Saturday, October 07, 2017

Eating up the Hill: When we weren't watching they completely changed how we make tacos

I'm taking a temporary pause from my Hill and Hill-adjacent food blogging to discuss an incredibly important food-related topic: a massive and unannounced under the radar change to the fundamental physics of taco meat preparation.

Ever since I began cooking regularly in my later teenage years (a very fair trade to get out of doing the dishes) one of the regular staples of my cuisine has been tacos. And a regular filling has been ground beef. It used to be the affordable choice, but now it seems like chicken has gotten cheaper and it can be hard to find medium ground beef -- never mind the more affordable and once plentiful regular ground beef. But I digress -- the disappearance in ground beef choice is another story in and of itself.

I have made the seasoned ground beef so many times I would rarely bother to read the instructions on my packet of Old El Paso or President's Choice taco seasoning. I'd just brown the ground beef, drain off the grease, add in the seasoning powder and a cup of water, bring it to a boil and then leave it to simmer down while chopping tomatoes and green onions, grating cheese (though now I'm all about the pre-grated bags) and all the other necessary taco prep.

Then, one day recently, on a whim I looked at the back of my packet of taco seasoning. To my surprise, decades of taco science had been thrown upside down with entirely new instructions: toss your ground beef in a heated pan, add the seasoning and some vegetable oil at the start, mix it together and brown it. No water, no browning first. And more oil? )Is this because all I can find now is lean ground beef?) What sorcery is this?

When did this change happen? I don't know. Could have been last month, could have been a decade ago. Did I miss a public consultation period? Was there an explanation given? Had taco scientists made a breakthrough to improve flavour dynamics, or had Old El Paso and President's Choice been co-opted by big vegetable oil?

The new method works well enough, I suppose. It's faster than the previous method, although I'd argue the previous method -- in addition to being less oily -- produced a saucier meat. Are people today not willing to spend an extra 10 minutes in prep for saucier taco meat?

Myself, I may go back to the old ways. Some advances are not for the better. Good tacos take time.

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