Get your frico on

By Stacey Ballis
Updated April 18, 2018
Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

Cheese is magic. How something as generally boring as milk can become, with a little coaxing, one of hundreds of different types of delicious cheeses is a miracle. Cheese is flexible. It can get melty and gooey, hard and crystallized, soft and runny, and all of these can change and enhance the flavor. There are cheeses you can toss in a hot pan and they will sear and get crisp like a good steak, while never outright melting. And there are cheeses you can shred and put on a sheet pan or in a nonstick skillet, and with the judicious application of heat, end up with a crunchy cracker-like umami party known as a frico.

Frico are a great garnish for a salad, or a soup, or as a sort of cracker, or just for snacking. The cheese, when it gets caramelized and crispy like this becomes more than just cheese; it amps up the flavor exponentially. Recently there has been a spate of recipes for an inside-out grilled cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich where there is also cheese on the outside, where it fricos and goes all sorts of next level. But the fricoing action should not be limited to grilled cheese. You can do it to the insides of your hamburger bun for a crunch that is superior to just toasted. You can do it open faced to a slice of good sourdough and top with a salad for a fabulous lunch.

And you can do it to a tortilla and end up with the breakfast taco of your dreams.

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

Outside of Texas where they're essentially a religion, breakfast tacos are really any taco you eat in the morning, so while this technique is perfect with some chorizo and eggs, if you want to carne asada or carnitas adobo with your café con leche, no one will think twice. Fill them any way you like them. You can put the fricoed layer on the inside of your taco for some internal texture, but if you can stand a bit of cheese grease on your fingers, I highly recommend letting the frico stay on the outside, where you can crunch through it on your way to whatever delectables you have decided to use as filling.

Want to go totally outer-limits cheese bomb? Frico the outside of your next quesadilla. The crispy cheese on the outside with the stretchy melted cheese in the middle may well be the platonic ideal of cheesiness.

This isn’t really a recipe, just a technique, and while this is specifically for tortillas, you can do it to pretty much any breadstuff.

For each 8-inch tortilla, 2 tablespoons shredded Chihuahua cheese. (You can sub cheddar or swiss, any cheese that gets a bit crispy. It won’t work with soft cheeses like goat or brie.)

Place a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and sprinkle the cheese in an even layer in a circle slightly smaller than your tortilla. When the cheese just begins to melt, place the tortilla on top, pressing firmly to adhere the cheese and cook for about 1 minute, pressing down with your spatula on the top for good searing, until the cheese is golden brown and crispy. Fill immediately with the taco fillings of your choice and eat hot. If you want to do several at a time, use a nonstick griddle.