If there’s anything that comes close to a Mexican version of an open-faced sandwich, the tostada is it. Just when you thought nothing could get messier than taco night, along comes the tostada, which I dare you to eat daintily. It can’t be done. Strike that. Actually, you must attempt to eat a tostada with finesse, otherwise all hope is lost, and the thing will crumble in your hands with the mounds of filling succumbing to gravity only to ricochet off your plate to the surrounding table, lap, floor, etc. The tostada has a pretty simple construction, it’s like a taco, but flat. It’s usually made with a fried corn tortilla, topped with refried beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and other toppings. Anything that could go in a taco could also go on a tostada, so you can have fish tostadas, shredded chicken or beef tostadas. We almost always make tostadas with refried beans and plenty of toppings. When we make them we put all of the toppings in separate bowls in the center of the table, distribute the freshly cooked tortillas, and then we each add our topping of choice, starting with the beans. Mashed refried beans are usually used as the first layer because they spread over the tortilla well, and the other toppings have a better chance of sticking to the beans than they would the straight tortilla.
The decision that confronts you when you decide to make tostadas is, “how easy to I want this process to be?” If you want something truly over-the-top you might make your own tortillas from scratch, let them get a day or two old, then fry them and top them with home-cooked beans that you’ve smashed up with bacon fat. Or, if you were looking for a quick mid-week meal, you could use canned refried beans (or even canned white beans that you heat and mash with a little chile powder added for flavor) and packaged tostada shells. We almost always make our own refried beans from scratch, because with a pressure cooker it just doesn’t take that long. And we almost always use packaged tostada shells, because we live in California where you can buy them at almost any supermarket (when you are shopping for them, the thicker the tortilla the better, by the way).
This recipe details how to fry up corn tortillas to make the tostada shells. If you are using packaged shells, before serving them, spread them out on a baking sheet, or directly on oven racks, and heat them at 350°F for 4-5 minutes, or until you can smell the aroma of them cooking. Don't keep them in the oven too long, or they will get burnt. Just heat them enough to lightly toast them.
- Grapeseed oil, canola, or other high smoke-point cooking oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- Refried beans (2 15-ounce cans, or you can make your own refried beans)
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, sliced thin and seasoned with salt and vinegar (no oil)
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1-2 chopped peeled and pitted avocados or guacamole
- 8 ounces grated Monterrey Jack, Cheddar, or crumbled queso fresco and/or cotija cheese
- 1 cup of Salsa or 1/2 cup sliced pickled jalapeños
- A handful of chopped fresh cilantro
1 Heat refried beans in a frying pan, until warm. If you are using regular canned beans, drain them, then add them to the pan with a little water, mash them as you heat them. For extra flavor for the beans you can stir in a tablespoon of bacon fat to them and/or a big slice of cheddar cheese. Keep the beans on warm while you prepare the tortillas, adding water to them as necessary to keep a creamy consistency.
2 Optional pre-frying step: to help the tortillas fry up better, dry them in the oven by laying them out on an oven rack and cooking them at 250°F for 10 minutes or so. Pour enough oil into a frying pan so that you have a quarter inch layer of oil. Heat the oil on medium high heat until sizzling hot, but not smoking. One at a time, fry the tortillas in the oil. Bubbles should form in the tortilla immediately as you put the tortilla in the oil, otherwise the oil is not hot enough. Fry until golden brown on both sides, cooking about 30 seconds to a minute per side. Use metal tongs or a spatula to push the tortilla down in the oil, and to turn and lift the tortilla out of the pan, draining the excess oil as you do so. (The tortilla should be fairly stiff and crisp. If not, the oil is not hot enough.) Place the tortilla on a paper towel-lined plate, to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt. Put the cooked tortillas on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 250°F oven to keep warm.
Add more oil to the pan as needed, taking care that the oil heats sufficiently before adding a tortilla to the pan.
3 To serve, place toppings in separate bowls, with a larger serving dish for the beans. Bring out the tostada shells in batches, keeping those unused warm in the oven. To prepare one's tostada, spread a large spoonful of mashed beans over a tostada shell. Sprinkle on cheese and other toppings (sliced lettuce, avocados, salsa, etc.) Don't load the tostada too much or you'll find it difficult to eat. Eat by picking up the tostada with both hands (like a pizza slice).