizo oil from the drippings of one chorizo link:
Preparing the fat for the tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil
7 oz chorizo link, casing removed (see recipe in book, or store bought). Heat oil in a saucepan, add chorizo, and heat on a low fire until well cooked (20 minutes). The intention is to flavor the oil and release the fat from the chorizo. Remove from heat and drain chorizo. Reserve fat, as you will use it to coat tortillas for the tacos, and use the chorizo for the Chorizo con Papas recipe.
See recipes for fillings of choice are available in in Celebraciones Mexicanas (these should be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator):
- Mexican Sausage with Potatoes / Chorizo con Papas
- Pork Rind in Roasted Green Sauce / Chicharrón en Salsa Verde
- Beans with Pork / Frijoles con Puerco
- Shredded Beef / Carne Deshebrada
- Mexican Chicken Fricasse / Tinga de Pollo (cook until liquid is almost gone or drain excess liquid before making tacos)
To assemble the tacos:
Heat all of the stews or fillings (see above). Once warm, add 1 tbsp. of the previously prepared chorizo oil (see above to a saucepan and warm on medium-low heat. Dip into to the oil each tortilla you are going to use to make the tacos, allowing it to soak up oil on each side as you are warming it (so be sure you dip it again so as to allow both sides to make contact with the oil). Drain excess oil; add the stuffing of your choice. Repeat procedure until all your tortillas have been fried, adding oil when your pan is dry; the tortillas should be completely soaked in oil in order to prevent them from breaking.
When preparing your tacos, always keep a dry tortilla in your left hand and a fork in your right hand. As you dip each tortilla you are using to make a taco into the oil and then drain, this dry tortilla acts as a sort of shield, protecting you from burning yourself. As you drain its excess oil, place the fried warm tortilla on top of the dry tortilla on your left hand.
Chef's Note: The fat you incorporate into the tortillas is an important component of Tacos de Canasta and you can’t skimp on this element or make a low-fat version. The tortillas for the tacos must be well covered with fat in order for the tacos to hold together. If the tortilla is not well greased, the taco will disintegrate, leaving a mushy mess.
To Prepare the basket:
Line the bottom of a woven or wicker basket with two layers of cloth with a few sheets of newspaper in between them. Make sure the cloths are larger than the basket, so as to allow them to drape over the sides of the basket. On top of the cloths, place a large plastic bag with the opening of the bag face up so you can fill it with tacos. Finally, prepare a sheet of foil long and wide enough to cover the basket once it is filled with tacos and place it inside the plastic bag so the tacos don’t come in contact with the plastic bag.
Place tacos on top of the foil inside the plastic bag inside your basket, stacking them up in towers, separating by flavors. Close the plastic bag, cover basket by wrapping the foil on top of the tacos, and grab the cloth that is draped over the side, tucking it in all around the edges of the basket so as in to keep in the heat. Let tacos sweat or steam this way for at least 1 hour before serving.