Where am I, and what day is this?

May 5, 2011

Answer No. 1: I’m at home. I know this because the dog has nestled her slimy, soft, rawhide chewy against my bare instep and is lustily gnawing on it. This is preferable to when she does same when the chewy is hard, because then it stabs my ankle or my shin.

Answer No. 2: It’s Thursday. I think. Although I would not swear to this. The effect of travel is that I have problems keeping up with what day it is when I get back. That problem is compounded when I’m calculating what all I have to do before I leave again, which is Monday (Chicago, then Atlanta).

Albuquerque was pretty. Santa Fe was pretty. These were good.

This is not huevos rancheros. I can't find my picture. This is the Jemez Mountains in the snow, taken about two hours and several thousand feet elevation removed from the huevos rancheros. Use your imagination.

They were, in fact, about the really exceptional meal I had the entire time I was gone. Part of this was due to eating weird banquet food, part was a function of airport/snack food, and part was a function of a weird schedule.

But these huevos rancheros, now…..they were pretty damned fine. Maybe not quite Sweet Baby Jesus, but at least up there with the cherubim and seraphim.

I fully expect I’ll go to hell for blasphemy one of these days. But hey, I’ll see so many of my friends there. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”

Anyway. At its most basic, huevos rancheros are made up of three basic elements: corn tortillas, eggs, and chile sauce. The variations are as endless as your mind can fathom. The plate I got at La Table de la Familia in the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe added a bit of grated cheese, some lightly steamed or sauteed squash and corn, and a healthy scoop of pinto beans, and New Mexico red chile sauce (I could’ve had green, but as a rule, I’m not fond of green chile sauces).

Assembly, I believe, is key here. One fries the tortillas lightly, just enough to get them soft and to give the cornmeal a “done” taste. One dishes them up on a plate, and tops them with a couple of over-easy eggs. You can use whatever style eggs you wish; I love me an over-easy egg, so that’s what I ordered. You top the eggs with some grated queso fresco (or it may have been Monterey Jack, I’m not sure, but it was a white cheese with a nice melty-stringy quality to it), and ladle chile sauce that’s about the consistency of heavy cream — that is to say, thinner than pancake batter but thicker than milk — over all. It’s quite similar to the ranchero sauce one gets in Tex-Mex cookery.

In this version, the beans were ladled to one side before the sauce was applied, so they had a nice dose of chile on them, too. Then the squash (zucchini and yellow) and corn (yellow, whole kernel), along with pan fried potatos, went on the side atop the puddle of sauce.

Yum. When you break those yolks and mix that unctuously runny yolk in with the chile, you get something that the whole is a LOT greater than the sum of the parts. You get something that’s smooth and rich and buttery, with a little bit of stringiness from the cheese, a mild bite from the chile (damn, but I love a Hatch chile), the salty corniness of the tortilla. The potatos were divine, dragged through the sauce; the squash benefitted from just the taste of the sauce it had by virtue of sitting on a little of it and sharing the plate., so you had different degrees of chileness throughout the meal.

And I believe I may try to recreate that this weekend, if I can find my Hatch chiles. Because I know how to make some chile sauce — you pour boiling water over the dried chiles, let them sit, covered, for 30 minutes or so, and then drain them (saving the water). You puree them with just a little of the reserved water and some salt, and then you taste and correct seasonings as you wish. You can add some cocoa powder or bittersweet chocolate and a little cinnamon and some ground up pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, and have you some mole (you might want to add some chipotle or smoked pimenton to bring in a smoky note), but at its purest, New Mexico chile has the chiles (throw in a Guajillo for some added heat, break the dried peppers and knock the seeds out before soaking for a milder sauce), the soaking water and salt.

NS said he’d give it a try, if I scrambled his eggs. Troublesome child.

It’s a breakfast that’ll stay with you. Add some good chorizo, and it’ll stay with you a long time, albeit you won’t want to be kissing anyone with whom you did not eat breakfast.

Chicago, delightfully enough, is very possibly my favorite food town, so I should have good stuff to tell you and y’mama ‘n ’em when I get back from there. And I’ve got some cooking to do this weekend. Meanwhile, y’all have a good evening, and try you some huevos rancheros for a weekend brunch.


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