Skip to main content

The Bend Magazine

World-Class Tacos with Local Ingredients

10/26/2018 12:05PM ● By Justin Butts

By: Justin & Kayla Butts  Photos by: Rachel Benavides

The mighty Aztecs had been enjoying tacos for a thousand years before Cortez and his warriors arrived in Mexico in 1519. Tacos were daily fare in Tenochtitlan.

For the Aztecs, tacos were corn tortillas (they did not yet have wheat from Europe) with a filling of venison, fish, or lizard, topped with fresh salsa made from tomatoes and peppers. They did not use cheese, because they did not yet have milk from Spanish goats.

The Conquistadors brought their own long-cherished taco traditions with them. For the Spaniards, tacos were flour tortillas (they did not yet have corn from America) with a filling of meat or seafood, plus cheese, but no salsa (they did not have tomatoes, either).  

When these magnificent cultures collided, their first argument was most likely about who made better tacos. But there is one thing we know for sure: whether Aztec or Spanish, the ingredients were locally harvested and completely fresh. 

Local ingredients remain the best (and only) way to make truly world-class tacos. Because tacos are so simple, it is imperative that every ingredient is of the highest quality. 

To begin, we make our tortillas from scratch. We use pastured lard from a local farm; there is no substitute. Let the tortilla dough rest for ten minutes before rolling to give the baking powder time to do its work. 

For our fajita-style tacos, we source our beef from Tim Fitch of Palo Verde Cattle Co. Fitch raises grass-fed beef on his ranch outside Beeville. This dry-aged beef has the amazing flavor of local grass, rather than the aftertaste of GMO corn from some distant cattle feedlot. 

We prefer the Flat Iron steak instead of the actual fajita cut, which can be a little tough. The Flat Iron steak has the tenderness and flavor of a Ribeye but is quite a bit cheaper.

For our shrimp tacos, we begin with live shrimp from the iconic Mom’s Bait Shop in Rockport.  You can buy live Gulf shrimp off the trawlers at the Corpus Christi Bayfront or Roberts Point Park near the ferry in Port Aransas.  Shrimp this fresh is one of the true joys of living in The Bend.    

Find your vegetables freshly harvested at a local farmers’ market, or from a neighbor’s garden, or best of all from your own garden. This avocado cilantro cream is from heaven—make plenty.

What worked for the Aztecs and the Spaniards still works for us today. Fresh ingredients, locally harvested and prepared with love, always make the best tacos. Even if we still argue about whose tacos are best! 


Gulf Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Cilantro Cream

Makes 4 tacos

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 7 minutes

Ingredients:

4 corn tortillas
1 cup cabbage, thinly sliced
1lb Gulf shrimp, peeled with tails and head removed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cumin, ground
Juice of 1 lime
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil

Quick-pickled radishes

3 radishes, thinly sliced
¼ cup white vinegar
1 tsp sugar, granulated
Pinch of salt

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup packed fresh cilantro
3 tomatillos
1 avocado, pitted with skin removed
Juice of 1 lime
3 cloves garlic
½ jalapeno (seeded for mild)
½ tsp salt

Directions:

In a medium-sized bowl, combine shrimp, salt, pepper, cumin, lime juice, and olive oil. Let marinate while you move on to the radishes.

Combine white vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Add in radishes and immerse in vinegar solution. Set aside while you prepare the avocado cilantro sauce.

Place remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend for 5 minutes or until smooth.

Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until no longer translucent. Meanwhile, heat corn tortillas on a skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes on each side.

To assemble tacos: Place a layer of shrimp in the center of a warm tortilla. Layer on slices of radishes and shredded cabbage, as desired. Sprinkle on fresh cilantro and top with a thin line of avocado cilantro cream. Serve with slices of fresh lime.

 

Flat-Iron Steak Fajitas with Homemade Flour Tortillas

Makes 8 tacos

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

2 lbs grass-fed, flat-iron steak at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp ground coriander
3 tbsp butter, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large, sweet onion, peeled and sliced
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced

Directions:

Place a medium-sized cast-iron skillet on high heat. After steaks have reached room temperature, pat steak dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Brush steak with oil.  In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, cumin and coriander and mix well. Massage spice mixture into steak. Once pan is preheated, cook fajita for 5-7 minutes on each side (or until internal temperature reaches 130°F for medium rare). Remove steaks from heat and let rest for at least 10 minutes

Reduce heat under skillet to low-medium flame. Add 2 tbsp butter, scraping the bottom to free up any bits clinging to the pan. Once butter is melted, add garlic and stir constantly until garlic is fragrant (about 30-45 seconds). Pour butter-garlic mixture onto prepared steak.

Replace skillet over low-medium heat and add remaining butter, onion, and peppers. Stirring occasionally, cook about 7 minutes, or until tender. Slice steak thinly going against the grain. 

To assemble tacos: Place four to five slices of steak in the center of a flour tortilla (see recipe below). Top with onion-pepper mixture, sliced jalapeno, and guacamole or sliced avocado.


Homemade Flour Tortillas

Makes 16 tortillas

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup lard
1 cup water

Directions:

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, incorporate lard into flour until the mixture resembles rolled oats. Add water and knead for about 1 minute, until a smooth dough is formed. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle a clean work surface with a generous amount of flour. Divide dough into 16 pieces and shape each into a disk. Roll out the dough to a 6-7” diameter. Cook each tortilla for about one minute on each side, until golden spots form. Transfer to a warmer or cover with a tea towel to keep warm.