A Word On Food: Tostadas

Feb 22, 2014

We drive about 60 miles round-trip to get our tortillas these days. I don’t wish to think … as an accountant might… how much gas that costs per tortilla … but these tortillas are worth it … partly to the see the face of the 70-something woman who sells them to me from her little bodega. She sells lengua and such too. Her shop is named “Moreno’s” and I urge you to make the trek. It is down in the bosom of our South Florida’s growing region … which encircles the appropriately named village of ….  ‘Homestead’.

One of the other places we also often visit is a Mexican eatery attached to a gas station. It is a cheery, working class place, loud with both a television booming and cantina music squawking from the open kitchen. I would be back there in that kitchen if I could! I would love to see just how they make their tostadas! They are a perfect textural dance between crispy and slightly pliant. And that is the goal. Texture is often misunderstood in the proper making of food. We do talk about how great it is to eat a satisfyingly crunchy, or meltingly tender thing… but the cookbooks and TV chefs need to show how to attain these textures. I’m sure that woman in the kitchen next to the gas station in Homestead could give a Master Class!

The thrifty nature of Mexican cooking is apparent … in that tostadas are mostly made from tortillas that have become too stale for soft tacos. True…they would be fine for what are called “hard shelled tacos” but they are also fine for tostadas. When fried just right… that ‘staleness’ issue is … hasta luego, Amigos! … and the flat, crispy tortilla becomes “toasted” whence the name tostada comes from.

Before I became a cook I worked for a short time spraying concrete out of fire hoses in Western Kansas.  We were building pit silos for cattle feed lots. I was 19 … just trying to make enough bucks to hitchhike to the next adventure. I hated the taste of dust in my mouth from the sun-baked earth kicking up around us as we worked. But there was a salvation in that Kansas work place too! The majority of other workers were from Mexico, and in the bars we’d hit after-work they taught me to understand how tortillas are used in various ways .

Tostadas are a tad more awkward to eat than a taco … but I deal with the mess.  I like that I can see the vibrantly colored food in the way a tostada is open-faced. I love tacos and tostadas both to be sure! One of each please!

Tortillas are made of carefully selected dried corn and just the right amount of lime too. A properly made tortilla almost melts in your mouth. We were in Mexico City not long ago and bought two bags of hand-patted tortillas from a small Indian woman … wearing a stove-top hat … and smoking a corn-cob pipe. They were heavenly just plain out of the paper bag. You see… I’ll go a long way for a tortilla. I knew that when I got home…they’d be one day old…and perfect for tostadas!



Note that you can sub out whatever you like for the crabmeat as it is easy and comes cooked. Just top with another cooked ingredient you love. I can vouch for cooked sausages to move in a much heartier direction if you prefer.

Yields: 8 Tostadas

·         1 ½  pounds red bliss potatoes

·         1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled, seeded and minced

·         2 Tablespoon olive oil

·         4 Tablespoons butter

·         1 Spanish onion, sliced

·         1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

·         1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

·         1 jalapeño chile, seeds and stem discarded, minced

·         1 Tablespoon roasted garlic

·         1 Cup cabbage, finely shredded

·         Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the potatoes in a roasting pan in the oven for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a knife. Cool until they are manageable, and peel them, discarding the skins.  Reserve. 

Combine 1 Tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about a minute. Add the sugar and the vinegar and continue to sauté for about 4 minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize and are completely soft. Add the jalapeño and continue to sauté 1 more minute. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to a sauté pan and sauté the cabbage until it wilts, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mash the potatoes with the roasted garlic and remaining butter. While the potatoes are still hot, stir in the onion, poblano and the cabbage. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the taco shells and crabmeat:

  • 8 six-inch corn tortillas
  • Canola Oil for frying
  • 2 cups cleaned crabmeat

Pour enough oil in a 10-inch sauté pan to a little more than cover the bottom of the pan.  Get the oil hot over a medium-high heat.  When it is hot place a corn tortilla shell in the pan and let it crisp for about 5 seconds.  With a tongs flip the tortilla over to cook the other side (about 5 more seconds).  This softens the shells just enough. When it is crisp turn it over to crisp the other side about 7 seconds. Remove to absorbent toweling.

Place a generous amount of potato and cabbage mix and then add the crabmeat on each tostada.

You can serve as is or with your favorite salsa.