Monday, February 20, 2012


Sometimes inspiration comes from several places, all hitting you within the space of a few short days. The Oak Cafe at school is doing a Mexican street food menu this week. I've been sort of craving tortas. I was curious about making a version of bolillos, the rolls used for this sandwich. Then, a Mexican friend tried some bread that I'd made and said it tasted like the bolillos she had as a child in Mexico.

My bread was sourdough, so I started thinking. Maybe bolillos, like most food in Mexico, taste different than our version. Maybe they've got more flavor, more complexity. So, why not use a light sourdough formula from a poolish and see what happens?

The other ingredients - carnitas and chile colorado - are simple enough to make if you have time.

For the carnitas, I cut some pork shoulder into 2" cubes, added a quartered lime, some salt and some garlic and braised it for about three hours. The fat slowly renders out as the water evaporates, so in the end the meat can fry a bit and brown in its own fat. You can also take the meat out, increase the heat to high and boil away the water. When you're down to the fat, reduce the heat and brown the meat. Done.

The chili colorado was a bit different. I thought I had a great stash of chilis, but only had cascabels, moritas and some hot New Mexico Hatch peppers I'd dried last summer. Chiles negros, anchos and guajillos are now on my shopping list, so I can get more chili flavor without the heat. I had all the other ingredients: brown stock, fresh garlic, a bit of ripe canned tomatoes, salt, black pepper, onion, celery, carrot, cumin and coriander seeds.

The chilis get seeded, then sautéed in a bit of vegetable oil after the spices, onions, carrots and celery. The trick is to heat them up without scorching them, to release their flavor. Then the chopped garlic, and finally the stock and tomato to cool things down. After that, a bit of simmering and into the blender for a quick purée. The sauce gets returned to the pan, and dosed with red wine vinegar according to how tart you like things. Finally, adjust the salt and everything is ready to go. One local restaurant goes fairly heavy on the vinegar, but it's safer to add in increments while tasting to find the level you prefer.

When everything's ready, cut a bolillo in half, toast it lightly, add a layer of salsa, some carnitas, some more salsa or cilantro and sliced avocado. I never get enough avocado in restaurants, so this transforms the torta into a real luxury.

You can serve tortas open faced, covered or wet. If you like them wet, completely drowned in salsa, make the salsa more liquid, almost soupy, by adding more stock.

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