Anatomy Of A Killer Tostada!

Dinner, Lunch, Mexican | July 5, 2009 | By

The weather is starting to sizzle here in Los Angeles. Many warm, lazy Sunday afternoons are ahead of us. On such days the last thing I want to do is slave in our hot, tiny kitchen fixing dinner.

I mean sure, Mike will make me a Margarita to make the heat a bit more bearable, but who in their right mind wants to stand over a stove when they could be relaxing under the patio umbrella reading the NY Times!

What does this have to do with Tostadas, you ask? Plenty. You see, when I think of Tostadas I think of my mom. My mom hated cooking during a heat spell for the very same reasons I do….it sucks. So instead of cooking an elaborate meal, she would make tostadas.

Tostadas are perfect Summer food because there is little cooking involved and tostadas can be topped with just about anything. There is an art form to constructing a killer tostada though….you can’t just pile stuff on. So I’ve devised this guide detailing the anatomy of a killer tostada.

Anatomy of a killer tostada in second part of post…

Layers and Textures

The key to a killer tostada is to layer the flavors and textures so that they contrast and compliment each other. Almost any type of ingredient can be used but there are a few guidelines to follow. Below is a little sketch I made of the anatomy of great tostada.

First Layer – Tortilla

The very first layer is the fried tortilla. Many mainstream grocery stores sell pre-made tostadas but I HIGHLY recommend that you DO NOT purchase these. Most of the pre-made tostadas are not in fact fried tortillas, but rather ground up corn that is then placed in a mold to look like a tortilla.

Besides, all you really need to do is fry a cold tortilla on both sides in some vegetable oil until both sides turn a dark brown. It’s important that you allow the tortilla to fully brown because if you don’t it will be chewy and not flaky and crunchy.

Home fried tortillas are FAR superior in taste and texture so don’t skimp on this step. Remember, this is the foundation of the tostada!

Second Layer – The Mushy Stuff

I think of the second layer on a tostada sort of as the glue. The second layer should be an ingredient that is mushy, easy to spread, but thick enough so the rest of the ingredients can sink in and not fall off.

The classic ingredient for this is refried beans. Take your tostada and spread some refried beans on to it making sure to coat the entire center. I like to leave a little room near the edges so that when you pick up the tostada with your hands you don’t get beans all over them.

Other ideas are guacamole, melted cheese, hummus, or any type of spread really.

Third Layer – The Meat

The third layer should be the main ingredient in the tostada. All other layers and ingredients should compliment and be designed around THIS ONE. Most often the third layer is a protein like chicken, beef, pork, etc. But it doesn’t literally have to be meat. However, if it isn’t meat, make sure you choose an ingredient that is a bit firm and has bite because you want this layer to contrast in texture with the mushy layer.

I often make tuna tostadas using guacamole as my mushy layer…Yum!

Fourth Layer – Refreshing Crunch

The fourth layer is intended to add complexity to the flavors and textures already present. Adding chopped lettuce, cabbage, raw onion rings, etc. can really add a wonderful crunch.

For the tuna and guacamole tostadas, I added marinated red onions to compliment the tuna flavor and they were divine!

Fifth Layer – The Sauce

The last layer is intended to add moisture to prevent the tostada from being too dry. Salsa of course, is the obvious ingredient here but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I often drizzle tostadas with thinned sour cream, or squeeze a bit of lime juice over the whole thing.

As you can see, a killer tostada can be endlessly modified and of course, this anatomy is more of a guideline than it is a rule. Feel free to change and disregard any of these guidelines.

Do you have a favorite recipe for tostadas? Leave me a comment and let me know.