Episode 6 Hilah’s Texas Kitchen: Puffy Tacos
Teka Molino is San Antonio’s “Best Kept Secret” no longer!
Puffy tacos were high on our list when we set out to make this show about Texas food. They are related to the crispy taco, but are light and pillowy and flaky. Made by deep-frying an uncooked corn tortilla, they puff up as the water in the masa expands, creating an almost spherical hollow ball that’s formed and shaped under the hot oil to make the puffy taco shell that can then be filled like any other taco. Popular fillings are picadillo or shredded chicken and bean and cheese or guacamole.
When we started looking for places to shoot, we knew we had to go to San Antonio where the puffy taco was born. That much is a known fact. There are two places, Henry’s Puffy Taco and Ray’s Drive-In, that both claim to have invented the puffy taco. We couldn’t get anyone to return our calls. I contacted Garrett Heath, San Antonio food blogger at SA Flavor and asked him for help. He pointed me without hesitation to Teka Molino, the only restaurant in town that cooks and grinds their own corn to make the masa every day. HOLY MOLY. Obviously, we had to shoot with these guys.
Teka Molino was established in 1937 by Mrs. Ernestine Chapa and remained the family business until 1994 when San Antonio native and family friend of the Chapas, Ben Stratton and his wife Lisa bought the business from the Chapas’ children. A few years later, Ben’s long-time friend Raul Rodriguez came on as a partner. Ben learned the art of making puffy tacos from the original owners and Raul admits that Ben the best at the task. Many of their employees have been with Teka for decades, since the Chapas owned the restaurant, and tell stories about Mrs. Chapa’s particular ways when it came to making sure the food was always cooked just right. Ben and Raul adhere to those principles today, keeping the original menu and recipes as conceived by Mrs. Chapa over 70 years ago.
According to old-time customers and the Chapa family, Teka Molino was serving puffy tacos in the 1940s. Henry’s and Rays were both founded in the 1970s. While it seems pretty cut-and-dry then, that Teka invented the puffy taco, as things often go with food, it’s almost impossible to say for sure. But if Ernestine Chapa didn’t invent the puffy taco, she sure did play a large part in promoting it to San Antonio. With Ben and Raul at the reins now, I’d expect (and hope!) to see them “puffing up” in a lot more cities.(See what I did there? Puffing up? Popping up? Nvmd.)
- 1 pound fresh masa OR
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1¼ cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- At least 4 cups Peanut, corn, or canola oil for frying (need 2-3 inches depth in a large pot or electric frier)
- Any taco fillings you like: beef, shredded chicken, refried beans, avocado, etc
- If using masa harina, combine in a large bowl: masa harina, water, salt. Mix well until you have a soft, smooth dough that does not stick to your hands. If it's sticky, add a tablespoon more of masa harina.
- Roll your dough into a 16" long cylinder and cut into 16 pieces.
- Roll each into a ball.
- Line a tortilla press with plastic wrap or a food storage bag that's been cut open. Lacking a press, use a heavy pot and a sturdy counter top to press them.
- Press each ball between plastic until about 5" across and ⅛" thick.
- Lay out in a single layer as you press them.
- Heat your oil to 375ºF.
- Fry tortillas one at a time. They will sink to the bottom, then rise up, puffed. Use a spatula to form a crease in the center, pressing them down under the oil for about 45 seconds, until golden brown.
- Drain on a rack or brown paper, upside down.
- Fill with whatever you want!
Crispy beef taco ground beef filling
Easy shredded chicken from this chicken enchilada recipe
Avocado or guacamole
Sour cream, cheese, lettuce, tomato, cilantro
You might also like this Indian Taco recipe!