Never having been further into Mexico than Tijuana (and even then too young to remember it much), I’ve never experienced a chalupa in its native habitat. But story goes, that in taquerias in the south of Mexico, a chalupa, which means boat, is made from masa dough which is fried in a boat shape (although some are fried flat) and filled with meat and topped with cabbage, salsa, crema, and a little cheese.
But a little further north, say in Guadalajara, chalupas are a quintessential street food, often sold from trucks or roadside eateries. These are the chalupas we’re talking about today. Man, they were good…. each one about 3 bites of intense deliciousness.
As a street food, chalupas (not to be confused with the ones sold at Taco Bell) are meant as a snack, eaten out of hand and are only about 4” across. To achieve this, I made my own tortillas, and shaped them a little smaller and thinner than I normally would. I have come to believe that the tortillas are a fairly crucial element to a good chalupa.
The idea for these came to me from a recipe in Gourmet magazine that was published on Epicurious. They suggested that you cut down a regular-sized tortilla to 4 inches, but like others, I think that’s pretty wasteful and time-consuming. If you don’t want to make your own tortillas, which I think is totally fun and delicious, you could use a regular corn tortilla (see the note from Gourmet in the recipe).
So it goes sort of like this…. Fry your tortilla in a little hot oil, to soften and cook it a little (I sprayed my cast iron griddle with Pam and they cooked up beautifully). Into said warm tortilla, you scoop some tomatillo salsa, top with shredded beef, pork or chicken, a little cabbage, a drizzle of crema, and a sprinkling of cheese. Lay them out on a platter, overlapping the edges a little and dig in. I served them with chips, guacamole, Mexican rice and black beans and we ate quite well. This could be great party food (you could even let people create their own).
I’m not going to say how many to make per person, but I will say that it’s impossible to eat just one…or two…or, well, you get the idea. Make lots. You won’t regret it.
For 12 chalupas
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 (4-inch) corn tortillas (see cooks' note, below) or make your own!
1 cup shredded cooked chicken, beef or pork
2 to 3 tablespoons crema or crème fraîche thinned with milk or cream
1/3 cup finely chopped white onion (optional)
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/3 cup finely crumbled queso fresco or grated jack cheese
1 cup fresh tomatillo salsa
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 200°F.
*Heat 1 tablespoon oil in cleaned dried skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then briefly cook tortillas, 3 at a time, until softened and hot but still pale, about 10 seconds per side, adding more oil if necessary. Transfer tortillas with tongs to paper towels to drain briefly, then to a large shallow baking pan in oven to keep warm, arranging tortillas in one layer (overlapping slightly if necessary) and covering pan with foil.
Spread each warm tortilla with a little salsa, then top sparingly with a few shreds of meat. Add a little shredded cabbage and then drizzle with crema and sprinkle with onion and cheese. Serve immediately.
Gourmet Note: If not making your own tortillas, look for tightly stacked tortillas in packs of 50 (they can be frozen). They are pressed tightly together to retain moisture and freshness and are available in Latino markets and some supermarkets. Delicious tortillas can also be mail-ordered from Maria & Ricardo's Tortilla Factory (800-881-7040).
*I also think this step can be done in the oven - spray your tortillas with cooking spray and heat in a 375 degree oven for about 5 minutes.