TORTA AHOGADA (JALISCO STYLE)

Tortas are the ultimate Mexican sandwich; they're fast, nutritious and delicious! The bread for tortas is extremely important! (You can't god wrong with Rêver Artisan Bakery crusty sourdough medium boules or bâtards for this special sandwich.)

IN GUADALAJARA, (AND ALL OVER MEXICO), TORTAS ARE NOT ONLY THE ULTIMATE MEXICAN SANDWICH, THEY ARE THE ULTIMATE STREET FOOD!

Guadalajara has modernized and ballooned over the last 150 years, transitioning from a working-class trading hub known as the cradle of Mariachi music to a bustling cosmopolitan city referred to as the country's 'Silicon Valley.' But the pork-filled signature sandwich of the city, dunked in a pool of spicy salsa, has remained mostly unchanged. It's part of the city's heritage, a point of pride and right of passage for any Tapatio (also the name of a popular salsa picanté), as people from Guadalajara are called.

 Chef Don Ramsey stood at this very spot in the year 2000.

Chef Don Ramsey stood at this very spot in the year 2000.

I was first introduced to the torta while working in Guadalajara Mexico. By far the most popular torta in that area is the Torta Ahogada. It is Guadalara's signature sandwich and consists of pork carnitas and refried beans on a crusty sourdough roll made Jalisco style: Drowned (Ahogada is Spanish for “drowned”) in a spicy chili de árbol sauce.

The torta ahogada, was invented in Guadalajara, Mexico in the early 1900s, has risen along with its city of origin. The sandwich was the product of a slip of the hand, a mistake. But what a delicious mistake it was, the spark for a dish that slowly spread throughout the City of Roses like a fire jumping from rooftop to rooftop, eventually taking its place as one of the signature dishes of the booming metropolis.

The inventor of the torta ahogada died decades ago, but a link to the beginning of the simple sandwich still remains in the city center where his apprentice, Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, has been clocking in every morning for the last 55 years.

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Saldaña was in his thirties when he started working for Luis De La Torre. De La Torre's father, Saldaña says, was a vendor in one of the city's central plazas, selling ordinary tortas. One day, Saldaña recounts, a customer requested a little bit of spicy salsa on his torta, but the senior De La Torre accidently dropped the whole sandwich in the container.

Saldaña learned the original torta ahogada recipe from the younger De La Torre, and by 1959, Saldaña had grown weary of taking orders and decided to start his own torta ahogada stand. In honor of De La Torre, whose stand was named Tortas Ahogadas El Güero, Saldaña dubbed his Tortas Ahogadas El Güerito.

After a few years running a corner stand, he squirreled away enough money to open a restaurant in the city's historic center at Madero and Independencia Streets, where he has satiated lunchtime appetites for more than five decades.

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By far, the best place to go (and Don's favorite) for an authentic Torta Ahogada is Tortas Ahogadas El Güerito.

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The torta ahogada is a sandwich that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The spicy salsa, made from the more-hot-than-flavorful chile de arbol, vinegar, cumin, black pepper and other spices, adds a kick but needs the addition of the mild, tomato based sauce with oregano and garlic to calm the heat with a complex set of rounder, sweeter flavors. The pork carnitas are marinated in garlic and citrus, cooked slowly, and then fried up until crisp. The meat soaks up the spicy salsa, and and the richness and fat of the meat balances the acidity of the spicy salsa. The crusty sourdough bread seems unremarkable on its own, but is essential to the dish's texture and balance, cutting the heat of the chilies and the bite of the raw or marinated onion garnish. Tortas ahogadas are the local go-to meal for clearing head colds, curing hangovers, and sweating out infections.

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A real torta ahogada is simple and adheres to a few strict guidelines: You must have a birote, a long, flat roll, with an airy, fluffy center and a crust robust enough to withstand submersion. There are two types: first, the Fleiman, which is softer on the outside, pointed at both ends and has a smooth exterior. Rêver Artisan Bakery™ Italian Bâtards would make an excellent substitute for the Fleiman roll (each Bâtard will make two sandwiches). The birote salado, which has a flattened end, is harder on the outside and has a more golden, crunchy exterior, which is salted. Rêver Artisan Bakery™ Sourdough French Bâtards would make an excellent substitute for the birote salado (each Bâtard will make two sandwiches). The Sourdough French Bâtard maintains a little crunch on the outside when your teeth first sink in, before it gives way to the spongy inside saturated with salsa. Too soft and the whole thing falls apart when dunked, too hard and it won't properly absorb the salsa.

This recipe is my attempt to replicate the original Torta Ahogadas (the original recipe is a secret), and duplicate the tastes that I remember from a one year trip to Guadalajara about 18 years ago. I had an authentic Torta Ahogada, and loved itI There are many variations that reflects an urban area of 6 million people that have grown too big for just one version of this emblematic sandwich. I encourage you to try it, and if you like it, go ahead and offer it up to your friends and family on Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16th).
— Chef Don Ramsey

TORTA AHOGADA (JALISCO STYLE)


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INGREDIENTS

Torta

  • 1 Rêver Artisan Bakery™ sourdough french bâtard (makes two tortas)
  • 2-3 slices of pork belly , brined and cooked on griddle
  • 2T garlic-chipotle love (optional)
  • 1c ahogada sauce
  • red onions chopped
  • 1 cup Cacique Cotija (optional)

Garnish

  • 2 radishes thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 lime, quartered
  • 2 tortillas (optional)
  • 2 whole scallions (optional)
  • cilantro leaves

Salsa de Arbol

  • 12 chiles de arbol , deveined, deseeded and and toasted
  • 8 cloves of garlic , roasted
  • 8 ripe plum tomatoes , roasted
  • 1 onion , quartered and roasted
  • 5 c chicken stock
  • 1 c valentina or tapatio hot sauce
  • 1T lard

Mexican Red Sauce

  • 8 ripe plum tomatoes , roasted
  • 4 cloves of garlic , roasted
  • 1 T mexican oregano
  • 2 c chicken stock

Brine

  • 1 whole skinless pork belly , cut in two
  • 350g brown sugar
  • 400g salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic , peeled
  • 1 orange , halved
  • 12 cloves
  • 12 black pepper corns
  • 1 TB chili flakes
  • 1 stick mexican cinnamon (canela)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts water

Garlic Chipotle Love

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 12 garlic cloves , peeled
  • 3 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce , chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro , chopped
  • Grated zest of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

Brine
1. Combine water and all ingredients on the stove and bring to a simmer allowing flavors to come together and the sugar and salt to dissolve. Let cool and pour over the pork belly. The belly should be fully submerged. Let brine for 48 hours.

Pork Belly
1. Remove belly from brine and pat dry. Once dried, rub belly with garlic chipotle and braise in chicken stock for 2 hours with some halved citrus (preferably oranges). Cook belly at 300 degrees. Once cooked, Remove belly from brining liquid and place on a sheet tray. Place another sheet tray on top of the cooked belly with some weight on it to keep the belly flat while it cools and to keep it's shape.

Garlic Chipotle Love
1. Preheat the oven to 300° Pour the oil into a heavy ovenproof medium saucepan and add the garlic. Cover the pot with foil, put it in the oven, and cook until the garlic turns a nutty brown and is really soft (think cream cheese), about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and let the garlic and oil cool to room temperature. Put the garlic and the now garlic-infused oil in a food processor or blender. Add the chipotles and sauce, cilantro, lime zest, and salt and puree until the mixture is very smooth. Store in the fridge in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month.

Salsa de Arbol
1. Roast tomatoes, onions, and garlic until slightly charred and cooked through, peel tomatoes.
2. In a blender puree roasted onion, toasted chiles de arbol, tomato and garlic with the chicken stock until smooth.
3. Heat up lard in a sauce pan over medium heat and add puree to the pan. Let simmer for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add Valentina or Tapatio hot sauce and a pinch of salt.

Mexican Red Sauce
1. Roast tomatoes, onions, and garlic until slightly charred and cooked through, peel tomatoes.
2. In a blender puree tomato and garlic with the chicken stock until smooth.
3. Heat up lard in a sauce pan over medium heat and add crushed Mexican oregano and cook until fragrance is released. Add puree to the pan. Let simmer for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add a pinch of salt.

Torta
1. Season pork belly slices with salt, pepper and garlic chipotle love and sear until crispy on the grill or griddle.
2. Slice bread lengthwise, stuff with grilled pork belly, chopped red onions (or serve onions on the side), and slice in half for two 7 inch tortas. Make sure sandwich is covered with plenty of sauce and sprinkle some Cacique cotija and cilantro on top.
3. Make sure the torta is covered with plenty of salsa de arbol. Then ladle on the Mexican red sauce sufficient to cover. (the more-hot-than-flavorful chile de arbol, vinegar, cumin, black pepper and other spices, adds a kick but needs the addition of the mild, tomato based sauce with oregano and garlic to calm the heat with a complex set of rounder, sweeter flavors.)
3. Serve with your choice of garnish. Limes are traditional with the authentic torta ahogada, but many torta shops offer radishes, and scallions also. Optional: Sprinkle some Cotija cheese on top.

Terry Ramsey