Possibly the most interesting sandwiches in the world, Mexican tortas combine boldly seasoned elements in a way that achieves both complexity and a certain delicacy. This recipe is from my very dear friend Roberto Santibañez, chef/owner of Fonda. Friendship aside, my critical side knows that he cooks the best Mexican food outside Mexico, bar none.

Makes 4 tortas


4 Teleras, see below

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to spreading consistency

1/2 cup Refried Black Beans, see below

1/2 batch Carnitas, see below, warm but not red hot

4 paper-thin slices white or red onion, peeled but left intact

4 slices of pickled jalapeños, or more or less to taste

1 ripe Haas avocado, quartered, peeled, and each quarter cut across into 1/2-inch slices

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, Mexican crema, or crème fraiche

 

  1. Split the rolls and butter the cut sides. Lightly toast the buttered sides against a griddle, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, or under the broiler.
  2. Spread the bottom halves of the rolls with 2 tablespoons refried beans each. Spread a quarter of the carnitas on each. Top with the slices of onion, the pickled jalapeños, and the avocado.
  3. Spread the toasted side of the top half of each roll with mayonnaise or crema and place the tops on the sandwiches, pressing lightly to adhere. Tortas are not usually cut in half before being served, but this gringo recommends that you do so to make eating a little easier. Serve immediately.

Note: The pickled jalapeños may be replaced with 1 tablespoon of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Pulse the whole can of chiles and sauce in a food processor, pack into a plastic container, press plastic wrap against the surface, and refrigerate.

 

REFRIED BLACK BEANS

Combine 1 tablespoon olive or mild vegetable oil, such as safflower or canola, 1 tablespoon finely gated white onion (it’s okay if it’s mainly liquid), and 1/2 small clove garlic, finely grated, in a medium saucepan. Set over low heat and cook until the aroma of the garlic is evident and the onion and garlic are starting to color a little. Off heat, stir in one 15-ounce can black beans and their liquid. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon ground toasted chipotle chile or other ground hot pepper and 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican. Increase the heat slightly to bring the mixture to a boil, then decrease again and start using a potato masher to turn the beans to a puree. Regulate the heat so that the beans simmer gently, stir frequently, and cook until the mashed beans thicken slightly. Stir in salt to taste—they shouldn’t be too salty. Cool the beans and scrape them into a plastic container for storage. Bring the beans to room temperature before using.

 

CARNITAS
Combine 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder with some fat on the meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, with 3 cups water, 1 cup thinly sliced white onion, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 8 peeled cloves garlic, 3 medium bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, crumbled, and fine sea salt in a 3- to 4-quart enameled iron Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming as necessary, then decrease heat so that the water simmers actively. Cook until the water evaporates, the pork is very tender, and it starts to fry in its rendered fat, about 1 1/2 hours. Scrape the contents of the pan into a gratin dish or other baking dish and bake the pork and fat at 450˚F until it colors deeply, about 20 minutes. Cool to just warm. For advance preparation, cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat and cool to lukewarm before using.

 

TELERAS: MEXICAN SANDWICH ROLLS

Makes 8 rolls

 

2 cups cool tap water, about 70°F

2 1/4 teaspoons fine granulated active dry or instant yeast

1 cup whole milk, scalded and cooled

6 cups unbleached bread flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons fine sea salt

Cornmeal for the pan

One heavy cookie sheet or jellyroll pan sprinkled with cornmeal plus a spray bottle filled with warm water

  1. Whisk the water and yeast together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk in the cooled milk. Add the flour and sugar and stir. Place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook attachment and beat on lowest speed until a rough dough forms, about 3 minutes, then let it rest for 15 more minutes.
  2. Sprinkle in the salt and beat the dough on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes.
  3. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover it with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it’s more than doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
  4. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Flour the dough and your hands and flatten the dough to a disk. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, then roll the top toward you all the way to the end, jelly-roll style. Invert, flatten, and repeat; scrape it back into the bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest another 30 minutes.
  5. Four the work surface and use a scraper to invert and move the dough onto it. Gently ease the dough, without deflating it too much, into an 8-inch square. Use an oiled scraper to cut the square of dough into 8 equal pieces, each about 120 grams. Flour the palm of your hand and round each piece of dough, placing it upside down on a flour-dusted towel. If the dough is very sticky, flour the palm of your hand, not the dough. Cover with another towel or oiled or sprayed plastic wrap and let the rolls rest for 10 minutes.
  6. To form the teleras, place a rounded piece of dough on a lightly floured surface, rounded side upward on a lightly floured surface and use the palm of your hand to gently flatten it. Generously flour the surface of the roll and use a 1/2-inch diameter dowel to mark 2 parallel lines in the top of the roll in its length. Each line should be a little less than one third of the way in from the side. Use the dowel to roll back and forth and make a 1/4-inch wide trench in each of the marked places. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Arrange 4 rolls on each of the prepared pans, spacing them well apart, and cover them again. Let the rolls proof until they’re about 50% larger than their original size. Once the teleras have started to puff, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.
  7. Once the rolls have fully risen, place the pans in the oven and decrease the heat to 400˚F. Bake the rolls until well risen and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Once the rolls are fully risen and starting to color, about halfway through the baking time, turn the pans back to front and move the pan on the upper rack to the lower one and vice versa.
  8. Cool the rolls on a rack and use them the day they are baked, or wrap, bag, and freeze for longer storage. Reheat the defrosted rolls at 350˚F for 3 minutes and cool before serving.