Whether from beef, pork, goat or chicken, taco fillings can be pretty tasty. And carnivores rejoice: there is no limit on how to prepare and flavor them.
Let’s just get two things settled upfront: First, there is nothing wrong with a vegetarian taco. Lots of people love them. Mobile taco caterers make sure they have grilled tofu on the menu because they are delicious. Second, it’s believed by food historians that the choice of 17th century silver miners, who were the original taco eaters (perhaps, this is in dispute), had fish as fillings long before anyone thought of using ground beef or chorizo.
But that said, there is a decided preference for meat, pork, sausage, chicken and even goat for taco fillings. It’s the protein heft of the dish, the thing that turns what could be considered an appetizer into a complete meal. With the proliferation of mobile taco cart catering – at parties, or the food truck variety that park wherever people are hungry – diners want that complete meal-in-a-handful. It’s convenient, tasty, relatively fast and unfailingly satisfying.
But no two tacos are alike. Just consider the wide differences in fillings for carnivores:
Carne asada – In English it’s “grilled beef,” but the name fails to account for the tasty marinades that taco catering companies worth their salsa know how to make. Very often that involves lime juice, herbs and garlic, often but not always with chilis added.
Carnitas – The “little meats” differ from carne asada not just in size but in eh source: they are pork, specifically from the shoulder, seasoned and braised, pulled, then oven-roasted.
Chorizo – For tacos, chicken is best prepared by the “de asador” (griddled fillings) method. This involves using dry heat (either on a griddle or a spit), a method that can also be used to cook carne asada, tripita (tripe) or chorizo. If you can’t remember the last time you had tripe, it’s because it’s rarely served outside the most authentic taquerias.
Chicken – Taco gourmets, particularly those with an affinity for traditional and authentic Mexican cooking, eschew the use of spicy cheese on a chicken taco. To them the proper preparation of the chicken negates the need for cheese. That method involves a slow-cook of the chicken in a marinade of chicken broth, perhaps with ginger, garlic powder, cumin, ground black pepper and cilantro – some, but not all, mobile taco catering firms do this back at the home kitchen.
Barbacoa – Typically a spicy, slow-braised and shredded beef, but in its Mexican origins it was beef cheek and head wrapped in maguey plant leaves. But a goat barbacoa is the preference of many (roasted leg, shoulder, and a seared rack, with a vinegar-based barbecoa).
According to a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, 13% of Americans identify as either vegan or vegetarian. Which means that 87% are still eating carne as part of a balanced diet. Even, and especially, in their tacos.