4 guiding principles for mastering the taco salad.

By Margaret Eby
May 30, 2019

Tacos are incredible. Who can deny it? They come in all kinds of varieties with all kinds of fillings, ready to be customized to whatever you want. Taco salad takes all the flavors that work well in tacos and mixes them all up in one joyous bowl, easy for weeknight dinners and for feeding a crowd. It's the kind of Tex-Mex invention that's always a crowd-pleaser, since it's also a dish you can change up entirely depending on your tastes. It can be as high maintenance or low maintenance as you want—you can make the chips yourself, or pick them up at the store, and ditto for the salsa and guacamole. It's also a great way to use up leftovers from the previous night's taco feast. 

Taco salad is pretty difficult to mess up, but there are some principles to keep in mind when you're making one.

Layering Is Key

The classic elements of a cafeteria-style American taco salad are tortialla chips or strips, ground beef, guacamole, salsa, cheese, and romaine lettuce. Throwing them together makes for a perfectly good taco salad, but if you really want it to be special, pay attention to where you're adding the crispy layers. The chips should ideally be layered throughout the dish, allowing for you to get a bite of the crunchy stuff without it all sinking to the bottom and becoming soggy.

Don't Skimp on Your Knifework

If you're adding red onions, tomatoes, or avocado to your taco salad, you want to make sure that they're evenly diced and sliced. Ditto for any other vegetable. Usually, cutting vegetables evenly is important because it helps them cook at the same rate. Even though these are going in raw, it makes for a better eating experience when the elements are of roughly similar size, so you don't get a bite that's all avocado or all tomato. 

Be Patient When You Sear

You can, of course, add whatever meat you want to a taco salad. Leftover carnitas would be amazing, and so would grilled chicken. Even black beans would work as a vegetarian substitute. But if you're going the ground beef route, remember that you're hoping to get a lot of nicely crisp bits of beef in your salad, not just well done hamburger meat. That means that you want to let the meat sear, not just steam. The key here is patience—let the beef brown in the pan without touching it for three or four minutes, and then break it up with your spatula.

Be Creative

Taco salad is just a big, free-form taco. It can include whatever you want, even if it's not traditionally Mexican or Tex-Mex. If it pleases you in a taco, it can also work in a taco salad. Hot honey vinaigrette? Why not. Leftover fried chicken? I'm not going to stop you. Swapping the whole thing for fish taco-inspired ingredients? That sounds great. Live your wildest taco salad dreams. 

 

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