By SHANNON WATKINS
I love Mexican food. I love it at Taco Bell (fakest of the fake), I love it at sit-down Mexican restaurants that start you off with chips and salsa and proceed to serve Americanized but thoroughly tasty enchiladas and fajitas and whatever else your heart desires, I love it at authentic Mexican greasy spoons where nobody’s first language is English, including the owner’s, and your tacos are made with floppy instead of crunchy tortillas and the fillings range from barbecued goat to beef tongue, the very mention of which makes a lot of people wrinkle their noses and turn away. I love ALL of it.
I also love brunch. I love having some kind of breakfast mixed with some kind of lunch mixed with any kind of beverage from coffee to juice to soft drinks to perhaps fruity frozen cocktails. I love sitting around and being waited on (brunch servers of the world, who give up your own leisurely weekend mornings to spoil me and people like me who do not deserve such indulgence, I thank you) and either reading a book by myself or gossiping with a bunch of friends. The fact that you can technically have brunch at 3 p.m. and it still counts as a legitimate meal is only another facet of its charm.
So it’s no surprise that two enjoyable and relaxing things should work alongside one another to produce something exponentially more delightful. That’s where huevos rancheros come in.
Huevos rancheros translates as “ranch eggs” and is basically what people ate (and, one supposes, still eat) at late-morning breakfast on ranches in Mexico, according to what every source I’ve been able to unearth says. However, the specific components tend to change, aside from the eggs themselves, depending on which region of Mexico the recipe is from, and, in America, a very precise formula called “what I happen to have in my pantry divided by whether or not I’m cooking this with a hangover, which is sometimes also a prominent brunch component.”
In other words, you’re not getting the purist version of this from me. Or maybe you are, because even if each family on each ranch in Mexico, past and present, developed their own specific recipe for it, it started based off of what was available at the time, which is what we’re doing. Confused? Good, me too. Let’s get started.
The basic formula is eggs plus tortillas plus salsa plus maybe cheese plus maybe beans plus sometimes sausage. Usually the eggs are fried, which we’re going to do here, but if you absolutely prefer scrambled, that’s OK, too; just put them on your tortillas separately. Approach each element in as relaxed a way as possible, whether you get your beans and salsa done ahead of time or not. Rigid formulas are for dinner parties; easygoing approximations are for brunch. This feeds 2-4 people, depending on how hungry they are.
First, make some salsa: open a couple cans of hot or mild Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles according to your preference, drain them a little, and mix them with maybe three cloves of minced garlic, about half a small onion, diced fine, or three or four chopped scallions, the juice of half a lime or so, a handful of torn cilantro leaves, a pinch of salt and about a half teaspoon of cumin. Mix all together. It’s worth noting that this does better if made a day before you intend to use it, though even fresh, it’s quite good.
Then, make some beans. You can also do this ahead with minimal effort. Open two cans of black beans and rinse and drain them. Chop a small onion and about four more cloves of garlic. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil, then toss in the onion and garlic along with about a half teaspoon of cumin. Stir around for about a minute and then add your beans, a couple handfuls of torn cilantro leaves, about a half teaspoon of salt and roughly a cup and a half of liquid, which can be anything from water to chicken or beef stock to cheap beer. Bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and stir frequently for 10-15 minutes. About halfway through, mash the beans up a little with your spoon so that some are whole and some aren’t, unless you like the texture of mashed beans a lot, in which case mash them all up. You can further season the finished product with lime juice if you like.
Now for the eggs, which is where we come the closet to measuring things: the ratio of eggs to tortillas is 1:1. That’s it. (Our technique, please note, again comes from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog, about which I cannot say enough good things). Assuming everyone will want two eggs, get two 6” corn tortillas per person. Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium-high heat and coat lightly with nonstick spray or vegetable oil. Put a tortilla or two in (depending on the width of your pan and the stove’s heat distribution) and leave until golden brown on the bottom. Flip over and sprinkle with some shredded cheese, maybe a half ounce. I use a bag of “Mexican blend” but jack or cheddar or even mozzarella do just fine. Let it melt for a bit and then break an egg over it. When the white is about halfway set, flip the whole thing back over and let the egg cook as much as you like (if there’s any moment prone to disaster, this is it). Then flip the egg back over onto a plate and, when the other egg is ready, serve with warmed beans and room-temp or cold salsa.
Possible additions to the finished dish: more cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeno slices, guacamole or just plain diced avocado, bacon or sausage (chorizo is the specific type of sausage associated with this dish, and it’s usually available without too much searching. I don’t care for it but that’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a go if you fancy the idea).
Definite additions to the finished dish: something bright and sunny to drink, comfortable pajamas, lounging around, general feelings of lazy, expansive happiness, and trying to talk someone else into cleaning up.
Look around. Everyone is relaxed and pleased and full of eggs and salsa and good will toward you for your efforts. Now’s as good a time as any to tell them you’ve enlisted them in helping with dinner later on. One can but assume they’ll be thrilled to hear they get to take turns checking on the roast goat.