Mexican Tostada

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).

Mexican Tostada Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

tostada-making-1.jpg tostada-making-2.jpg

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).

23 Comments

  1. Anna

    This is easily one of my favorite family recipes. At home, we always fried our own tortillas (buying soft 8″ corn tortillas in the supermarket) and used canned beans. For the beans, we fried 2-3 bacon strips per can, let the strips dry on paper towels, and then added both the beans and the bacon to the same pan to cook in the bacon fat. The best canned beans I’ve found by far are the Old El Paso Ranchero style, they have an abundance of flavor right out of the can. We top with freshly grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce, freshly chopped tomatoes, and lots of hot sauce. Buen provecho a todos, this is a great Sunday night meal!

  2. Melissa

    Ohhh tostadas. When I studied in Mexico that was one of the first things our native buddies would encourage us to order off any given menu, just to see how we would handle that critical moment when you’re face-first in the thing and know you’ve just split the tortilla in a million pieces and don’t even have time to think “now what!”. The first few times there was a lot of floor debris but oh it was fun.

  3. Susan

    I love tostadas, but I just have to make them nacho size for ease in handling. I cut the tortillas into wedges before I fry them then build the tostada on those. It’s so much easier to eat (while watching Monday night football!)

  4. CJ McD

    One of our tostada tricks is to lightly spread a layer of beans on a corn tortilla, top it with another; then progress to build the tostada- beans, cheese, toppings.

    It makes a little firmer base for all of those delicious ingredients. (And is a little more crunchy too)

    Yours looks yummy!

  5. tricia

    In Texas we call them chalupas and use cheddar cheese. I like throwing mine under the broiler for just a few seconds to melt the cheese before adding the lettuce, tomato, and salsa.Sometimes we make them “compuestas” which has ground beef picadillo or shredded chicken on top. Now I’m hungry.

  6. Natanya

    Tostadas are one of my favorite alternatives to a traditional taco bar, and are a great way to serve a picky group of eaters (AKA my family). I served them once for a party and put out both regular and black beans, as well as a collection of ground meat, including pork and bison. Finally, they are a great way to clean out the fridge/pantry. Beautiful pictures as always!

  7. Stash

    I really love tostadas with carnitas, beef tongue or tripe. A little onion, maybe a scattering of lettuce, a couple slices of radish or cucumber and a squeeze of lime. Heaven in a few bites.

  8. Ben

    Tostadas and quesadillas are my favorite things to “cook” when I am not in the mood to spent a lot of time in the kitchen. My favorite topping is tinga de pollo and Mexican yellow cream, hmmm that is actually making me hungry. Great timing for the celebrations of Independence day :D

  9. Debi (Table Talk)

    As a vegetarian/lighter option: I like to add flavor to the beans by adding a corn tortilla to the oil and cooking just a few seconds on each side, then removing before adding the beans…amazing how much flavor is released by toasting the tortilla.
    –Your picture is so pretty with the blue plate!

  10. LilSis

    We LOVE tostadas at my house! We make them quite often; here lately we’ve been adding ground turkey, cooked with taco seasoning, on top of the beans before the layer of cheese.

    Your photo is making me want one right now!!

  11. Kathy Barreiro

    The Tostadas I noticed were missing a few tiny slivers of pickled pigs feet rather the hocks you have to have this last on top! Thats heaven in a nut shell!

    My mother would be all over that one, she loves pigs feet. Me, not so much. But that’s the great thing about tostadas, you put on yours exactly what you want. ~Elise

  12. MissV

    Yum!

    Your delicious chipotle bean tostadas have become a staple in our house. We love ‘em! (Although my husband tends to overload his and then complains when they crumble.)

  13. CMS

    I learned to eat Tostadas in the early 70′s in S Cal and have loved them ever since. My ex SIL used to call them “smileys” (because you have to “smile” to eat them). That is what they still are in our house! I don’t fry the tortillas anymore, I give them a spritz of cooking spray and bake for a few minutes till browned and crispy in a 400-450 oven. Mine never look as pretty as yours;)

  14. EM

    We just had tostada’s last night and I agree about using the thick shells! I purchased a thinner version which we got at Mi Pueblo (and they do have a wide variety) , but I was going for quantity vs. quality – I didn’t want a giant bag full… but it didn’t hold to well for a big salad style topping.
    I will try the Tia pictured next time because mine fell apart all over and did end up w/ some on the floor!
    Great recipe idea by the way.
    Chicken salad w/ mayo is good on them too….

    LOL! I love the brand pictured because they are so wonderfully sturdy. ~Elise

  15. Sue McR.

    If I could eat Mexican food all day long, I sure would! My kids aren’t too happy about Mexican night, but they won’t eat ANYthing!

    Many times, I find that Mexican food gets paired with beer or tequila. Why not wine, I say!! (If you’re looking for a great wine review site, click my name!). A delicious red goes quite well with tostadas, I’ve found.

    My nephew was staying with us for two weeks and when I asked him what he wanted for Mexican night, he said “What, like Taco Bell?”…(shiver)…

    Little did he know, he was in for some education! hahaha…

    Thanks for the great article!
    Sue

  16. Lindsay

    Hi Elise,

    I love your site! Every recipe you post is superb and I love every one I have tried. Tostadas also happen to be one of my very favorite Mexican antojitos, but i have never tried them with fish and so now I am dying to try it! Do you have any suggestions as to how to make them with fish? What else would go on them? How would the fish be cooked? What salsa would you use? etc, etc… Look forward to hearing back from you… =D

    Hi Lindsay, great question. You know what I think would be great on a tostada? Ceviche. Because it is already cut up into smaller parts. And it already has chile and lemon/lime juice, you don’t even need to add salsa. But you could use any cooked fish. Mango salsa is excellent with fish. ~Elise

  17. Aaron

    I personally don’t fry the tortillas at all, they get very crunchy using only the oven on broil (watch that they don’t burn!). Then the toppings, in order, are a liberal amount of cream cheese, browned and crumbled hot sausage, veggies, spicy Jalapenos, and your favourite cheese. This goes into the oven on broil until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. I use provolone a lot, and muenster, because the sandwich slices fit perfectly over everything.

  18. Christine

    When I was growing up in Mexico, we had tostadas pretty often. Never with lettuce, though. Finely slivered cabbage holds up to the heat of the beans much better and gives some lovely crunch. We also liked to add finely grated carrots and diced fried potatoes. To this day, my sister and I will still make a really simple warm salsa that’s basically as follows and pour it over the top. It pulls all the flavors together. Riquisimo!

    Salsa:
    1 c tomatoes, chopped
    1/3 c white onion, chopped
    2-3 serrano chiles, veins and seeds removed, diced
    salt and pepper to taste

    Saute in a bit of oil while you do the rest of the tostada prep. Throw in the blender at the end and puree until pretty smooth.

  19. Maria

    Elise, I made this yesterday and it was heavenly. I have one tortilla left so that’ll be my dinner tonight!

    But then I’ll have almost a whole jar of refried beans left over. Any suggestions on what to do with them?

    We love serving steak with refried beans and salsa. Great combo. Or make some bean burritos with flour tortillas. ~Elise

  20. Hillary

    My family and I are living in Mexico right now and we eat tostadas for lunch (and sometimes dinner) several times per week. Like, maybe four or five times each week. They’re so quick and easy to fix and, I have to say, we haven’t had a problem with them being messy! My husband is a super-clean eater, no matter what the food, but I’m usually messy and even I manage to keep most of my toppings on. Maybe I need more toppings!

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.