Chimichangas Über Alles

Ah, the noble chimichanga. Noble? Noble?! Yes, you read that right – here’s a little ode to one of the best damn vehicles for leftovers there is. Sure, we might assume it’s a mongrel member of the Fake Mex Food Club, designed only to fool gringoes into a simulacrum of adventurous eating – but I think we’d be dead wrong.

There’s a raft of origin stories for the chimi, all based in U.S. Tex Mex bastions. Whether it’s the owner of El Charro in Tucson accidentally dropping a burrito in the deep fat frier and uttering a Mexican curse that lead to the naming of the dish, or Woody Johnson of Macayo’s in Phoenix experimenting back in ‘46, they’re likely all a bit of a tall tale. You can bet dimes to dollars they originated in Mexico.

Fill a flour tortilla with frijoles, queso, picadillo, adobada, machaca, seca, pollo, fish or shellfish – that’s the root of a chimichanga. The name probably is a thinly veiled gringo teaser, but who cares when they’re delicious?

Great chimis needn’t be bad for you. You can bake, or as I prefer, shallow fry to crisp and then finish in the oven – that marries the delightful crunch of a crisp tortilla with a perfect hot filling, and avoids the hassle and greasiness of deep frying. What you choose to stuff with will also have obvious bearing on how healthy your finished dish is.

Chimis are perfect for repurposing leftovers. While a traditional stuffing theme will certainly be a nod to Mexican staples, you can make them out anything you want – green chicken curry chimi? Hell yes. Stuff one with veggies, rice, beans and cheese, and you’ve got a delicious, healthy dish. From chicken wings to char siu pork, or firm tofu to refried beans, your imagination is the limit.

When you’re ready to stuff your chimis, layer ingredients in ratios that yield a harmonious blend – there’s no hard and fast rule, it’s all what floats your boat. How much to stuff is largely dependent on the size and elasticity of your chosen tortilla, but avoid overstuffing to a silly degree – that just leads to filling leaking out during cooking, or gods forbid, to CCSF – That’s Catastrophic Chimichanga Structural Failure – and nobody wants to see that…

The typical mix is beans, rice, veggies and cheese, and another protein if you have something that needs to get used. For veggies, you can’t go wrong with onion, garlic, chile, and tomato, but any mix is fine – you can sauté them prior to assembly, but if you go with my two step method, you don’t need to.

For a traditional version, Mexican cheeses are what you want – Asadero, Chihuahua, Manchego, or Oaxaca for filling, and Queso Blanco, Cotija, or Enchilado for topping would be great choices – and they’re easier to find these days with the flowering of local Latin groceries.

If you’ve attempted chimis and exacted less than stellar results, it’ll come as no surprise that there are techniques you need to employ to achieve consistent and attractive results – and yeah, it matters – we eat with our eyes, ya know. There are four points of order to avoid a frustratingly sloppy chimi, and they’re as follows.

1. Fresh tortillas are your best option – they’re far more pliable and tastier than store bought stuff. Pliability is critical to a successful chimi, so if you’re using store bought, here’s your solution – wrap them in a clean, lightly moistened kitchen towel, put them on a plate, and then microwave for 30 seconds – that’ll give you fairly flexible tortillas to work with. Works great for burritos, too.

2. Get your mise en place together, and set out a generously sized station for assembly. Having everything portioned into bowls makes the process more efficient, less frustrating, and far less messy.

3. The tuck – how to properly stuff eludes a lot of folks, so don’t feel bad if you’re one of ‘em. Think of the tortilla as an unfolded envelope – you want to stuff the lower middle section of the tortilla, leaving room on both sides, some below, and a bit more than that above. Next, fold the bottom over your fillings, then the sides over the bottom, and finally, bring the top flap over all, and you’re there. You can seal with a little egg wash, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t need it. Line them up, prepped for cooking.

4. As mentioned above, I firmly believe you’ll get the most consistent flavor blend and crunch from a two step cooking process – a quick shallow fry, then a quick bake. That’ll also give you ingredients that are thoroughly heated through – something often lacking in the deep fried version.

It’s a simple deal – preheat your oven to 350° F, then heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until the oil shimmers. Add chimis two at a time, and fry them just long enough to get a golden brown crust on the tortillas, flipping with a spatula to get every side done. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment, and bake for 20 minutes, and you’re done.

Top chimis with whatever you like – crema, pico de gallo, salsa, lime wedges, cilantro, fresh tomato or onion. Fresh greens make a perfect bedding – we do mixed lettuces and cabbage – use what you like best. Serve ‘em with an ice cold Mexican beer and enjoy.

Serious Vinegar

What is vinegar, anyway? Truth be told, it’s nothing more than spoiled booze in some form or another. While pedestrian vinegar is plentiful and cheap, there’re two things you notice right away when you check out the good stuff in stores – the bottles are small and the prices are really high. What better reason would you need to make your own?

Great vinegars, from Aceto Balsamico de Modena and Vinagre de Shiraz to Zhenjiang and Sukang Baombang, are legendary for a reason, imbued with amazing depth and flavor. These gems power everything from dressings and marinades, gastrique and finishing notes, to soups, stews and much more. If you’re pickling, distilled white or generic cider vinegars are fine, but when you need something special for all that stuff I just mentioned, it’s time to get cracking in your home kitchen.

If you want to get technical, vinegar is a suspended solution of acetic acid in liquid, usually in the 5% to 9% range for culinary use. It’s been around for as long as humans have been making booze, which means something over 5000 years. Pretty much anything you can ferment can be made into vinegar, and that’s good news, because the vast majority of those options are delicious.

Distilled white vinegar, (AKA spirit vinegar or white vinegar), isn’t actually distilled – it’s made from neutral grain spirits – so you can make a vodka, gin or rum based vinegar too. Cider vinegar comes from just that, and with the recent explosion in local cider production, consider how many amazing variants of that you can make – how about a blackberry ginger or blood orange version? Hell yes.

Malt vinegar? Comes from beer – you can convert any bottle or can of beer, ale, stout, or porter into pretty amazing stuff. Wine vinegar? Your cellar and local store is the limit, which means a bunch of options. Any and all of these will be far better than what you can buy, and incredibly easy to make. And we haven’t even talked about fruit yet.

Almost anything with a decent sugar content can be fermented into booze and then vinegar. 5000 years ago, they used dates and palm sap. Today, pretty much any fruit you can think of is used. Two of my favorites in this regard are pineapple and banana, (actually plantain). Both are Mexican specialties, used from Veracruz to the Yucatán for fish, adobado, guisado, salsa, and much more. They’re subtle and delicious, but they’re hard to find and often out of stock, which is what lead to this post. Friends and I thought, why not take a swing at it? We did, the results rocked, and again, it’s easy and fun, (and perfectly safe I’ll add), so I’m sharing it here.

Making home vinegar from scratch is a two stage process, (but really just one long one, broken into two processes.) You don’t actually have to do much, other than monitor what’s happening and make sure everything is going right. If you’re making vinegar from something alcoholic, it’s simpler yet.

Many folks get a bit freaked about about fermenting because it’s ‘dealing with bacteria.’ Approached sensibly, it’s nothing to be worried about. What we employ to make vinegar at home are naturally occurring, beneficial fungus and bacteria – You’d have to be a troglodyte to not have heard all the buzz about good microbes, bacteria, yeast, and the like in recent years – it’s vital to our health, and what we’re using here plays for the right team.

Once we have alcohol, Mother is all we need to make vinegar – Mother is a beneficial bacterial culture, an acetobacter to be exact. Mixed with air, it converts alcohol to acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar it’s delightful tang. You can buy Mother from brewing and winemaking shops, or snag some out of the bottom of a bottle of real deal vinegar, (like Bragg’s here in the states), or you can make your own, and then keep that going with each batch you make, (that’s my preferred method). When mother is happy, you’ll see powdery whitish stuff and even gooey ropes forming in your liquid – this is very desirable, so when you see that, you’ve know you’ve done well.

Let’s start with a super easy one, wine vinegar. For wine, here’s how it works – you’ll need some fine mesh cheesecloth – something like a Grade 80 unbleached cloth would be perfect, and a rubber band.

Select a white or red wine you like that’s in the 10% to 12% alcohol range – that’s the sweet spot for mother to do its thing – higher alcohol content just isn’t, and lower will deliver vinegar that won’t be shelf stable for long.

Open a bottle and pour yourself a glass, you deserve it. Like it? Then onward – Decant the rest into a sterilized quart mason jar, (dishwasher clean is fine).

Now drape a patch of cheesecloth over the top and rubber band that sucker down – the ability for the yeast in the air to get to the wine is critical – no air exchange, no vinegar, (and the cheesecloth will keep fruit flies out of the mix too.)

Set the jar in a warm, relatively dry spot out of direct sunlight, and let ‘er rip – the conversion to vinegar can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks, so be patient.

Perform a weekly check of your vinegar-to-be. If you see a whitish scum on top of your wine as things progress, and everything smells good, you’re on your way – that’s vinegar mother forming. If you get any kind of dark surface scum and accompanying bad smells, that’s not good – Scoop all that stuff off and keep going.

Taste your product weekly – when it tastes like vinegar and smells good, you’re there. Transfer the stuff to a clean bottle and cork it – Vinegar eats metal, so clean glass bottles and cork is the way to go.

Let it sit for a couple days, then pull the cork. If you get a pop, that’s CO2 escaping, a sign that your vinegar isn’t quite done yet – put cheesecloth over the bottle top and give it another week – that should do the trick.

If you want to speed things up a smidge, add 1/4 cup of mother laden vinegar to the wine and you’re off to the races – it’ll cut the production time notably.

Love malt vinegar? Grab a couple bottles of beer, ale, porter, or stout of your choice, and do what we did with the wine. Because of the lower alcohol content, homemade malt vinegar generally won’t have the long term shelf stability other stuff will – but no biggy – just make it more often.

Want to build the ultimate home malt vinegar? Go find a locally brewed ale or stout in that 10% to 12% alcohol sweet spot – it’ll make amazing, shelf stable, vinegar – bring some of that back to the brewery and turn them on, you’ll likely get a free beer – maybe more if they have a kitchen.

On to vinegar from fruit. When we do this, we’re doing the two step process mentioned earlier – first, we’re gonna make booze, and then turn that into vinegar. You can make vinegar from juice, or macerated fruit, or chunks if you’re lazy like me. Juice or macerated fruit allows yeast more access to the fruit, and your process will go faster, but I find it more fun to be patient and let nature do her thing.

The more fruit you process, the deeper the flavor, but there is a ratio to maintain. I’ve found that filling a half gallon mason jar roughly 2/3 of the way with mashed or chopped fruit and then topping off with fresh water is spot on – I get lots of flavor and aroma with minimal fuss.

If you want to increase the fruit content, you can batch infuse. Fill your jar as described above and let it sit for a week, then decant the liquid into another jar through a strainer to catch the fruit. Refill your first jar with fresh fruit and repeat for another week. Do this three or four times and you’ll get a notably more intense flavor profile. It’s a great process for fruit with a lower sugar content.

Once you’ve got a jar full of fruit and water, cover it with cheesecloth and set it in a warm, quiet spot out of full sunlight – This is the point where that local yeast goes to work making booze for you.

Again, you can certainly add a little mother to help speed up the overall process at this point. Since we’re making booze first, you don’t need as much – 2 tablespoons is plenty.

As we did with wine vinegar production, let things go in one week increments. You’ll not likely see much happening in week one, but by the second or third, expect to see little bubbles forming on jar edges and the surface of your mix – that’s CO2 getting produced as yeast eats sugar and converts it to alcohol.

As you check progress, use your nose, mouth and eyes – By the two to three week point, you should smell a faint whiff of booze coming off your jar, and taste that too. Keep an eye on things, assuring that what you sense is pleasant. Anything dark, stinky, or nasty tasting is not desirable – scoop it off and keep going – the good guys should take over again when you do.

After somewhere in the 3-6 week range, the local yeast will have done its thing, and the process changes from alcohol production to conversion of booze to acetic acid. Taste testing now begins to focus on that desired acidity – we all know what good vinegar tastes like, and how sharp it is, right? If you didn’t answer yes to those last questions, shame on you.

Once you’ve reached the desired state of vinegariness, you’re ready to clarify and bottle. Line a chinois or funnel with cheesecloth and carefully pour your vinegar through into a clean glass jar or mixing bowl. A couple of passes will make sure any fruit goo, seeds, skin, etc doesn’t make it to your finished product.

You’ll see ample evidence of healthy mother production – lots of that powdery white stuff and some gooey, ropy stuff too – as you filter, rest assured that sufficient amounts of mother will make it to your vinegar jars.

Bottle in sanitized glass, with clean cork stoppers. You now have shelf stable, incredibly delicious house made vinegar – what kind will you make next?

Now for those two fruit versions I promised

Urban’s Vinagre de Piña

If you want this to be muy authentico, you need piloncillo oscuro (dark) sugar – it’s made from pure sugar cane boiled down to a thick syrup and then poured into cone shaped molds, and has far greater depth and nuance of flavor that our brown sugar. It’s readily available at Latin markets and online.


1 ripe Pineapple

1/4 Cup Piloncillo Sugar

2 whole Cloves

Water to fill a half gallon mason jar

Optional: 2 tablespoons vinegar with mother.

Trim top and bottom from the pineapple, the remove all the skin, skim cutting around the outside edges.

Cut pineapple into roughly 2” chunks.

Cut a hunk of piloncillo and microwave for 15 seconds – that should soften it enough to grate or hand crumble.

Add sugar and cloves to a clean half gallon mason jar.

Fill jar half way with fresh water and stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar.

Add pineapple, then top off the water to within roughly 1 1/2” of the top of the jar.

Drape tight cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band.

Let sit in a warm, quiet spot out of direct sunlight.

See above and follow specifics of the process. Without added mother, the process will take a good 6 to 8 weeks to complete, a bit faster if you live in hot country.

When you can find it, what often is called banana vinegar is no such thing – the real deal made down in Mexico is made with plantains. Sometimes called cooking bananas, plantains come from the same family, but are a far cry from bananas – they’re starchier, seedier, and have a notable lower sugar content, and generally want to be fried, baked, or boiled and topped with something sweet to be truly tasty.

In Veracruz, the Macho Plantain is the one most often used to make vinegar – it’s big, hence the dubious moniker, and gets used for all kinds of dishes – there’s even an empanada dough made from them.

Machos are among the sweeter of the plantains, not as potato like as some. They make a delightfully subtle, nuanced vinegar. They’re also the variety most grown up here in the states, so you can actually find them pretty readily at local Latin groceries, (they’re readily available online as well). My version uses warm spices you’d likely find in a Veracruzano molé.

Urban’s Vinagre de Plátano Macho


6-8 Macho Plantains

1 Cup Piloncillo Sugar

1 whole Star Anise

1” stick Canela

1 whole Clove

Fresh water to fill a half gallon mason jar

Optional: 2 tablespoons vinegar with mother.

Peel, end trim and chop plantains into roughly 2” chunks.

Cut a hunk of piloncillo and microwave for 15 seconds – that should make it soft enough to grate easily.

In a clean half gallon mason jar, combine sugar, star anise, cinnamon, and clove.

Fill jar half way to the top with fresh water and stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar.

Add plantains and top water off to within about 1 1/2” of the top of the jar.

Drape tight cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band.

Let sit in a warm, quiet spot out of direct sunlight.

See above for specifics throughout the process. Without added mother, the process will take a good 6 to 8 weeks to complete, a bit faster if you live in hot country.

Carne Adobada – 100% Delicious

It’s impossible to say where exactly adobada, (or sometimes, adovada), comes from. Generally, it’s a safe bet that northern Mexico, past and present, is the source. Adobada in Catalan means marinated, which doesn’t give a whole bunch of clues at to what we’re supposed to marinate with. As it turns out, that’s OK though, because however you make it, carne adobada is 100% delicious.

Adobada is popular all over Mexico. In its simplest form, adobada marinade might just include red chiles (powdered or minced), vinegar, and Mexican oregano, while more involved iterations can approach mole in their complexity. It’s arguably most popular in the coastal states south of Puerta Vallarta – Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacan. There the chile power is likely to be a mix of guajillo, ancho, pasilla, or chipotles. Adobada is also wholly embraced by New Mexican cuisine. There, the chile in question will undoubtedly be New Mexican red, AKA Hatch, (varying in power from fairly mild to nuclear, depending upon one’s proclivities.)

Adobada rocket fuel

Back in the days before refrigeration, the cut up pork most commonly used for the dish might be tossed into a pot with the lactobacillus acidophilus that generates yoghurt. Doing so would aid in preservation, and impart a subtle sour note to the finished dish – That’s likely why modern iterations call for citrus or vinegar in the mix. Ditto for the reason most cooks prefer their adobada chiles con pellejo (with skins) – the chiles either blistered by roasting or, if using dried, toasted during the cooking process – This adds a subtle bitter note that many folks insist is absolutamente necesario for authentic taste.

Scorching dried chiles

Truth be told, a lot of marinating came into play because the meats it was working on were less than stellar in quality or condition, (and that’s still true in much of the world.) Here, where we’re privileged to have amazing proteins available pretty much any time, it’s done to add things to the mix, not hide them. Even if we’re building a complex palette of flavors, we want the true flavor of beef, pork, chicken, tofu, or beans to remain notable – That’s achieved by balance in the marinade, and paying attention to the way we cook.

look up adobada on a search engine and you’ll see myriad ways to cook suggested, or even insisted upon. What I believe is necessary is this – The finished product must have a distinct outer crust, almost burnt, (as you’d generate when making great chili or beef stew), while the inside of each chunk needs to be tender and juicy. While some places offer adobada that’s more like a stew, to me that’s just chile colorado – Another thing altogether, really.

Many cooks think there’s only one way to do this, (theirs), but it ain’t necessarily so – You can get there by stove top, or grill, or baking, as you please. For M2¢W, I think a multi-stage cook is in order. Specifically, a relatively low and slow primary cook, followed by a quick, hot seat just prior to serving. That is, in fact, what a fair share of restaurants that offer adobada as I’ve described do. It works great, and it gives you flexibility when you’re short on time.

Slow cooker adobada pork

You can do adobada with any protein you like, (and you should), but you aught to start with pork – That’s the holy grail of the dish. For that, you’ll want around 3 pounds of fresh, boneless shoulder. And for those of you who don’t eat meat, I’m here to tell you this will rock with fresh, firm tofu, or great beans.

So, what I’ll offer here is an amalgam of some Mexican and New Mexican ingredients and techniques that will deliver the goods, and it’s a gas to make too. With this marinade, you can go as long as overnight, but at the very least, let it bathe for a good 4 hours prior to cooking. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can certainly do this in a 325° F oven, (but why would you not have a slow cooker?)

The chiles I used were picked to feed the hybrid theme. None of them are particularly hot, because to me, this dish isn’t designed to burn your face off – It’s meant to provide a pleasant chile buzz as a top note of the marinade. You can use more, or sub hotter varieties as you please, (David Berkowitz? I’m talking about you, Pal.) The same goes for garlic, as you can certainly find adobada so laden with ajo that it’ll be your signature scent for days to come, but to me, that’s not the point – Balance is.

 

Urban’s Carne Adobada

3 – 3 1/2 Pounds Boneless Pork Shoulder

2-3 Cups low sodium Chicken Stock

1 Cup chile soaking water

1-2 dried Ancho Chiles, seeded

2-3 dried Guajillo Chiles, seeded 

1 dried Chipotle Chile, seeded

1-3 dried New Mexican Red (Hatch) Chiles, seeded

3-5 cloves fresh Garlic

1/2 medium Onion (roughly 1 cup)

1/2 Cup fresh Orange Juice

1/2 Cup Raisins

1/4 Cup live Cider Vinegar

3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1 teaspoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

2 Bay Leaves

NOTE: in the images here, you’ll see I used some ground, some flake, and some whole chiles – That’s what I had, so that’s what I used. Certainly, the more whole dried you use, the more of that smoky, bitter con pellejo flavor you’ll get into the mix.

 

Allow a cast iron skillet over high heat to get truly hot.

Remove seeds from chiles, but leave the stems on, (it makes them easier to handle and flip)

Toast chiles, flipping regularly until they start to smoke a bit.

Raisins and chiles soaking

Transfer chiles to a bowl, add bay leaves, and cover well with boiling water. Allow to steep for 30 minutes, until they’re nice and soft.

Put raisins in another small bowl and cover with about 1” of boiling water. Let them steep for the time remaining on the chile soaking clock.

Pan roasted garlic

Add unpeeled garlic cloves to the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Toast the garlic, flipping regularly, until the skin is scorched and the cloves are notably soft, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Trimmed boneless pork shoulder

While that’s going on, cut your pork shoulder into roughly 1” steaks and trim excess fat. Shoulder has plenty of interstitial fat, so remove any really big hunks and obvious silver skin, but don’t go overboard – Pork fat is good.

Dont you dare toss that chile soaking water

When your chiles are ready, drain them, and reserve the soaking water – Just make sure you check the heat level so you know what you’re dealing with. You can chuck the bay leaves.

Remove the stems from your reconstituted chiles, mince them, then toss them into a blender vessel. 

Peel the garlic and add that, along with 2 cups of the chicken stock, the orange juice, the drained raisins (don’t need to save that soaking liquid), the vinegar, a tablespoon of avocado oil, a pinch of salt, the agave nectar, and the ground cumin.

Cover and pulse all that until you get a nice mix. There will be some chunks of this and that still, which is just fine.

adobada marinade doing its thing

Arrange your pork in a baking dish and pour in all the marinade. Lift each piece of pork to make sure you get marinade on the undersides of each piece.

Cover the pan with metal foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

When you’re ready to cook – 

Peel and trim and dice onion.

Remove pork from baking dish and arrange in slow cooker – Leave the lion’s share of the marinade in the baking dish.

Add the reserved chile soaking water to the marinade, along with a pinch of salt, the oregano, and lemon thyme. Stir all that to incorporate, and then pour it all into the slow cooker. Add the diced onion on top and cover.

You can cook on low, medium, or high as you’ve got time for – Lower and slower is better, but they’ll all do just fine. Cook until the pork is fork tender, which on our pot means anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, heat 2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. 

The post slow cook sear

Add as much pork as you want for the meal to the skillet and let it cook, unflipped, until it develops a nice dark crust, about 3-5 minutes. Flip once to get the other side.

Transfer pork to a serving platter.

You won’t need a knife to shred this pork

Serve with fresh, warm tortillas, pico de gallo, pickled onions/chiles/radishes, crema, lime wedges, and maybe some queso fresco or cotija, and cold, cold Mexican beer.

Tacos de puerco adobada

Postscript:

Monica had two quotes after this meal that I’ll share here – 

‘This is better than anything we’ve ever had a Mexican restaurant,’ and

‘You’ve bested me in slow cooker pork.’ 

Coming from her, that’s fairly amazing, so – Just sayin’…

This post is dedicated to the late, great food writer Jonathan Gold. There’s a guy who knew how to write about food. His love, passion, humor, and vast knowledge always shown through, and damn, could he write great last lines. Thanks man, you’re missed, but never forgotten.

Enfrijoladas, Mexico’s national dish for fantastic leftovers

It’s a fact that there are amazing go-to leftover dishes all over this world. I think that’s because they’re based on food made at home with deep love, and because so many things really are even better the next day. Of course the real beauty of this is the opportunity to clean out the fridge and rummage through the pantry. All that said, the root of such a meal must be truly stellar, and great beans certainly fall into that category, especially when they lead to Enfrijoladas, Mexico’s national dish for fantastic leftovers.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños Enfrijoladas Ebeños

Like many a favorite, claims to the origins of enfrijoladas are many and varied, from all points of the compass down there. While discerning that is nigh on impossible, what we can say is that the dish is very old. To reinforce that point, we need only to take a quick look at Oaxacan cuisine.

Oaxaca, the heartbeat of indigenous Mexico

Oaxaca is down south a mite, west of the state of Chiapas and south of Puebla state. This area remains a bastion of original Mexican culture, with roughly 50% of the indigenous population there non-Spanish speakers. The geography and climate have allowed pre-Columbian culture to remain relatively healthy, which is a godsend to those striving to better grasp Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards – Recent archeological studies indicate that the first inhabitants arrived over 10,000 years ago.

That antiquity is certainly reflected in the Oaxacan diet, where corn, beans, chiles, chocolate, game, and yes, insects, are staples to this day, with relatively little European influence found therein. Hundreds of mole variants come from here, as do rightfully famous versions of enfrijoladas. Made simply with black beans and potent chiles on lightly fried, fresh corn tortillas, This is a delicious and stunningly complex experience for such a simple dish – And it’s a safe bet they’ve been made this way for a long, long time.

Regardless of origin, the real beauty of making enfrijoladas is that winging it is par for the course. It’s a dish intended to use whatever you find that seems promising to you – So explore, take a risk or three, and see what happens. It’s a safe bet you’ll rarely make the same thing twice, and that’s good, (and of course, if you do strike on a mix that really bowls you over, write it down so you can do it again.)

So, naturally, there’s the bean question. When this posts I know that a bunch of y’all are going to think, ‘I’ve heard of those, but I thought they were supposed to be made with ____ bean.’ You’re not wrong, but the real key to great enfrijoladas is this – You can and should make them with any bean you have. That is, in fact, the great joy of the dish. If they’re really good beans, like Rancho Gordo or other reputable heirloom stuff, they’ll be stunning. I cannot encourage you enough to try a bunch of different beans in this pursuit. Yes, down in Oaxaca, black beans generally rule, but everywhere in Mexico, they grow and eat far more varieties than that. 

Rancho Gordo is the best way I know to try top shelf heirloom beans – In fact, the ones you’ll see me use herein are a French variety, Mogette de Vendée, that I got from them. I overcooked them for my original intent, but rather than freak out, we froze them and bided our time – When the thought of enfrijoladas came up, we went to the freezer and were off to the races – That’s how great leftovers work, gang.

French white beans for enfrijoladas?! Si!

The heartbeat of enfrijoladas is the sauce and the tortillas, of course. If ever there was a time to make fresh corn tortillas, this would be it, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the dish – As you’ll see in our pictures, we had store bought stuff that needed to get used, so that’s what we did – It’s all good in the ‘hood. 

Your sauce may be nothing more than beans and chiles with some bean broth or stock to thin things out, and if so, it’ll be wonderful – It never hurts to start as a purist, if for no other reason than to fully grasp why this dish is so ubiquitous down south. Again though, this is all about exploring pantry and fridge and using what needs to be used. You’ll see below that our version had quite a bit in the mix – Either end of that spectrum and everything in between is encouraged. 

As for filling, nothing more than great cheese is needed, preferably Mexican – Manchego would be a great filling cheese, as would Queso Blanco or Queso Oaxaca, (and Cotija or Queso Fresco would be great for topping). That said, here too the Leftover Rule is in full force – So use what needs to go. If you’ve got proteins, fine, if not, that’s fine too.

Toppings are also up for grabs. Certainly salsa or pico de gallo will go well, as will avocado, crema (Mexican sour cream), cilantro, shredded cabbage, citrus, more diced veggies, maybe a quick pickle of something – Whatever you have that needs to get used.

Enfrijoladas Toppings - Whatever ya got.

When preparing the sauce, you may simply add beans and some broth or stock to a pan, mash them to your liking, add some chiles, and call it good, because rustic is very good indeed. If you want or need to add more stuff, then you’ll want to get a blender involved. Either way, this is not a difficult or time consuming dish to make, which is another big reason it’s so popular.

 

Rustic Enfrijoladas

2-3 Cups of any cooked Bean, hopefully with some broth, (if not, chicken or veggie stock is fine)

9-12 Corn tortillas

Fresh, dried, or ground Chiles

Shredded Cheese for filling and, if desired, topping

Salsa or Pico de Gallo

Crema (or sour cream)

Leftover meat or poultry, if desired

Avocado oil for frying

If using fresh chiles, stem, seed, and fine dice.

Prepare salsa, pico, and other toppings as desired.

If using dried chiles, bring a small sauce pan of water to the boil and then remove from heat. Add however many chiles you desire and allow them to steep for 20-30 minutes until softened. Remove skins, tops, and seeds, and then mince.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add beans and mash by hand to a rough but even paste.

Add enough broth or stock to the beans to achieve the consistency of stew or a thick pasta sauce.

Add chiles to the beans and stir to incorporate. 

When the mix is heated through, reduce heat to warm.

In a second skillet over medium high heat, add a tablespoon of avocado oil and heat through.

Fry tortillas just enough to heat them through, but remain flexible.

To serve, add a generous swipe of bean sauce to a warm plate.

grab a tortilla, slather it with a thin layer of beans, and add cheese and any other fillings, then roll it up and place it seam side down on the plate. Repeat to desired serving size, then add a generous spoon or two of bean sauce to the tops of the rolled tortillas.

Serve immediately.

 

Urban’s Deluxe Enfrijoladas – Again, this is what I had on hand that needed to get used – It’s a guideline, not a rule, so have fun and use what you’ve got.

white bean enfrijolada sauce

For the Bean Sauce – 

3-4 Cups leftover beans

Bean Broth or Stock

9-12 Corn Tortillas

1+ Chiles of your choice, (I used 3 Serrano’s that needed to go.)

1-2 Tomatoes

3-4 Tomatillos

1/2 medium Onion

3-4 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Tablespoon dried Guajillo Chile

1/2 teaspoon fine ground Salt

Stem, core and halve veggies, then arrange on a baking sheet.

Veggies for enfrijolada sauce, ready to roast

Place on an upper middle rack in an oven on broil and cook until the skins blister.

Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Roasted veggies for enfrijolada sauce

Wrap tortillas in metal foil and toss them into the hot oven to warm up (shouldn’t need any heat after roasting the veggies in there – You just want to warm them a little to encourage the sauce to stick during assembly.)

Add beans, roasted veggies, and vinegar to a blender vessel with a half cup of bean broth or stock. Process into a smooth sauce, adding more liquid as needed, to achieve the consistency of a thick soup or pasta sauce.

Transfer the sauce to a skillet over medium heat.

When the sauce is heated through, add guajillo chile and salt, and stir to incorporate. You may want to add more broth, stock, or seasoning to strike a balance you like.

Turn the heat down to low.

For the filling – 

Use any leftover meat, poultry, or what have you, if you wish. 

2 Cups of melting cheese

Dice up proteins and add it to a skillet over medium heat with a little stock or broth to moisturize and allow that to heat through.

Shred melting cheese.

For the toppings – Here again, use what you’ve got that needs to go – We went with,

Chopped Tomato

Diced Onion

Chopped Avocado

Chopped Cilantro

A quick pickle of sweet peppers, chiles, onion, cilantro (All veggies fine diced, in 3/4 Cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water, pinch of salt, three finger pinch of Mexican oregano.)

Shredded lettuce with sliced radish

Lime Wedges

Crema

Crumbled Queso Cotija 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

 

For the Big Show –

Preheat oven to 300° F and place a rack in the middle position.

Lightly rub a 9” x 11” baking dish with avocado oil.

Set up an assembly area where you can have your bean sauce and fillings side by side with your baking dish.

Enfrijolada assembly station

Spread a generous layer of the bean sauce evenly across the baking dish.

Enfrijolada baking dish ready for tortillas

Grab a tortilla and either dunk one side into the bean sauce, or use a spoon to do the same while you hold it – Whichever works easier for you. 

Add a nice even layer of sauce to the tortilla, then add fillings. 

Enfrijoladas dipped and ready for filling

Roll the tortilla up and place it seam side down in the baking pan.

Enfrijoladas dipped and filled

Repeat until you’ve filled the pan.

Add any and all remaining bean sauce to the tops of the tortillas.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños ready to bake

You can add more stuff there if you like – Tomato, onion, what have you.

Bake at 300° F for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños

Go wild.

BTW, none of mine survived contact with the enemy, which is as it should be…

Chile Verde

After the delicious results we enjoyed with carne guisada, it seemed only fair to give green equal time – Chile Verde, of course, the venerable Mexican tomatillo-powered pork stew.

Chile Verde just starting to simmer

Chile verde is another dish that Tex-Mex lays claim to, and it is such, so long as we understand that it originated on the southern side of things. Verde is native to northern Mexico, traditionally made with pork, sometimes with chicken. It’s another dish that everybody has a favorite of, and that’s why it’s glorious – you get to put your stamp on a version, too.

Fresh tomatillos

The heartbeat of chile verde is tomatillo, which contributes that delightful color and absolutely unique flavor. Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa are members of the Nightshade family, closer in relations to a gooseberry than they are to tomatoes. They’re native to Mexico and South America, and are truly ancient – In 2017, field scientists found a fossilized tomatillo in Argentina that dated back to 52 million years ago. Raw or cooked, tomatillos are enjoyed widely all over Mexico – especially in chile verde.

The wonderful Mexican aromatic base mix of chiles, onion, and garlic round out the mix on verde, along with just a couple of signature herbs and spices – Mexican oregano and cumin seed.

Beautiful pork shoulder

The pork is usually shoulder, a cut with a decent ratio of fat, but nothing excessive – you want something that can stand up to a few hours cooking.

If you peruse recipes online, you’ll find some things done with this dish that I don’t necessarily cotton to. First off, lots of folks like to roast the tomatillos, onions, and garlic – I don’t, as I’m not looking for a high level of sweetness in my finished product – if you like that, by all means, go for it.

Secondly, relatively few use flour to build some form of roux – what’s often stated is something to the effect that it’s not necessary because of all the pectin in tomatillos – I respectfully disagree. You need a white roux to carry the full mix of flavors you’re going to develop here – without it, things won’t taste quite right, and the general consistency of the dish will not be spot on either.

Verde is pretty easy to make – the effort all goes into the prep. Once that’s done, you can just sit back and enjoy the rich aromas. Our recipe will feed 4-6 folks, or 2-3 with generous leftovers.

Chile Verde de Urbàn


2 – 2 1/2 Pounds Pork Shoulder

2 Cups Chicken Stock

10-12 Tomatillos, (Roughly a pound)

2 medium Onions

2 large Poblano Chiles

3-5 Jalapeño Chiles

2Roma Tomatoes

4 fat cloves Garlic

1/2 bunch fresh Cilantro

4 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil (vegetable is fine)

1 Tablespoon Mexican Oregano

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1 teaspoon ground New Mexican Red Chiles

1 teaspoon Salt (sea or kosher is fine)

Black Pepper

For Garnish and service – Fresh tortillas, Pico de Gallo, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, onion, and tomato, or whatever you desire.

Verde mis en place

Husk and rinse tomatillos. Remove the woody tops and rough chop.

Peel, stem, and rough dice onions.

Peel, stem, devein and deseed chiles, then rough dice.

End trim, smash, and peel garlic, then mince.

End trim and rough dice tomatoes.

Remove the bottom 3” of the cilantro stems, then rough chop the rest.

In a blender or food processor, combine tomatillos, tomatoes and 1 cup of chicken stock. Process until you have a nice, rough mix – You do not need to purée this, just get it broken down and combined.

Trim pork of any excessive fat, then cut into roughly 3/4”cubes.

Toss pork, flour, a three finger pinch of salt, and 6-8 twists of pepper into a paper bag and shake well to thoroughly coat the pork. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

In a cast iron dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and allow to heat through.

Add onions and chiles to the pan and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions are starting to brown, about 4-6 minutes.

Add garlic, mix to incorporate and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 2 minutes.

Transfer sautéed veggies to a mixing bowl and return the pan to the oven.

Toss the pork into the pan. Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes, until a golden brown crust forms. Turn the cubes and repeat until all sides are evenly browned.

Transfer pork to the veggie bowl.

Deglaze pan with the second cup of chicken stock, scraping carefully to fully loosen and incorporate all that gorgeous stuff off the bottom.

Deglaze all that brown good stuff

Add pork, sautéed veggies, and the tomatillo/tomato blend to the pot, stir to thoroughly incorporate.

Once you establish a simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

That’s done!

If things get too thick, add a half cup of stock and stir to incorporate, but remember, it’s a thick stew meant to hold its own in a fresh tortilla.

At the 2 hour mark, add oregano, cumin, and chile powder, then stir to thoroughly incorporate. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Chile verde with fresh tortillas, charro beans, Mexican rice, and pico de gallo

Simmer for another 30 minutes to allow everything to fully marry and develop.

Chile Verde de Urbán

Serve with what you like – we did ours restaurant style, with fresh tortillas, pico de gallo, Mexican rice, and charro beans – it was incredible.

Carne de res con col – Chiapan Beef & Cabbage

Combining a cheap cut of beef with cabbage might seem like peasant food, and in many places, it is just that. Relegating it as such, however, absolutely diminishes the delightful flavors and textures such a dish provides. It is, in fact, worthy of many experiments. Carne de res con col, from the Mexican state of Chiapas, is a stellar example.

Chiapas State, Where Mexican coffee and chocolate come from.

I came across this recipe years ago, through Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico. Therein she describes eating this one morning in the market in Tapachula, Chiapas, a city way down in the southwest corner of the state. One might raise an eyebrow at eating carne de res con col for breakfast, but I wouldn’t – on a fresh tortilla, this is heaven at any time of day.

Such a dish makes perfect sense in a Chiapas market. More than half its people work in agriculture, with cacao and coffee the heavy hitters – Chiapas is the second largest cacao producer, and roughly 60% of Mexico’s coffee comes from there.

Chiapan cuisine focuses more on the indigenous then many Mexican states do, with chiles, cacao, beans, avocados and many foraged plants, herbs, and mushrooms at the fore. While game makes up a solid part of a rural Chiapan diet, Spanish influence is felt in larger towns and cities. There, beef, pork and chicken are king, with beef far and away the most popular.

Employing cabbage as a major note in a dish isn’t unique, or odd at all for that matter. Cabbage happens to be quite good for us – it’s rich in vitamins C, most of the important B’s, A, K, as well as several trace minerals and omega 3 fatty acids.

A cabbage by any other name…

It’s also delicious, and there’s a lovely variety to choose from. There’s the ubiquitous red and green, savoy, napa, bok choy, and of course, Brussels sprouts, just for starters. In Spanish, it’s called Col or Repollo, and it’s grown and eaten widely. Just like New England boiled dinner, bubble and squeak, lions head, or southern smothered cabbage, dishes combining cabbage and meat are savored worldwide.

In Mexican regional cooking, cabbage comes into play for everything from tacos to stew, and soup to cabbage rolls. I love carne de res con col because cabbage plays a major role, and it really delivers.

The name translates as beef with cabbage, giving away almost nothing while suggesting quite a bit. Make it once and you’ll get hooked. Change nothing but the cabbage and it’ll be a whole new thing. You can use any cut of beef you like, so it’s perfect for leftovers. I highly recommend ground meat – it integrates best.

Chiles de siete caldos

Chiapan cuisine does not use as heavy a hand with chiles as most other Mexican regions do – though that’s not to say that they don’t like heat – they do. Their signature chile is the chile de siete caldos, the seven broth chile, implying that one of those bad boys has the horsepower to ignite seven batches of whatever. Therefore, when making carne de res, any chile you like, at whatever power level, is fine.

Chiapan seasoning tends toward warmer, sweeter notes, with cinnamon, pineapple, raisins, pears, pumpkin seeds, and peas not uncommon in dishes and sauces. There’s German influence there too, in the beer and the coffee, and in some local cured meats – which opens another interesting avenue of recipe development.

This version is what I do, after Diana Kennedy’s introduction, and a subsequent take on the dish by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, wherein he introduced beans, (of course he did!) You can and should make a version to call your own.

This is a large batch, meant to produce ample leftovers. While the cabbage won’t be crisp the next day, it will still lend itself wonderfully to a sauced rice dish, soup, stew, or chimi’s. You can halve this without changing ratios if you prefer.

If you use something other than ground beef, dice it so it will cook evenly with the other ingredients.

I like white beans in mine for their ability to soak up flavors, but here again, a change will bring something new altogether – Blacks or pintos or anything from Rancho Gordo would be great.

A deep skillet is a great cooking vessel for this – Kennedy didn’t say what the version she had was cooked in, but if I had to guess, I’d give a clay comal over charcoal the nod. As you’ll see from my image, a wok works great as well. Just make sure whatever you use is large enough to allow you to stir freely, and that the ingredients aren’t crowded – the dish counts on the liquids being evenly distributed and absorbed.

Molcajete y tejolote

Finally, to really nail the dish, you want to make a paste of the garlic, salt, and peppercorns. The proper tools for this are a molcajete and tejolote, the traditional Mexican stone mortar and pestle – as with those who swear that proper guacamole requires these, I’d tell you this one does too.

Urban Carne de Res con Col


1 1/2 Pounds Beef

1 head Cabbage

2 Roma Tomatoes

1 small sweet Onion

2 Hatch or Anaheim Chiles

1 Cup cooked Beans

4-6 fat cloves fresh Garlic

3/4 Cup Stock (beef, chicken or veggie are all fine)

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1/2 Cup fresh Celery Leaf (original recipe uses cilantro, which is wonderful too)

8 Black Peppercorns

2 teaspoons Salt

Trim and peel garlic.

If you don’t have a molcajete, combine salt and peppercorns in a spice blender, and grind to a powder. Crush, then mince the garlic, and combine all three ingredients in a small bowl.

If you have the molcajete, add garlic, salt, and peppercorns and process into a paste.

Add the spice paste to your beef.

Swirl 2 tablespoons of stock around in your molcajete (or bowl) to loosen up anything left in there, then add that to the meat mixture.

Massage the mix well by hand to fully incorporate, then set aside to marry while you prep everything else.

End trim and dice tomatoes.

Trim, peel and dice onion – you want a packed 1/2 cup.

Trim and dice chiles.

Chiffonade celery leaf or cilantro.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the oil and allow to heat through.

Add onion and chiles, a pinch of salt and a couple twists of pepper. Sauté until the onion turns translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and continue sautéing until the tomato juice is largely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Turn heat up to medium high, and add the beef. Stir well to incorporate and sauté until most of the raw red color is cooked out.

Add the cabbage, beans, and celery leaf or cilantro and stir to incorporate and heat through a bit, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the stock, stir to incorporate, and reduce heat to medium low.

Carne de res con col

Simmer until the mixture is fully combined and coated, moist but not wet, about 8-10 minutes.

Tacos de carne de res con col

Serve with fresh tortillas, and whatever else you like, but you won’t need much of anything else except cervesa frio.

Tortilla Soup de Urbán

Our recent post on bone stock covered the process of making a big batch to store for a while. Our favorite versions of stocks aren’t nearly so involved – They’re the quick, simple stocks made most often from a chicken carcass, maybe a turkey, some fish, or fresh veggies. Recently, M got the crud, and was jonesin’ for tortilla soup. That is not only serious comfort food, it’s actually been proven to be good for you when you’re sick. She had some at several local restaurants, but they weren’t quite cutting it – It needed our mojo to be just right.

Tortilla Soup

You wouldn’t be terribly out of line in assuming that tortilla soup is something invented to appease Gringos, but it ain’t necessarily so. While there are claims that the dish originated in the American Southwest back in the 1960s, there are far more, (and far older), roots in Mexican regional cooking. The dish is popular in Mexico City, as well as generally throughout central Mexico, where it’s called Sopa de Tortilla. Add beans and it’s Sopa Tarasca. Leave out the chicken and it’s Sopa Azteca – There are a bunch more variants, of course. It’s a sure bet that the folks that begat Tex Mex and Southwestern cooking brought their recipes with them from down south.

As with so many touchstone dishes, there isn’t really one master recipe, which is good – The one you love will do. Tortilla soup is so popular and so good because it comes in so many varieties, in so many homes – It’s made most often because there are things in the kitchen that need to get used, like a leftover chicken – We don’t make it exactly the same every time here, and I don’t believe most Mexican cooks do either – The consistency lies in a few fundamental ingredients. What needs to be in there? Homemade stock, chiles, aromatics, tomatoes, proper herbs, and crisp corn tortilla strips, far as I’m concerned.

Your stock will most times be poultry, but pork or veggie wouldn’t be out of line either. Chiles are a must, and those do need to be a dried, venerable variety – Pasillo, Ancho, Guajillo, Colorado, Chipotle, Mulato – whatever floats your boat. Those add a depth and richness of flavor, (and various levels of heat), without which tortilla soup is just soup. Check out our Chile page for the scoop on what each is packing. Any great soup needs an aromatic base; here I think onion and garlic are the must-haves. Tomatoes should be tasty, and fresh if possible – no mass produced red cardboard. Most folks call Mexican oregano and cumin the must-have herbs, but you can certainly cut that back to just cumin and sub something else you love for the oregano, like we do. The tortilla strips could be from corn tortillas that need to get used – Often enough, that’s another trigger that leads to this lovely stuff getting made.

Meat isn’t necessary in tortilla soup – remember that Azteca version I mentioned. If you do add it, it should really be something that needs to get used up. A chicken carcass with some meat on the bones is probably the primary trigger for whipping up a batch. You could use turkey, or pork, or fish if you wanted or needed to. Again, there really isn’t a ‘classic’ version of tortilla soup – it’s as individual as Mamma’s bolognese. So, here’s my swing at this heavenly stuff. The method we employ yields wonderful depth and breadth of flavor, which is really what it’s all about. If you’ve got homemade stock at the ready, good for you – You can go down to the part that reads, For the Tortilla Soup – Just in case you don’t, we’ve throw in a recipe for that too.

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe is a perfect opportunity to go explore your local Latin grocery. You’ll find the chiles, crema, queso, veggies, tortillas, herbs, and maybe even a chicken there.

Sopa de Tortilla Urbán

1 Fat and Happy Roasting Chicken – you’ll want about a pound of meat for the soup, plus the whole carcass for stock.

3 medium White or Yellow Onions

3 Fat Carrots

5-6 Stalks Fresh Celery

5-6 Cloves Fresh Garlic

2-3 dried Ancho or Pasilla Negra Chiles

4-5 large fresh Tomatoes (or a bunch of little guys – You want around 2 cups worth)

4 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

1 Tablespoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

6-10 Corn Tortillas

For the Toppings – 

2 ripe Avocados

1 pint Mexican Crema 

Fresh Mexican Cheese – I recommend Cotija if you want something that won’t melt much, and Chihuahua otherwise.

The day before you’re ready for soup, go and get your ingredients.

Mire Poix

Rough chop one onion, 1 carrot, and a couple celery stalks, (AKA Mire Poix)

Stuff a fresh chicken with the mire poix, and spread the rest across a low sided baking dish or cast iron skillet, and set the chicken on top of that.

Roast the chicken and enjoy a great meal.

Next day, strip all the meat you can, (light and dark), from the carcass – pull or shred that as you’re doing the deed. 

Set that meat aside in an airtight container, in the fridge.

Preheat your oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Arrange the carcass along with the veggies you stuffed it with on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. 

Add a couple of cloves of trimmed, peeled, and smashed garlic.

Smear 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomato paste evenly over the carcass.

Roast all that for 30-45 minutes, until the bones are lightly browned.

Rough chop another onion and the remaining carrots and celery.

Remove the pan from the oven.

Add all the roasted stuff, the freshly chopped veggies, and a couple of Turkish bay leaves into a 16 cup stock pot.

Add 10 cups of fresh water to the stock pot and set it over a medium high flame.

When the stock starts to boil, turn it down to maintain a low simmer. 

Let everything cook for at least 3 hours, and as long as 6 hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Set up a colander in or above another stock pot or mixing bowl large enough to handle 6-8 cups of liquid.

Carefully pour the stock through the colander, and discard all the solids – You’ve cooked pretty much everything out of that stuff by this point, so it can sure go into your compost pile.

Cool the stock by filling a stoppered sink as high as you can with a 50%-50% mix of ice and water, around the freshly filled stock pot.

Drop the temp of the stock to below 70° F within 2 hours, and from 70° F to under 40° F within 4 hours after that – Total cooling time, 6 hours or less.

Refrigerate the stock overnight. This will allow a lot of the suspended solids to drop out of the solution, and also allow the fat to rise. In the morning, you’ll find clearer stock with a nice, solid layer of fat on top.

Use a wide slotted spoon or handled strainer and carefully skim off the layer of fat, and discard that.

This stock is now ready to make soup. You’ll need 8 cups for the tortilla soup. You can freeze the rest in sanitized quart mason jars, leaving at least 2” headroom for expansion.

Tortilla Soup

For the Tortilla Soup

Preheat your oven to 350° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Peel and trim a whole onion, then cut in half.

Rinse tomatoes and leave them whole.

Trim and peel 4 cloves of garlic, leaving them whole.

Arrange onion, 3 tomatoes, and garlic on a baking sheet.

Roast veggies for 30 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Dice the 4th (and 5th if you like lots) tomato, and set aside in a mix en place bowl.

In a cast iron comal or skillet over medium heat, toast your whole chiles – lay them flat, pressing them down with a spatula, for about 15 seconds, then turn and repeat – Do this for two turns on each side, total of about a minute, tops – Don’t over-toast!

Dice roasted onion and set aside in a mis bowl.

Add toasted chiles, roasted tomatoes, and garlic to a blender vessel with 2 cups of chicken stock.

Pulse this mix into a smooth purée, about 1 minute, tops.

In a soup or stock pot over medium heat, add the purée and the diced onion. 

Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, whisking steadily. The purée will reduce notably, to a thick sauce.

Add remaining 6 cups of stock and about a pound of shredded chicken, stir to incorporate.

When the soup starts to simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that.

Add lemon thyme and cumin, stir to incorporate.

Preheat oven to 400° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Slice tortillas into strips about 1/4” wide by 3” or so. 

Bake strips until they’re golden brown and crispy, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

Soup should simmer for 30 minutes to fully marry and develop flavors.

Grate chihuahua or cotija cheese.

Peel and cut avocado into roughly 1/2” cubes.

Serve soup hot, with tortilla strips, cheese, and crema for topping.

Tortilla Soup Toppings

You might also like more chopped fresh onion, or even fresh pico de gallo, crunchy iceberg lettuce, fresh diced jalapeños, fresh tomato, and fresh cilantro for additional toppings, and if you do, you should have them.

Well, tequila, of course!

Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous

It’s a sure bet that, if you eat enough Mexican, Tex Mex, Caribbean, or South American food, you’ve enjoyed some form of carne asada. Certainly then, you’ve swooned over the rich and pungent blends of flavors presented by something that looks so simple, but tastes so complex. The answer lies in Mojo, the marinade that made carne asada famous.

The literal translation of the South American name for the dish is roasted meat, which tells us right away that the cooking side of things isn’t complex. All that magic comes from the mojo, and fortunately for us, it’s not only easy to make, it’s downright a gas.

Carne asada de UrbanMonique
Carne asada de UrbanMonique

Before we dive fully into Mojo, let’s spend a few looking at the history of carne asada – It’s as old as fire and cooking vessels, really. No one can lay claim to originating the dish, (although that hasn’t stopped many from trying). In addition to straight asada, there are popular variants that have much to do with how the meat is handled for service – Shredded or ground, as opposed to cooked whole and sliced, for instance. Shredded or pulled beef is found in American barbecue, ropa vieja in the Caribbean, and carne deshebrada in Mexico. One of the few variants with a fairly clear origin is carne asada fries, a sort of Tex-Mex swing at poutine, with carne asada and typical fixins replacing the gravy – Lolita’s in San Diego lays claim to that one, by the way. The versions most Americans are accustomed to stem from northern Mexican cuisines, although there are popular southern variants as well.

Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade
Mojo de UrbanMonique, a great all purpose marinade

Specific cuts of beef are commonly associated with carne asada, and they’re not exactly the rock stars. These include skirt, flank, and flap steak, the stuff the folks doing the boogie up on the hill certainly did not buy for themselves. That stuff was considered refuse, and the genesis of great meals formed around such marginal cuts is another example of the disenfranchised making due. Yet here in the 21st century, popularity has turned all that on its head – When we shopped for this post, skirt steak wasn’t available, and both flank and flap were commanding $10 a pound – TEN BUCKS A POUND!! Remember what happened with short ribs, or veal bones, a while back? Same gig – Popularity breeds stunning expense, straight out. The moral of the story is to be flexible – When we spied eye of the round cut thin as steaks for $5 a pound, it was game over, and ‘authenticity’ be hanged – It’ll all eat just fine – Boneless chuck, the bargain basement of beef cuts, makes perfectly wonderful carne asada.

Mojo de UrbanMonique - Leave it rustic, or blend, as you prefer

Now, on to that mojo. If you have a carniceria nearby, you can bet they offer carne asada, either in whole steaks, sliced, or chopped. You’ll likely find it either preperada, (marinated) or not, and if you get their marinade, what you’ll get can run the gamut from simple salt and oil, to quite complex mixes that rival a mole – The marinade is where the real poetic license lives with carne asada. What you create is up to you, (and we’ll provide plenty of options herein to get ya started.)

As common and as diverse as spaghetti sauce, there are dozens of popular, commercial mojo variants, let alone the tens of thousands rendered by home cooks everywhere. The Spanish word Mojo derives from the Portuguese, Molho, which simply means sauce – a clear indicator of its ubiquity. There is general agreement that mojo originated in the Canary Islands, the archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Canarian cuisine is a fascinating amalgamation of the native islanders, (sadly, now largely extinct), Spanish, Portuguese, and African roots. Their cooking emphasizes freshness, simplicity, and powerful flavors, many of which derive from various mojos. Literally every Canarian family has at least two signature mojos, passed down from generation to generation. The signature island dish, Papas Arrugadas, (wrinkly potatoes), is demonstrative of all that. Whole potatoes boiled in salt water, and served with red and green mojo – And in an interesting twist of serendipity, the potato isn’t native to the Canaries – They came from South America, of course.

Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas
Canarian Mojo with Papas Arrugadas

In its simplest form, mojo contains olive oil, chiles (pimienta in the Canaries), garlic, paprika, coriander (either fresh or seed), and cumin. As mentioned, there are two primary branches of Canarian mojo, red and green. The red, fueled by dried or fresh chiles and paprika, is most often paired with meat, while the green, made with green peppers, cilantro, or parsley, compliments fish courses. There are many other iterations, some using local cheese, (mojo con queso), garlic, almonds, and fresh herbs – Check out that almond Mojo recipe and you’ll see what I mean about rivaling moles. One could easily spent a happy year working through all these lovely things, and one of these days, I just might.

The flow of humanity in the 16th through 19th centuries, both forced and chosen, brought mojo to Europe, then South America, the Caribbean, and eventually, North America. Mojo not only thrived, it grew in leaps and bounds. Were I forced to define a generic, accurate version that we here in the Estados Unidos are familiar with, it would certainly include chiles, citrus, garlic, oil, and vinegar – A Mexican vinaigrette, in essence. Proportions are pretty broadly interpreted, with the main aim being making enough to generously coat and marinate your proteins.

Established Mexican, Caribbean, and South American variants also run the gamut from super simple to dizzyingly complex. What this means to the home cook is that, in all honestly, you can’t go wrong – Combine stuff you love and that plays well together, and you’re in like Flynn. I’m going to offer several variants, including fairly faithful renderings of styles you’ve probably tried and liked – As I always note, use these as a springboard for personal creativity, and know that you’ll likely never do the exact same thing twice – The real beauty of Mojo is as a last minute inspirational meal – You’ve got this, that, and the other thing in your stores, so what do you do with them? You do this.

The basics for a Mexican style mojo
The basics for a Mexican style mojo

NOTE ON WHAT TO MAKE: Tacos, burritos, chimis, or taco salads, with fresh pick de gallo and warm tortillas, are almost a must for your first meal if you’re marinating proteins, but keep in mind, this stuff has North African and Iberian roots, so get bold and go that direction if you feel so inspired. And you can always sauté the meat with something new, change the spicing, and make something totally different.

Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover
Carne Asada Hash, the perfect next morning leftover

NOTE ON MARINATING: Any marinade containing citrus, other acids like Vinegar, or other fruits like papaya, kiwi, pineapple, fig, or mango will break down the connective tissues in proteins as they marinate – There’s an enzyme called protease, (papain in papaya), that does the trick. That’s great for tenderizing tougher cuts, and it’s the secret as to why marginal stuff like skirt stake or flank steak can come out so tender. That said, be careful with the duration – There are a lot of recipes out there that advise marinating overnight, and that’s taking things too far – Going over 6 hours risks mushy meat, and nobody likes that texture. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as long as 4 or 5, and you’ll get great flavor infusion and a proper degree of tenderization.

Tacos Carne Asada
Tacos Carne Asada

NOTE ON GRILLING: Anything you marinate in Mojo will taste best grilled. And if you can, do so with wood or charcoal, although gas works just fine too. With the thinner cuts or proteins commonly used for carne asada, you’ve got to keep an eye on things – We’re talking a 2 minute punk rock song per side, as opposed to the common, classic rock 3-4 minutes a side measure. A lot of restaurants grill carne asada to well done, but you do not need to do that. Grill to medium rare, then allow a good 5 to 10 minute rest before you carve. If you use the more rustic cuts of beef, like skirt, flank, or flap steaks, carve 90° to the grain, at a 45° angle for each slice.

NOTE ON OIL: You’ll see I call for Avocado Oil on several Mojo recipes. I like it for it’s rich, buttery feel and neutral taste, as well as its exceptional smoke point. You can certainly use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in any of these recipes, but you really owe it to yourself to try avocado oil in the near future.

First, the classic Mojo roots.


Canarian Green Mojo

1 Bundle fresh Cilantro
3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 fresh Lime
3 cloves Garlic
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

Rinse and dry all produce.

Remove long stems from Cilantro, discard and mince the leaves.

Peel and stem garlic, and mince.

Juice lime, and set aside.

If you’re using whole spices, add salt, pepper, and cumin to a spice grinder and pulse to an even consistency, (3 or 4 pulses should do it.)

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, potatoes, fish, or veggies.

 

Canarian Red Mojo

1 large Red Sweet Pepper
2-4 fresh hot chiles, (chef’s choice, they don’t have to be red – Jalapeño, Habanero, Serrano, and Cayenne all work)
3 cloves fresh Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin

Rinse all produce and pat dry.

Stem, seed, and devein the Pepper and chiles, (leave veins in chiles if you want more heat.)

Fine dice Pepper and chiles.

Mince Garlic.

Process Cumin to a powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Serve with fresh crusty bread, chicken, pork, or beef.

 

UrbanMonique Signature Mojo – This is a great all purpose Mojo, with a couple of our signature twists.

Prep for making mojo is simple and quick
Prep for making mojo is simple and quick

2 small Limes
1 navel Orange
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
1/2 bunch fresh Cilantro
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Live Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Sea Salt
3-4 twists fresh ground Pepper

Rinse and pat dry all produce.

Zest and juice the citrus, and reserve both.

Peel, stem, and mince the garlic.

Stem, de-seed, and devein the jalapeños, (leave the veins if you like more heat).

Remove long stems from Cilantro and mince the remainder.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. You can leave the sauce rustic, or process it with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Also does great with tofu, veggies, or fish.
And finally, here are a few Mexican and South American variants.

 

Quick Cervesa Mojo – Great for folks that don’t like heat.

1 bottle Negra Modelo Beer
1 small lime
1 bunch Green Onions
3 cloves fresh Garlic
Pinch of Sea Salt
A few twists fresh ground Pepper

Open beer and pour into a bowl, allowing it to loose its fizz and flatten somewhat, (About 5-10 minutes)

Zest and juice lime, set both aside.

Peel, stem and mince garlic

Trim and peel green onions, then leave them whole, as trimmed.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and mix thoroughly. Leave the sauce rustic, do not process it.

Allow sauce to marry for 30 minutes prior to use. Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for an hour, then remove the steaks and the onions and grill both as desired. Goes great with the rest of the Negra Modelo six pack.

 

Taco Truck Mojo – There is no standard recipe, but this will put you in the running…

2 small Limes
2-4 hot Chiles of your choice
3 cloves fresh Garlic
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon dark Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons Smoked Sweet Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon White Pepper

Rinse and pat dry produce.

Zest and juice Limes, set both aside.

Stem, seed, and devein chiles, (leave veins in if you want the heat). Fine dice chiles.

Peel and stem Garlic, then mince.

Process spices to a consistent rough powder if you’re using whole.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 5 hours. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

 

Garlic Papaya Mojo

1 fresh Papaya
1 small Green Bell Pepper
3-4 Green Onions
1 small fresh Lime
3 cloves Fresh Garlic
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
1 Tablespoon live Cider Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
Pinch of Sea Salt
A couple twists fresh ground Pepper

Peel, seed and rough chop papaya.

Zest and juice Limes.

Stem, seed and devein green pepper, then dice.

Peel, stem green onions, then cut into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Peel, stem, and mince garlic.

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Process with a stick blender to a smooth, even consistency.

Makes a fantastic marinade for chicken, pork, or beef. Marinate proteins for at least an hour, and as many as 3 hours – don’t exceed that too much, as the papain enzyme in papaya is formidable stuff. Grill proteins as desired, and baste with the marinate as you’re grilling.

A Story of Bitter Orange

This is a story of bitter orange, naranja agria. I came to love this little bundle of pucker power through the cuisine of the Yucatán peninsula. There, bitter orange is everywhere in the food, most famously in the signature dish, conchinita pibil, an intoxicating alchemy of naranja agria, chile heat, and low and slow pit cooking. While chiles and the Yucatán swing on pit barbecue are critical elements here, the one thing you absolutely can’t do pibil without is bitter orange.

Bitter Orange is seminal to a bunch more cuisines as well, from Cuban and other Caribbean islands, to Spanish, Moroccan, and Persian. This is not, for the most part, an eating or drinking orange and juice, although in Mexico, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see them sliced, salted, and slathered in chile paste as a snack. These oranges are very bitter indeed, and sour to boot – Think more lemon or lime than orange in that regard. Yet the orangey notes are most definitely there, and that’s what brings the magic.

Naranja Agria - The noble bitter orange

Also known as Seville orange, sour orange, marmalade orange, naranja acida, naranji, melangolo, and even soap orange, Citrus x aurantium originated in Southeast Asia and spread rapidly around the globe. Natives of the South Sea Islands believe it hit their shores prehistorically. It was the sole European orange for hundreds of years, and the first to arrive on this side of the pond. Now grown commercially virtually worldwide, bitter orange trees range from maybe 10 feet to over 30 feet. It’s generally a thorny evergreen tree, with leaves and flowers that smell absolutely delightful, and smallish fruit, 2 to 4 inches or so, and thick, wrinkly, oily skins, (that make great marmalade, of course.)

The noble bitter orange tree

As favored as these fruit are to so many cuisines, it’s natural that numerous varieties have been established. Seville is probably the most internationally recognizable, but there’s also the English bergamot (bouquet here in the states), the chinotto from the Mediterranean, the daidai from Japan and China, the Californian goleta, the South American Paraguay, and the Indian karna – There’s a bunch more than this, but you get the idea – They’re beloved all over the place.

There’s a nice range of notable food uses for sour orange, other than powering sauces and marinades – The peels make amazing marmalade, of course. Oil squeezed from the peels is a signature orange flavoring for curaçao liqueur, candy, soft drinks, ice cream, and a bunch of other stuff. Orange blossom honey is a treat wherever you can find it. Orange flower water finds its way into Middle Eastern and Persian food. In quite a few places, the juice is fermented into wine – I’ve never tried that, but I’d like to.

There are some very interesting non-food uses for naranja agria, tambien – when the fruit and leaves are crushed together, they’ll lather in water, and are sometimes used as soap. The perfume industry loves the oil and flowers. The juice has antiseptic and hemostatic properties. And finally, the wood is nice stuff – Dense and hard, it was used in Cuba for baseball bats.

So, now that you’re all excited to join the party, it’s time for some good news/bad news – First, the bad – in all likelihood, you won’t find decent sour orange juice anywhere near you – In fact, you probably won’t find it at all. Oh sure, there’s stuff out there called bitter or sour orange – Goya, Badia, and Lechonera are the brands you’re most likely to see – But the fact is, none of them are bitter orange juice. They contain, variously, orange juice concentrate, other juices like lime, lemon, or grapefruit, and at best, a little bit of sour orange oil, and a bunch of stabilizers and preservatives – the Lechonera brand, in fact, has lists propylene glycol as the seventh ingredient therein – In other words, at best these are shelf stable, pale shadows of the real thing.

So called ‘bitter orange’ marinade is anything but

The good news is, if you have a decent Latin grocery near you, there’s a 90%+ chance they sell fresh naranja agria, (and same goes for a Persian or Middle Eastern grocery, where they’ll probably call them Persian oranges). I get plump, juicy Valencias for around 50¢ a pop at La Gloria in Bellingham, WA. Do make sure you confirm they’re agria, (albeit they’ll probably have the little sticker on them telling what variety and place of origin they are). They’ll last like most citrus, good for three to four weeks refrigerated in a drawer designed for holding produce. Four or five is plenty to provide enough juice for most recipes. As with all citrus, look for firm, heavy fruit. More so than sweet oranges, bitters may have some green on their skins and still be ripe.

Now, what to do if you get a sudden hankerin’ to build something that calls for bitter orange when you ain’t got none? Then, it’s definitely time to fake it. As those commercial marinades indicate, the proper substitution is a combination of citrus juices, and maybe even some vinegar. The key here is the taste of orange forward in the mix, with the sourness of lemons, limes, and maybe vinegar – Again, naranja agria is really, really acidic – truly sour, with bitter notes from the oils. What you really need to do, assuming you’re into this, is try fresh squeezed sour orange juice, and then concoct what most closely resembles that to your taste – Everyone’s different, so your mix shall be your own.

When I posted a piece on pibil back in May of ‘17, I was using a mix of orange juice, lemon juice, cider vinegar, and tequila – And for the record, no, I don’t do that any more, and yes, I’ve revised that post. My current, (and consistently used), go to sour orange sub mix has morphed into equal portions of orange juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and a minor share of pineapple vinegar, (the latter comes from Rancho Gordo and is worth its weight in gold). I build it in just shy of one cup batches, like so,

 

Urban’s Faux Sour Orange

All juices fresh squeezed

1/4 Cup Orange Juice

1/4 Cup Grapefruit Juice

1/4 Cup Lime Juice 

2 Tablespoons Pineapple Vinegar (Good Cider vinegar is just fine)

Again, you’ll have to experiment and tweak things to your liking. Finally, here’s a Cuban inspired chicken dish that’ll take full advantage of naranja agria you can give a try to.

Urban’s Pollo Cubano

Urban’s Pollo al Cubano 

1 whole chicken, around 3 pounds

1 Cup fresh Bitter Orange Juice (or Sub)

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1-3 Hatch or Anaheim Chiles, (Assuming you can’t get fresh Cubanelles – If you can, do)

1 small Sweet Onion

1 Red Bell Pepper

4-6 fat cloves Garlic

1 Tablespoon Mexican Oregano

2 Bay Leaves 

Salt and fresh ground Pepper

Butterfly the chicken, (if you don’t know this trick, check it out here)

Skin and trim onion and garlic. 

Fine dice onion, and mince the garlic.

Stem and seed chiles, then fine dice.

Stem, seed, and fine dice the bell pepper.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil and allow to heat through. 

Add chiles, peppers, and onion. Sauté until the onion starts to turn translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about another 1-2 minutes.

Remove veggie blend from heat and allow to cool to room temp.

Zest and juice whatever citrus you’re using.

In a non-reactive bowl, combine juice, zest, remaining oil, the cooled sofrito, oregano, bay leaves, a pinch of salt, and a few twists of ground pepper. Whisk to fully incorporate.

Place the chicken in a baking dish as close to the size of the butterflied bird as you’ve got.

Pour the marinade on the chicken, and then rub it in by hand, making sure all exposed surfaces get coated, including underneath.

Allow the bird to marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 – Any more than that can lead to a mushy chicken.

Bake the bird on a middle rack in a 350° F oven, or grill it if you prefer – 

I like to bake, because more of the marinade stays with the chicken.

Serve with rice, black beans, and cold beer.

Mexican Chorizo

Last week’s queso featured Mexican chorizo, and I found myself bummed out that I didn’t have room to expand on this truly delightful member of the international sausage family. Since it’s grilling season, and something new is far more exiting than the same old, same old, I think it’s high time we checked it out in depth. While it certainly has its roots in Spain, Mexican chorizo is unique – a perfect reflection of the big, bold flavors that define cocina Mexicana – So let’s dive in.

First off, the differences between Spanish and Mexican chorizo are broad, (and like the ongoing battle over ‘real’ manchego cheese, both sides pretty much disdain the other’s version). Spanish chorizo is a cured, chopped pork sausage with a lot of paprika therein, which gives it its trademark color. These are stuffed sausages in an edible casing, almost always smoked, which adds to its signature flavor profile. As paprika is offered in hot, sweet, and bitter, so is Spanish chorizo. Other variants include garlic and fresh herbs, or Spanish wine. Size varies based on where the stuff comes from. The lion’s share of Spanish chorizo is eaten as is, with bread and wine and cheese, or added to tapas plates. It is used in Spanish cooking as well, added to soups, and stews, and paella. 

Loosely based on Spanish chorizo fresco, (the uncurled fresh version), Mexican chorizo has evolved into a wide range of fresh and cured sausages – Mostly fresh though. What started out as a purely pork powered thing now encompasses beef, game, poultry, and vegetarian/vegan options. Local varieties often reflect a specific historical or ethnic consideration of a given area – It’s fascinating and delicious stuff. Mexican chorizo is ground, not chopped, and the fuel for its (usually) signature red color are chiles of considerably higher octane than the Spanish stuff. Regardless of what the main protein is, pork fat is often added, along with generous slugs of vinegar, and other herbs and spices. These guys are almost always relatively short links, air dried for anywhere from a day to a week. 

Since it’s uncured, Mexican chorizo needs to be cooked. It’s probably safe to say that, more often than not, the sausage is sliced open and removed from its casing before cooking, then used as a loose meat filling for tacos, eggs, tortas, soups, and stews. That said, plenty of this stuff is grilled and eaten as is, too, but since so much Mexican chorizo is eaten loose, you won’t always find these made with natural, or necessarily edible casings – That’s a thing to keep in mind and ask your local carniceria about – but for the record, most mass market chorizo found in grocery stores is sold loose, and it’s the really cheap stuff that comes in casings you can’t (and shouldn’t) eat.

In Mexico and savvy parts of los Estados Unidos, chorizo might show up at any time of day – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, chorizo con huevos is delicious, as is chorizo con papas – potatoes diced and fried with chorizo. For lunch, chorizo con frijoles refritos, (refried beans), is a popular spread for tortas – The sublime Mexican sandwich. For dinner, chorizo might be added to tacos, or whipped into queso as we did last week, and served on fresh corn tortillas. 

So what about those varieties? For us up here in El Norte, the version we’re probably accustomed to is the chorizo most popular in the northern and central highlands, the altiplano. It’s that brick red, notably spicy stuff, with readily discernible notes of vinegar, chile heat, garlic, and herbs like cumin, Mexican oregano, and thyme. That said, almost everybody makes their own, and has their own recipe, so you know the drill – You should try some you like, ask about what’s in it, (because the good places and people will tell you), and develop your very own favorite.

House made chorizo

Chorizo from the Yucatán is also a deep red, mostly from the addition of achiote paste – a sublime mix of annatto seed, cumin, chipotle, allspice, and nutmeg. It’s moistened with naranja agria, (sour orange), and sometimes banana vinegar, flaunting its Caribbean roots.

Chorizo Norteño - Probably what you’ve tried

Chorizo Norteño is likely the most high octane version you’ll ever try, fueled with arbol, and/or birds eye chiles, both of which pack a serious wallop. It’s more about heat than herbal, and it’s often grilled whole and eaten that way.

Fresh chorizo seco
Fresh chorizo seco

Chorizo Seco is usually offered as a drier version of whatever the locals make, with maybe a more pronounced vinegar note, (it’s the most often used preservative for cured sausages). It may come as anything from still quite fresh and cookable as a loose sausage, to something very dry and more like Spanish chorizo in consistency – either way, the soul of it will most definitely be Mexican. If you’ve got a local carniceria, ask, or look around and see if you see anything hanging to dry.

Chorizo Verde - Not just another pretty face

Chorizo Verde is something really special. It’s the signature food of Toluca, a valley and namesake city due west of Ciudad de Mexico, and widely lauded as the chorizo capital of Mexico. This stuff is simply heavenly, deriving its color and flavor from healthy doses of green chiles, tomatillos, cilantro, and garlic.

Loganiza - OK, if you like offal...

Longaniza is indeed chorizo, but it’s the cheap seats, made from offal rather than shoulder or butt. Its texture is closer to Spanish chorizo, and it too is sometimes aged. It tends to be very chile heavy, perhaps in an effort to balance out the offal funk.

Chistorra is interesting stuff – It’s a Basque speciality that migrated with expats to the area around Mexico City. It translates well to Mexico, because it includes extra pork fat and healthy doses of paprika and garlic.

Chorizo Obispo - It’s not brains...

Chorizo Obispo, (Bishop’s chorizo),  was supposedly once made from brains, (and was even called rellena de sesos back then), though there’s no evidence I could find to support that claim – I suspect it was a ruse used to freak out squeamish kids. It’s a pork sausages reinforced with fat, and flavored with tomato and onion, chiles, garlic, and epazote.

Moronga - Mexican Blood Sausage

Moronga is Mexico’s version of blood sausage, and if you like such things, it’s a good one. This too features tomato and onion, backed by mint, oregano, and garlic. There’s not that much blood in the good stuff – enough to color things appropriately, but not so much that the signature metallic flavor note dominates.

Although they’re not chorizo, per se, I have to mention salchidas, AKA frankfurters, because they are a forcemeat sausage, and they are really quite ubiquitous in Mexican home cooking these days. There’s nothing special about them, really – They’re found down south made from beef, pork, chicken and occasionally godknowswhat, just like up here. The interesting thing is that you’ll actually find them in recipes titled ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional,’ and as such, ya gotta respect that – And I really do respect a good hot dog, especially when it’s got chiles, onions, and a shot of hot sauce on board. 

What I’ll say at this point is that you should get out there, try what’s available to you, determine what’s in it, decide what you like or don’t about that, and then tweak things to make them your own. We make chorizo here at the house from whatever cut we’re using, run through the grinder attachment for our Kitchenaid mixer, which does a fine job indeed. If you own the mixer, the grinder attachment is not expensive – $35 for a perfectly serviceable plastic unit, to $89 for a really nice, heavy duty stainless version, and all of those will include what you need to stuff casings, too. Casings can be found online, or from your local butcher or carniceria. If you eat meat, you want one of these frankly. If nothing else, you’ll make the price of the attachment up pretty quick with the ability to make some pretty fancy stuff at home – And it’s easy and fun to do. 

Of course you can readily find fresh ground pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and sometimes even game locally, so if you’re not up for grinding your own, save time and just buy what you like. Considering that most Mexican chorizo doesn’t require curing, and is most often eaten loose, you won’t be missing a thing. If you’ve never gone up to your local grocery store meat counter to ask what they can and will do with what they sell, you should – These folks generally know their stuff, and truly dig working with people who love to cook – Something as simple as, ‘If I buy pork shoulder, can you grind that for me,’ will usually get an enthusiastic ‘you betcha’ response. 

A note on acquiring pork fat – This can be easy or hard depending on where you live. The less shopping diversity around you, the harder it is to find. Ask your local meat counter, butcher, or carniceria if they sell it, as many happily will. Before you ask, no – you cannot sub lard for pork fat when making sausage – It will liquify and make your sausage a mushy mass of ickiness. In any event, if you buy pork with any frequency, and then trim your own when you’re prepping it, (which, by all the food gods, you better be doing), then save the fat and fatty trimmings. It’ll freeze just fine if properly packaged, and you can then grind or mince up what you need. 

As I mentioned above, there are vegetarian and vegan version of chorizo, so there’s nothing holding you back from making your own versions of those as well. Adding whatever you like for a protein or protein sub can easily be done in a 1:1 ratio for starters. Fresh, firm tofu is amazingly delicious stuff, and makes fantastic sausages. Wild rice and beans seasoned as whatever chorizo you like is also sublime, as is something a bit more exotic, like pulled jackfruit. Firm roasted veggies, like cauliflower does a great job, too. If you’re into it, get into it.

Rather than provide a bunch of recipes, I’m going to offer just two – One red and one green – my go to’s for chorizo. For anything else, (and I mean anything, from virtually anywhere in the world), I’ll turn y’all on to one of my secret (not) sources for all things charcuterie – It’s a website called Wedliny Domowe, (The English language version is found at meatsandsausages.com), a labor of love by Polish sausage maker and wunderkind Miroslaw Gebarowski. There, you’ll find a vast resource of recipes and information that are accurate, thorough, lovingly researched and shared, and generally sized for folks like us. Look up any of the stuff I referenced above and you’ll be on your way. And remember, please –  a recipe is a guideline at best. It’ll show you ingredients, proportions, and process, but you really do need to make that your own – Anybody who posts a recipe and gets upset if you tweak it isn’t really there to share, anyway…

 

Chorizo de Urban

NOTES – 

1. This recipe requires overnight refrigeration to come to full fruition – Plan accordingly.

2. As usual, there are variances in some of the ingredients – Here, it’s chiles. While the recipe requires some to be correct, how much is quite up to your personal taste.

2 Lbs ground Pork (if you’re doing your own, I use shoulder or butt)

6 ounces ground Pork Fat

1 Cup Cider Vinegar

2-4 Tablespoons Chipotle Chile flake

2-4 Tablespoons dried Ancho Chile (whole dried or powder)

2-4 Tablespoons dried Guajillo Chile (whole dried or powder)

4-6 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Mexican Oregano

4 whole Cloves

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon Marjoram

1/2 teaspoon Coriander Seed

1/2 teaspoon Cumin 

1/2 teaspoon Allspice 

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

2 whole Bay Leaves (I like Turkish)

If using whole dried chiles, place them and the dried chipotle flake in a non-reactive bowl and cover with at least 2” of boiling water. 

Allow the chiles to steep until softened, 20-30 minutes. drain, stem, and skin soaked chiles and rough chop.

Whether or not you’re using whole or ground herbs and spices, combine them all in a spice grinder or molcajete y metate and grind to an even mix, (and yeah, you can throw the bay leaf in there too).

Peel and trim garlic cloves, and cut into quarters.

Add chiles, garlic, and vinegar to a blender vessel and process to a smooth mix.

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine ground pork, pork fat, herb and spice blend, and chile purée. Mix by hand to thoroughly combine all ingredients.

Tightly cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 24 hours – This allows the flavors to marry and fully develop, and is critical to real deal chorizo.

Next day, your chorizo is ready to go. It can be frozen if packaged properly (no air, tightly wrapped), or processed into casing if you’re equipped/so desire.

I won’t elaborate on stuffing casings here, because frankly, we rarely do it with this chorizo. Check below in the chorizo verde recipe for instructions if you’re fired up to do it.

 

Urban Chorizo Verde

NOTES – 

1. This recipe requires overnight refrigeration to come to full fruition – Plan accordingly.

2. As usual, there are variances in some of the ingredients – Here, it’s chiles. While the recipe requires some to be correct, how much is quite up to your personal taste.

2 Pounds ground Pork (Shoulder or Butt is my preference.)

6 Ounces ground Pork Fat

1/2 Pound fresh Tomatillos

1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 fresh Poblano Chiles

2-4 fresh Serrano Chiles

2 Tablespoons Chipotle Chile flake

1 Tablespoon ground Guajillo Chile

1 Bunch fresh Cilantro (about 3 ounces)

3 fat cloves fresh Garlic

2 teaspoons Coriander Seed (whole or ground)

2 teaspoons Salt

1 teaspoon Cumin Seed (whole or ground)

1 teaspoon fresh ground black Pepper

Place Chipotle flake in a non-reactive bowl and cover with at least an inch of boiling water. Let them step for 15 minutes, until softened.

Remove husks from tomatillos and slice in half.

Peel and trim garlic, leave cloves whole.

Place tomatillos, whole chiles, and garlic on a baking sheet, on an upper middle oven rack.

Broil veggies until the chile skins are charred and tomatillos are bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.

Stem and skin roasted chiles.

If you’re using whole spices, grind them to uniform powder.

Mince a lightly packed cup of cilantro.

Combine vinegar, chiles, drained chipotle flake, guajillo powder, garlic, cilantro, tomatillos and spices in a blender vessel and process until you get a smooth, thick paste.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine pork, pork fat, and the seasoning paste. Mix by hand to fully incorporate.

Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Your verde is now ready to cook, freeze, or stuff.

To Stuff Fresh Sausage into Casings – 

What casings you buy are up to you – Natural are a bit fussier than manmade. Some people don’t like the fact that natural casings are intestines, while others don’t like the fact that the other stuff is manmade. There are edible and inedible manmade casings – namely collagen, fibrous, and cellulose. For chorizo, I use and highly recommend the 30mm clear edible collagen casings, which I buy from Butcher and Packer online. They don’t require soaking, are easy to use, don’t smell, and have a very low footprint on your finished product. Enough to stuff 14 pounds of sausage will cost you five bucks. If you go to their website and search for that term, you’ll find them, along with all the other varieties and decent explanations of the pros and cons of each.

You’ll need only a portion of casing – 3 feet or so will be plenty. Measure off a length of casing, cut it, and tie a double knot in the end.

You want your sausage very cold before you stuff – Doing this operation heats up the ingredients somewhat, and we need to counter that as much as possible – Don’t pull the meat out until you’re truly ready to rock.

Set up a work station – Mixer, bowl of sausage, clean catch surface – something to hold finished product, like a clean sheet pan. Best case scenario is to work with a helper, who can keep the sausage flowing while you focus on filling the casing.

When you’re ready to go, carefully slide all but a couple inches of casing over the sausage stuffer nozzle.

Fill the reservoir on the grinder/stuffer attachment with sausage.

Turn the mixer on to a low setting, 2 at the most – If you’re flying solo, use one hand for the tamper, to press the mix down into the attachment, and keep your other hand on the casing, right at the tip of the nozzle.

As the casing starts to fill, let it do so as fully as possible, but not to the pint of stretching the casing at all. The collagen casings are not as flexible as natural, and if you overfill them, they will certainly burst when cooked.

Keep adding sausage and filling casing, working slowly but steadily.

When you’ve filled all you’ve got, lay the coil of sausage on your clean work surface. Chorizo should be about 5” or so in length, so measure that out, and twist the casing at that point. 

Measure another 5” and twist in the opposite direction, and so on, until you’re done.

Use dried corn husk (you can get that from a good Latin grocery), or butchers twine, tie a knot at each twist, and cut the ends short.

Use a clean toothpick to randomly prick the casings down the whole length, which will let any trapped air escape.

Ideally, you’d like to hang your chorizo in a clean, cool place for a day, but that’s not always easy in this modern world. We do a jury rigged set up in our fridge which works just fine – Make sure you have a drip tray under your chorizo, as some vinegar will make its way out during the shirt drying process.

Now your links are ready to go – You can grill, or freeze as you please. If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, this is a great job for that – Air is the enemy when freezing chorizo. Refrigerated, it’s good for 2-3 days, but don’t push uncured fresh sausage any farther than that.

Enjoy.