Five years ago, while her son was still in high school, Alejandra Graf invited her soccer team to a taquiza, a type of party she grew up with in Mexico City. She scooped up packets of Costco’s biggest, deepest dishes and filled them with cochinita pibil, the juicy shredded pork reaching the edges of the pans, as did the other taco fillings, steaming rice and beans. Lined up in Ms. Graf’s house in Katy, Texas, the trays were surrounded by bowls of homemade salsas and warm tortillas.
More than 20 players demolished all the food. They knew about tacos, especially the tex-mex from their hometown, but none had known about a taquiza, where everyone helps themselves, stuffing tortillas from a buffet of guisados, different stews like chicken with salsa green or mole. Ms Graf, who writes the blog Piloncillo y Vainilla, said: “These children still remember that day. It was just super fun.
Making sure a party is super fun should be the goal, not only for the guests, but also for the host, especially at the end of summer and another long season of life. A variety of tacos offer big flavors – savory, spicy, fresh – for a large crowd, while giving the host time to hang out with everyone. And it’s an ideal setup for guests to create their own meals while inviting them to share in the joy of hospitality.
Esteban Castillo, the author of “Chicano Eats” and the upcoming “Chicano Bakes,” spent his childhood Sundays with his family at carne asadas in Southern California. (“Carne asada” translates to roast meat and refers to a grilled steak dish, but it’s also a potluck style with grilled meat in the middle.) chorizo and cebollitas, spring onion bulbs whites. On the tables sat salsa molcajete, pico de gallo, guacamole, arroz rojo, frijoles charros and, of course, tortillas, which her aunts made by hand.
But, besides taquizas and carne asadas, there are as many ways to serve anything that goes into or with tacos as there are formulas for tacos. Here are some universal keys to success, according to Ms. Graf and Mr. Castillo.
Get everyone involved. The sense of community that accompanies tacos begins long before you’re around friends, talking and eating while the salsa runs over your hands. Ask them to participate before they even arrive. Castillo recommends hosts provide 75 percent of the food and ask others to bring chips, salsas, salads, fruit, beer, mixers for drinks, and desserts, like chocoflan.
For Ms. Graf, the shared experience comes in the form of “extra hands in the kitchen”. She often calls on her mother and husband and encourages hosts to choose a few family members or friends to share the food supply.
Prepare as much as you can in advance. Part of what makes a taco-centric gathering so enjoyable is that there’s almost nothing left to do when it’s time to eat. For a taquiza, guisados like chicken tinga, lamb birria, and chili rojo with beef or nopales can be fully cooked days in advance. When reheated, they become even tastier. The same goes for beans, whether whole in frijoles de la olla or mashed in a deep-fried mix of frijoles de fiesta. For a carne asada, Castillo notes that anything you want to grill can be marinated long before guests arrive.
Tortillas matter. Reheating the tortillas is the only thing to do just before serving. “They have to be ‘del comal a la mesa,'” Ms. Graf said, adding that they literally don’t have to go straight from a hot pan to the table. Instead, she heats them one at a time on a comal, then stacks them and wraps them in a tea towel to keep them tender. (Mr. Castillo does the same, using the grill to lightly char the tortillas before swaddling them.) For a really big party, a tortillero, a covered basket designed to keep the tortillas warm, works well.
Before even reheating tortillas, you want to find the freshest ones. If you live near a tortilleria or supermarket that makes them every day, pick up the packets in the morning (or have someone else do it on the way). You can also make your own corn tortillas or Sonora style flour tortillas. (If you can’t find or make fresh tortillas, be sure to reheat whatever you have to refresh them.)
Make sure there are drinks. Obviously. Huge pitchers of cold agua fresca are a must as they are alcohol-free and refreshing, especially in summer when mixed from cucumber or watermelon.
Relax and have fun. Tacos are like the perfect playlist to party, lift the mood, and make everyone feel good. “It’s just a very casual potluck,” Mr. Castillo said. “I just want to feed everyone, and I want everyone to have a good time.” Tacos make achieving both so easy.
Receipts: Carne Asada | Arroz Rojo (red rice)