Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes. As that practically preposterous title might have implied, I’m your lunch-time lunatic and mad food scientist, Jon O’Guin. Today’s recipe comes to us from Delish, who I can only assume posted it as a cunning ruse to entrap me, as I can think of few four-word combinations that would have drawn my attention as certainly as this recipe does. My love of Thai food is a long running theme of the site. Lesser well known is my love of curries, though it is mildly implied by the former. And while my family’s affections for Tex-Mex have been long recorded, I have until now hidden from you all that Taquitos/Flautas are among my top 4 dishes of the cuisine (Freebie fact: A good Mexican Rice is the 2nd. Oh man, that shit is the bomb.) In any case, when presented with the option to unify these ideas into a potentially blasphemous whole, I leapt at the chance. How did it go? Spoilers, jeez.
A little Taste of Taquitos
In case you’ve never seen a Taquito, either because Mexican restaurants and foods aren’t prevalent near your homes, or because the sound of mariachi music drives you into a blind, murderous rage, let’s briefly explain Taquitos. The name means “Little Tacos”, because that’s what “–ito/ita” does to a word: render it small. Perros are dogs. Perritos are puppies. “Gorda” means “fat”, and “gordita” means “chubby”. Well, technically they both imply you’re talking about a woman, since the word is actually “Gord-O”, and has been conjugated to the feminine, but we’re not here for Spanish grammar, we’re here for history! (And if you wonder why gorditas, what most Americans think are just flatbread tacos, are called “chubbies”, it makes more sense when you know their original form was closer in construction to a Hot Pocket, a corn dough pastry stuffed with filling.)
We'd probably have called a fat little sandwich a "chubby", if we hadn't already used that one for partial erections.
But yes, taquitos. Also called “tacos dorados”, “flautas”, and “rolled tacos”, and all of those names make perfect sense. See, in Mexico, hard tacos weren’t a thing, originally. Yes, they deep fried various doughs, but not corn tortillas. That trick only really sprung up in the Southwest/Western United States. “tacos dorados” means “Golden tacos”, referring to the golden brown of the now-fried tortilla. “Flauta” is the Spanish word for “a flute”, which makes sense based on the shape. And “Rolled tacos” is REAL easy to understand, because you make taquitos by rolling a tortilla around filling and frying it.
The history of the taquito is…somewhat murky. El Indio (“The Indian”) , a restaurant in San Diego California, insists that it invented the taquito, sometime around World War 2, to give local factory workers a handheld lunch option. Another business, Cielito Lindo (“Pretty Sweetie/Dear/Honeybun/Shnookums”) in Los Angeles claims to have invented the taquito sometime in the mid 1930’s. However, even THEIR claim is questionable, since a Children’s book in 1929 refers to the dish as being popular in train stations. And it’s not like that’s the first option, since the WORD “taquito” shows up in a 1917 New Mexico dictionary. And all of that is, frankly, to be expected.
Mexican food was always a food of filial variation: the way your family made enchiladas was not the way my family did, was not they way our friend’s family did. And, as I noted, “-ito” is a basic component of Spanish grammar. Any kind of miniaturized or streamlined taco would, by definition, been called a “taquito”. So it’s entirely possible that all of these sources just walked into the same word, for a similar thing. Heck, they wouldn’t have even been the first, since Tamale carts had been wandering American streets for decades by 1917. But enough about the history, let’s get to the recipe.
It Just Takes Some Time, Little Girl
Jimmy Eat World reference, natch. Anyway, today’s recipe relies on a slow-cooker for the first step, and that speaks to the core of taquito creation: see, frying the whole thing is fast, and arguably easy. Prepping the contents is what takes time and effort. Pork, beef, even chicken doesn’t shred easily without some low, slow cooking to set it up. So this is a 10 hour recipe, but understand that you do absolutely nothing for 9 hours of it.
Given this level of hands off simplicity, there’s really nowhere to go wrong, right? Wrong. There is ALWAYS room to screw up. For instance, if you knew you were going to cook something in a slow cooker, in a place that is not your house, where you were functionally CERTAIN there would not be a slow cooker, what would be the most prudent thing to do? If you answered “Decide to pack a slow cooker, and then forget to ACTUALLY pack it, leaving it at home and not realizing until you were 2 hours away”, congratulations, you’re bad at this!
I blame the slow cooker itself.
Second, if you know you have a day off of work coming up, and you know that it’s the only reasonable window to make this 10 hour recipe (because you’re definitely too lazy to get up early enough to set it up BEFORE work), when would you move the frozen 2 pounds of pork to the refrigerator to thaw? Did you pick “1 AM the night before, giving the meat only 7 hours to thaw in the fridge?” You’re really good at being really bad!
Your many failings paraded for all to see, eventually you get to a functional point: You’ve borrowed a slow cooker from your friend’s parents, you have your definitely not thawed meat open, and you’ve learned that if you just toss the meat in the slow cooker with some water for an hour, you can thaw it. Boom, easy. Extra hour of cooking time, but, hey, 11 hours isn’t much longer than 10, so whatever.
Once your meat is a mildly unsettling shade of grey, it’s time to get started: rub your “now uncomfortably hot to the touch” pork with salt and pepper. Then create the braising liquid: first you mix together brown sugar, thai red curry paste, and coconut milk, to make a flavorful if fetid-looking concoction.
Apparently I only took pictures of the mixture after it cooked. Weird. Well, at least it's still weird-looking.
Terrible swamp brew done, you pour it over the pork, pour on two cups of chicken broth, toss in some slices of fresh ginger, crushed garlic cloves, and a quartered onion, and you wander off for the next 9 hours. Plenty of time to watch all of Season 1 of American Gods, or most of the new season of Twin Peaks.
While I objectively know which of those two this shot is from, it says something that it COULD be in either.
I'm sorry, my hands are Thai'd.
Mind assaulted with intense if incomprehensible imagery, and soul subtly unsettled, you return, to finish the process. The next steps are the most complicated, so stick with me here: Take the pork out, and shred it. Strain the braising liquid, and reduce it. Seriously, this is the most labor-intensive part of the process, the 10 minutes of simmering a liquid down to be thicker, and tearing apart pork to be thinner.
Now, the directions say reduce the liquid by half. Me, I didn’t measure it, and just went until it looked about right. Then you pour about ¼ cup of the liquid onto the pork, toss it around to get it permeated, and begin the end.
Almost every time I say "the end" nowadays, the theme to Skyfall starts playing in my head.
"Hold your breath, and count to ten..."
Taquitos are deep-fried. Or, at least, “crisp-fried”. So you’ll need at least 2 inches of oil, in a pan at least 7-8 inches wide. You’ll heat it to 375 degrees. This will take a while, so I did it while reducing the liquid. Also, because the house I was in still treated its blender as a new marvel from a glorious future, there was no oil thermometer; a fact I should have known would be true and planned for. So I just…eyeballed it. Got it smoking hot, and then, knowing that the oil I was using smoked at 450 degrees, I reduced the heat to med-high, waited 5 minutes, and tossed in a piece of bread to see how hot it was. It fried to black in about 25 seconds, so I said “Yeah, that’s probably good enough.”
The next steps aren’t as labor-intensive, but they’re quite attention-intensive. You slap 2-3 tablespoons of pork on a tortilla, roll it into a tube, and fry the tube. If I had been working alone, I’d maybe have pinned the tube shut with toothpicks. Luckily, I had site Alcohol Editor JJ Hernandez with me, so we just ran a chain operation: I’d fill and roll, and then gently place the taquito in the clamp of his tongs, he’d hold it for 30-40 seconds in the oil to seal it, and then let go to grab another. We’d pull the taquito in the oil after 2-3 minutes, once it looked nice and golden brown.
The one on the right is almost done, for example.
When it came time to serve, the recipe called for sour cream, pickled jalapenoes, chopped green onion and radishes. We didn’t have any of that, because we were a collective of mid-to-late twenties men who had spent the last week drinking. So we served them two ways: dry and wet. The dry ones were, well, dry. We waited for the oil to drain, and then served them. The wet ones were briefly bathed in the remaining braising liquid, since this recipe leaves like, nearly a quart of the stuff.
We universally preferred the wet. While you get nice flavor from the pork sometimes, it’s can be faint in many bites, so reapplying the flavor to the outside helped strengthen the taste without compromising the crisp tortilla shell. IN the end, this culinary mash-up was a complete success, despite my many failings on the way.
A meaty success story.
And while it wasn’t my intent to have this release just before the 4th of July, I do think it is in many ways a great symbol of our country: while derived from Mexican origins, the Taquito is an American invention, and here it serves to bring the flavors of Thailand and the techniques of Mexico together into a delicious fried creation. The epitome of America. So have a great 4th of July, everybody, and keep trying new ideas in your kitchen.
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THURSDAY: I HONESTLY DON’T KNOW. I DIDN’T REALLY PREP ANYTHING, SORRY. I WAS MOVING AROUND TOO MUCH.
Thai Red Curry Taquitos
1 1/2 lb. pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 4 pieces
kosher salt & Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. red curry paste
1 c. coconut milk
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3" piece ginger, peeled and sliced
1 onion, quartered
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
Vegetable oil, for frying
16 corn tortillas
1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. chopped pickled jalapeños
2 tbsp. chopped radishes
2 tbsp. chopped green onions
1. In the bowl of a slow cooker, toss pork with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, curry paste, and coconut milk; add mixture to slow cooker. Add garlic, ginger, onion, and chicken broth and mix thoroughly with your hands. Cook on low for 9 hours.
2. Remove pork from braising liquid and shred using two forks. Strain liquid and transfer to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Add 1/4 cup of braising liquid to shredded pork.
3. Preheat deep fryer/fill a deep pan with 2-3 inches of oil and bring temperature to 375°. Meanwhile, warm corn tortillas. Fill with a few spoonfuls of shredded pork. Roll tortilla tightly and set aside. Using tongs, carefully lower taquitos into oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. In between batches, let oil reheat to 375. Drain on paper towels.