Tortilla Rasa 

Breakfast tacos make for the perfect experimental canvas

A breakfast taco consists of a warm corn tortilla filled with savory items and condiments. Beyond that, there are no hard and fast rules. The breakfast taco isn’t beholden to its southwestern roots, although those flavor combinations are certainly well-tested. It isn’t required to contain eggs, although that is often the case. It’s a breakfast taco even if it isn’t washed down with coffee, but that’s a scenario I don’t ever want to endure.

The beauty of the breakfast taco is that it’s what you want it to be, and what you have available in the fridge and pantry. As a do-it-yourself food snob, one of my favorite things about breakfast tacos is they provide a venue for many, if not most, of the foods I preserved in summertime: wild game, pickled peppers, homemade salsa, friend-raised bacon, homegrown or farmers market veggies like onions and squash, potatoes kept in cold storage, and greens, blanched and frozen. Breakfast tacos are a stage for your backyard eggs, your window herb box, your local goat farmer’s artisan cheese—or even his goat meat.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

When I fold such items into my breakfast taco, memories of the adventures that brought these ingredients to my kitchen add to the considerable flavor. But the breakfast taco isn’t limited to your homegrown morsels any more than it should follow the flavor profiles of the southern lands from where it came. The corn tortilla is a blank slate, a tortilla-rasa, if you will, that wraps around take-out fish ’n’ chips as tastefully as it cradles leftover holiday turkey that you shred, brown in the pan (in oil or its own fat) with chopped garlic and chunks of leftover squash. In a heated corn tortilla with salsa and mayo, leftover holiday breakfast tortillas will make your morning coffee taste like wine.

Because of the diversity of ingredients they can accommodate, breakfast tacos are a laboratory for the culinary art of co-munching, which is the act of chewing different foods together in your mouth. Co-munching is the final stage of cooking, the last instance in which ingredients are combined. At the moment of co-munching, each component is at its optimal point—the eggs are perfect, after being scrambled in a pan in which garlic has been browned; the onions are raw and feisty; the cilantro is crisp; the jalapenos are pickled; the mayo is creamy. The mastication-driven progression of flavors combining and unlocking each other is so consuming that you may end up re-reading the same sentence from your morning paper a dozen times, only comprehending the words in the wash of morning wine between bites. This sequence will likely be repeated until you run out of food or belly space.

If you have company for breakfast or brunch, preparing a line-up of fillings and allowing each guest to construct his or her taco turns the meal into a fun, participatory event, and all the morning wine that’s guzzled enhances this celebratory vibe.

When dining solo or in small groups, the tortillas can be warmed in a skillet. No oil is required. After flipping them you may want to add some shredded cheese to the tortilla tops and let it melt. For larger groups, heat a stack of tortillas in a covered vessel in the oven at 350 degrees. Some people swear by the microwave; I swear at the microwave. Or if my mouth is full, I just give it the finger.

In no particular order, here is my list of top breakfast taco fillings:

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Meat: crispy, browned, braised or ground, as long as it isn’t too tough or chewy it works great. Meat snob that I am, I’d go meatless before eating mystery meat, but if you have well-raised or wild meat, I’m in. Bacon is the poster child, but many other types of meat will do. If you have a tough cut and want to make it breakfast-taco-friendly, here’s a hint: Braise it for hours at 350 degrees in red wine, or a mix of red wine and coffee, until the cartilage and connective tissue melts. Then shred your meat and fry it in oil to put a nice brown on those tender chunks.

Eggs: classic but not essential, eggs are typically scrambled for the breakfast taco.

Salsa: if not salsa, then something, or some combination of things, should provide spice and acidic flavors to combine with the rich components of the taco.

Pickled peppers and carrots: see above.

Herbs: cilantro and parsley, for instance, add color and fragrance.

Chopped onions: all but essential.

Mayo: or fake mayo, like Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise, adds much needed crème to the equation, as does...

Cheese: shredded or in thin slices that melt in contact with the warm tortilla and fillings.

Sliced avocado: for a greenish kind of crème.

Squash: a sweet and savory filling that plays well with the others.

Potatoes: not the most exciting filling, but they add a nice earthy tone.

Once you have the prepared ingredients assembled, your biggest technical hurdle is to not pack too much stuff into any one taco. Pace yourself. Tortillas are cheap.

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