Store-bought hard taco shells are often a disappointment -- tasting stale even when just opened -- and so shatteringly crunchy that they make eating otherwise delicious tacos a messy endeavor. Take the time to bake or fry your own crispy taco shells from corn tortillas for the opposite experience -- taco shells with a full flavor and satisfying crunch that are substantial and just pliable enough to keep even heaps of fillings inside where they belong.
Both of these methods work equally well for store-bought cooked or fresh corn tacos, as well as homemade ones.
Frying corn tortillas gives them a great texture and appealing golden color. The process takes minutes, but does involve a little work in shaping the tortillas into shells as they fry.
Add about 1/2 to 1 inch of canola oil to a skillet, and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the oil heat up for about 5 minutes. Use corn, vegetable or peanut oil instead of canola if you prefer.
Test the temperature of the oil. Hold a corn tortilla with a pair of tongs and dip the edge into the oil. If the oil immediately bubbles around the tortilla, it's hot enough. Otherwise, continue to heat the oil for a few minutes more.
Place one tortilla flat in the skillet using tongs. Let it fry for 5 to 10 seconds. Then turn it over and fry it on the second side for another 5 to 10 seconds.
Fold the tortilla in half using tongs to shape the taco shell while still keeping it in the oil. Fry the first side for 5 to 10 seconds while holding it in a shell shape, and then flip the shell over to fry the second side for another 5 to 10 seconds.
Lift the taco shell out of the oil using tongs -- while maintaining its shape -- and hold it above the skillet for a few seconds to let any excess oil drip off. Set the shell on a paper towel while you fry the rest of the tortillas.
These fried corn taco shells are best eaten immediately, but if you're preparing a lot of them or want to reheat shells that have cooled, place them in the oven on low heat. Set the shells on a wire rack placed on top of a cookie sheet.
If the tortillas take more than 30 or so seconds per side to visibly darken and crisp, the oil isn't hot enough. If the oil bubbles violently when you add the tortilla to the pan, it's too hot. Adjust the temperature as you cook, if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Set a wire rack over a deep baking dish. Fold the tortillas in half and arrange them, curved sides down, over the rack. Space them so that several of the wires separate the front and back halves of the folded tortillas, forming a shell shape.
Bake the tortillas in the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until you see the tortillas have darkened at the edges. Keep your eye on the shells to make sure they don't burn.
Brush one side of the corn tortillas with a little oil before baking them for a more golden exterior. Keep the oiled side up when arranging the tortillas on the rack.
As an alternative to using a wire rack and baking dish, arrange the taco shells directly over the upper rack of your oven.