THAT A MASS OF EGGS, potatoes, and breakfast meat could be wrapped in a tortilla, lathered in red or green chile (or often both), and parked on a plate was to me a notion as old as time itself. New Mexico’s manna, if you will. But leave it to my dad, who picked onions under the heat of the southern New Mexico sun as a teen, to tell the real burrito origin story. When he was growing up in the sixties, the idea of plating a burrito for a sit-down meal was unheard of, laughable even. That’s because the humble tortilla-as-envelope filled with protein and starch was tailor-made for eating in the fields and long the companion of the farmworker. To maroon it on a plate might have been akin to eating New York–style pizza with a fork and knife or elevating a Hot Pocket to brunch cuisine. Though recent decades have seen smothered burritos (and our love of them) grow ubiquitous, the OG still has a place in the heart of every multitasker, road-tripper, laborer, and food truck connoisseur.
THIS IS HOW WE ROLL
On the face of them, handheld burritos look simple enough. Cook, fill, fold, eat. But sometimes such existential questions as how to properly fold can be paralyzing. Here are a few pro tips.
- Akin to swaddling a baby, folding a burrito requires dexterity and determination. Warm the tortilla beforehand (and no, not in the microwave or it will get hard) to make it more pliable and less likely to split or tear.
- To bean or not to bean? If you make the commitment, whole beans are a good choice (black beans or pintos). Just scramble them with the eggs, instead of adding them separately, to ensure the little guys don’t tumble out upon first bite.
- Unlike at Chipotle, most of the world’s tortillas do not stretch, so don’t get overzealous when adding the filling. Begin by folding in the two short sides. Then, using your thumbs, fold one long side and, with some strong-arming, the other long side. For extra glue, sear it in a covered pan for two minutes on each side.
- At restaurants, grab to-go salsa containers and hit the salsa bar. Or try making a few toppings yourself (see below for some suggestions). Either way, handheld burritos require the extra patience of drizzling some spicy sauces or crunchy bits onto each bite, so don’t forget a napkin or a bib.
THE GOOD STUFF
Green Chile Salsa
For a tasty green chile salsa, throw 2 roasted, peeled chiles, of an onion, 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, and 1 tomato in the blender for 1 minute. Strain salsa through a sieve if it seems too watery. Add salt.
A drizzle of red chile makes Taco Bell’s packets of hot sauce look like child’s play. The heat and color are usually determined by the process of drying. Typically, sun-drying chiles produces a brighter orange, while oven-roasting produces a rich red. Ask your farmers’ market guy or gal what type they’re selling.
Out of left field? I say nay. Pickled onions add both acidity and crunch to this pocket of salt and starch. A simple approach is to rough-chop a whole red onion and place it into a bowl with cup of white Modena vinegar and salt to taste. Then refrigerate. They’ll last through the week and leftovers will complement pretty much any dish.
Crema mexicana (often found slathered on elotes or Mexican-style grilled corn) adds a cool, velvety texture that sour cream can’t match. Look for it at any Mexican grocery. Combine cup of crema, of an avocado, and of a jalapeño in a blender or food processor. Add salt to taste. Then scoop.