How to Make a Better Taco, According to Chef Enrique Olvera

updated Jul 10, 2019
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Credit: The Cape

If you want to know how Mexican cuisine is evolving, you’ll want to talk to chef Enrique Olvera. His restaurant Pujol has appeared on the World’s 50 Best List. He has his own episode of Chef’s Table. And at his newly opened Cabo San Lucas restaurant, Manta, (at The Cape, a Thompson Hotel), his menu reflects his creative spirit: Inspired by Japanese techniques for preparing seafood, but rooted in Mexican and Peruvian cuisine, he found a way to craft a menu that features dishes like mushroom rama and tuna sashimi.

But tacos are where Olvera really shines: Depending on the season, he serves lobster tacos, black miso fish tacos, and even a taco topped with uni. We caught up with Olvera to talk about why tacos are the best weeknight meal, the secret to making fish tacos, and how to elevate the whole experience at home.

Why Tacos Make the Best Weeknight Meal

In general, tacos are the perfect weeknight meal because they are so customizable, so you can try different ingredients according to your family’s tastes or dietary restrictions. There are no rules when it comes to tacos. Olvera says that there is “no right way” to make a taco — no mistakes that you should worry about making along the way. Just dive right in.

However, there are a few elements that every good taco must have: acidity (lime juice is a classic option), crunchiness, and spice. You can adjust the level of spice according to your own tastes, and crunch can come from the tortilla or toppings like corn, red onion, or a tangy cabbage and jalapeño slaw.

“It would be nice that every family made their own nixtamal, because that’s the best way to make tortillas. However, it can be complicated to do,” Olvera explains. If you want to try it, you can find instructions here, and Target even sells large bags of Maseca, a brand of dehydrated corn flour. Add water and you’ve got instant tortilla dough. If you do opt to buy store-bought tortillas, probably the easiest option for most people, Olvera recommends looking for brands with only four ingredients: corn, limestone, salt, and water.

For Great Tacos, Think Fish

If you want to bust out of the regular ground beef and shredded cheese taco, Olvera says fish tacos are a great place to start. A mild white fish, like halibut, cod, or snapper, works best. When you’re picking out a fish at the grocery store or a local fish stand, make sure the outside of the fish is shiny, its scales are intact, and that the scales can’t be easily removed. Smell the fish next. It should smell briny, like the ocean. It might sound counterintuitive, but avoid fish with a pungent, stinky fish smell.  

When you have a high-quality fish, it can be prepared with simple seasoning like salt, pepper, and lemon, but Olvera gives you permission to be as playful and experimental as you want with ingredients and seasoning. Just use your favorites or whatever you have on your spice rack. You just need to be careful to not overcook your fish: Whether you’re preparing it on the stove or the oven, check that the fish is “pearly” on the inside — in other words, once the color is opaque and not translucent, the fish is done. Fish tacos pair great with bright, fresh ingredients like lime wedges, cilantro, avocado, and even jalapeño if you like a kick.

For Fancy Tacos, Think Lobster

If you want to treat yourself to a fancy dinner, Olvera is a big fan of lobster tacos, but he says you shouldn’t feel restricted when it comes to fillings: vegetables like zucchini or cactus, tofu, fish, pork, chicken, and steak all work. Even a simple avocado taco topped with homemade salsa (which is simple to make in a blender), queso fresco, and a sprinkle of salt packs a punch of flavor.

Whatever kind of taco you’re making at home, the most important thing to do when you’re cooking is just to enjoy yourself. “Don’t be afraid to experiment,” Olvera says. “Just put some music, relax and have fun.”