A WINNER IN MY BOOK

My favorite breakfast burrito that was not voted onto the inaugural Breakfast Burrito Byway is the chorizo-and-red-chile incarnation at Café Pasqual’s, Katharine Kagel’s bustling café in downtown Santa Fe. Most of the ingredients are from Certified Organic sources, and most are from New Mexico. The chorizo is made in-house, the scrambled eggs are fluffy, the potatoes have crunchy edges, and the chile blanketing it all combines several varieties of dusky red pods. The plated wonder is topped with molten jack cheese and dotted with cheery scallion bits. Where’s your favorite New Mexican breakfast burrito? What’s on it and in it? Did it make the Breakfast Burrito Byway? Tell us at facebook.com/newmexicomagazine.


Pity the folks who think breakfast is a bowl of cornflakes or some granola and yogurt—talk about starting the day with a yawn! I’m here to tell you that the best, most bodacious wake-up food, bar none, is New Mexico’s breakfast burrito. It doesn’t just break the fast, it blasts it.



Philly may have its cheesesteak, Chicago its dog, and Charleston its shrimp and grits. But here, an entire state—all 121,599 square miles of it—gets a two-handed grip around the noble burrito. Sure, you can get one in other places, even at McDonald’s, but New Mexico remains the spiritual home of the morning burrito. Plump with some combo of eggs, meat, and potatoes, a New Mexico burrito, unlike some wimpy imitations elsewhere, is enlivened with green or red chile. We are so enamored of this dish that the New Mexico Tourism Department recently created the Breakfast Burrito Byway, chosen after thousands of New Mexico residents and visitors cast online ballots for their personal standard-bearer.



Our eye-opening culinary treasure crosses all social and cultural lines and fills you up without walloping your wallet. I enjoyed one just this morning, plated and served on linen, at Santa Fe’s luxe Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, in Santa Fe. It didn’t cost much more than their bowl of oatmeal. Tomorrow, I’m likely to grab a handheld tube of greatness from Bert’s Burger Bowl and devour it in my car. The substantial basic Bert’s version leaves plenty of change from a $5 bill. Bert’s Monster, with three kinds of meat, double eggs, and more, can fuel you for the day and set you back only a couple of bucks more.



ANATOMY OF A BREAKFAST CLASSIC

So what makes the archetypal New Mexican morning burrito? Let’s start with the tortilla, which needs a bit of thickness and fluffiness, unlike those paper-thin versions common to Sonora, Mexico, and our neighboring states to the west. The filling allows for personal creativity within the basic canon of scrambled eggs, potatoes, meat, and heat. I have a strong preference for eggs that are mixed into and cooked with the other cast members, though I know reasonable people who actually prefer the eggs cooked separately and spooned on. Potatoes can be cubed or shredded, but should be fried and crispy. Bacon—also crispy—often rules, but chorizo or other chile-laced sausage can be quite tempting. Ham, carne adovada, strips of carne asada, and even bologna aren’t unheard of. Neither are our beloved carnitas or chicharrones, scrumptious forms of pork cooked down in its own fat. The Mesilla Valley Kitchen, in Las Cruces, offers house-smoked turkey as an option. Vegetarian and even vegan options abound these days.



From this point, there are two schools of burrito construction, depending on whether this will be a handheld, on-the-run creation or a plated affair. Cheese—generally mild cheddar, jack, or a combination—is a necessity. A scattering of it goes into a handheld; on a plated, chile-smothered burrito, cheese pools on top and melts down the curvaceous sides. The chile is arguably the most important feature of a New Mexican breakfast burrito, and whether green or red, mild or hot, it darn well should be grown here. We may argue the merits of hybridized or native landrace pods, or whether we prefer chile grown in Hatch, Dixon, Socorro, Salem, Española, Puerto de Luna, or elsewhere, but it will be from New Mexico. Many folks like both red and green, or “Christmas.”



A handheld burrito should have enough hot stuff to keep the mixture moist as well as lively, and it’s acceptable to have simply chopped roasted green in this case. A plated burrito requires smothering, called bañado (bathed or drenched) at many of our southern restaurants. The rolled-up tube of goodness practically floats in a sea of sauce. No paltry dabs of salsa for us.



FIRE IN THE BELLY

The first commercial handheld version of this treat may have been crafted by a vendor at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta who introduced it as warm fuel for chilly October mornings. The more elaborate plated, knife-and-fork version, smothered in chile, likely developed in 1975, when Tia Sophia’s opened in downtown Santa Fe. Certainly the Maryol family’s café created a premier rendition, and played a substantial role in putting the dish on the culinary map. In my life, I have consumed more breakfast burritos in Tia Sophia’s than anywhere else. It helped that I worked, for years, in two different offices that were steps from the West San Francisco Street dining establishment. However, this burrito has such a hold on me now that I would drive—or walk— miles out of the way to get my fix.



I order my Tia’s burrito bursting with crispy bacon and hash browns, afloat in a sea of piquant green, all topped with gooey golden cheddar cheese. The hefty zeppelin comes delivered on a sizzling steakhouse-style metal platter. You can get eggs inside a Tia’s burrito too, but, somewhat unusually, they are an add-on, at a small additional charge. I’m not alone in my passion for the Tia Sophia’s dish; it was one of 50 establishments selected for the Breakfast Burrito Byway.



Jay -clanton Jay Clanton of Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill slings the winner


A TASTE FOR ADVENTURE

Your new morning favorite may be just around the corner, at another of the Breakfast Burrito Byway stops. The 50 businesses selected for the culinary trail have nearly 100 locations collectively. You might want to brake in Edgewood, at Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill. The business was the top vote-getter out of all 50 restaurants, despite being in a community of 3,379 folks. Devotees love the burrito’s house-made green chile sausage. If gregarious manager Jay Clanton is in the house, be sure to ask him to show you his new leg tattoo of the Tourism Department’s byway logo.



Roy, in the state’s northeast corner, is 10 times tinier than Edgewood. A Roy-area legislator once told me the district had more cows than voters. At breakfast or another meal, you might find most of those residents at the beloved local business Annette’s Café.



In Cuba, stop in at the Chaco Grill. Isabel Herrera and her sister Rosalba Aranda, owner and manager, respectively, know what makes their breakfast burrito a byway choice. “We use our family recipes, making the tortillas from scratch, scrambling the eggs fresh, and making up carne adovada, chicharrones, and other items for the burritos. We buy our green chile fresh in the fall, roast it ourselves, and then freeze it for the year to come.”



In Corrales, you can’t get much closer to the source of the chile than at the Apple Tree Cafe, owned by the town’s chile-farming Wagner family and next door to some of their fields. The café is open July through December 1, but also sells the burritos at the Corrales Growers’ Market on Sundays until the end of market season, in early November. The burrito stuffed with eggs, hash browns, and pulled pork (slow-cooked overnight) is the top seller. Get it handheld at the market or enveloped in a plateful of zesty chile at the café.



A large number of Albuquerque businesses are featured on the byway too, scattered throughout the metro area, including the ever popular Frontier, Burrito Lady, Burritos Alinstante, Casa de Benavidez, Dos Hermanos, El Modelo, Tim’s Place, and Vic’s Daily Cafe, as well as New Mexico chains Blake’s Lotaburger, Flying Star, Garcia’s Kitchen, Golden Pride, Hurricane’s, Little Anita’s, the Range Cafe, Sadie’s, Twisters, and Weck’s.



Santa Fe also has plenty of byway stops in addition to the venerable Tia Sophia’s, including hot-chile epicenter Horseman’s Haven, the Pantry, and capital city branches of Flying Star and Weck’s. You can also chow down at a pair of El Parasols and at five Blake’s Lotaburgers.



For the entire byway, from Las Cruces to Ratón, and Tucumcari to Tse Bonito, go to newmexico.org/burrito. You’ll find an interactive map with addresses, directions, and more.



Burrito -fold The ability to deftly roll a well-proportioned, leakproof burrito is a point of pride among many New Mexicans.


GREEN-CHILE-SMOTHERED BREAKFAST BURRITOS

For the heartiest way to start the day, a plated and smothered burrito is the way to go. Most folks say a New Mexican breakfast burrito must at least have eggs and green or red, along with the tortilla wrap. I paired this eye-opener with green chile, but opt for red if you prefer. Find recipes for either sauce below.

Serves 4, generously




  • 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

  • 3 large russet potatoes, 10 to 12 ounces each, peeled or unpeeled, shredded on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt Fresh-ground black pepper

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 2 or 3 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 4 flour tortillas, warmed

  • 8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp

  • 3 to 4 cups prepared green chile sauce, warmed (recipe below)

  • 6 to 8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated



 Preheat oven to 400° F.



Warm oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir in potatoes, salt, and as much pepper as you wish. Pat mixture down evenly, cook several minutes. Scrape it up from bottom of skillet, add onion and garlic, and pat back down again. Repeat process until potatoes are cooked through and golden brown, with many crisp edges, about 12 to 15 minutes. Pour eggs over potatoes and scrape mixture up and down another couple of times to distribute and cook eggs.



Spoon 1⁄4 of mixture onto a tortilla. Top with 2 slices of bacon. Roll up into a loose cylinder and place burrito seam side down on a heatproof plate. Spoon 1⁄4 of chile sauce over burrito and sprinkle it generously with cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients.



Bake burritos until cheese is melted and gooey, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.



HANDHELD RED CHILE BREAKFAST BURRITOS

Since handheld burritos are often an on-the-run option, I’ve made this to serve just a pair of diners. It’s easy to double or even triple, if you want to feed a group. I happen to prefer red chile with the chorizo included here, but feel free to mix and match fillings and toppings as you wish. Just remember that a handheld burrito is an exercise in restraint, to some degree. It needs to be full enough to be satisfying, but not so overstuffed that it can’t be eaten out of hand, and the filling should be moist but not so much that it drips badly or causes the tortilla to collapse. You can offer extra chile sauce on the side if you wish, but keep the quantity inside the burrito close to the amount suggested.



Serves 2




  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil 3 to 4 ounces uncooked bulk chorizo

  • 8- to 9-ounce russet potato, peeled or unpeeled, cut in 1⁄2-inch dice

  • 1/3 cup chopped onion

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 flour tortillas, warmed

  • 1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons prepared red chile sauce, warmed (recipe below)

  • 3 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated



Preheat oven to 400° F.



Warm oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir in chorizo and pat mixture down evenly, and scrape back up, until the chorizo loses its raw look. Stir in potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, until the cubes are just starting to become tender. Scrape mixture up from bottom of skillet, add onion, garlic, and salt, and pat back down again. Repeat process until potato cubes are cooked through and golden brown, with some crisp edges, about 5 more minutes. Pour eggs over potatoes and scrape mixture up and down another couple of times to distribute and cook eggs.



Spoon 1⁄2 of filling onto a tortilla. Spoon 1⁄2 of chile sauce over filling followed by 1⁄2 of cheese. Fold 1 side of tortilla up over filling by about 1 inch. Fold both ends in and roll up into a snug cylinder. Repeat for second burrito. Wrap at least the folded bottom end of each burrito in a foil or wax paper collar. Serve right away.



RED CHILE SAUCE FROM WHOLE PODS

When New Mexicans talk about “red chile” or simply “red,” they generally mean the sauce that forms a constituent part of a dish. Cooks make the sauce from either dried whole pods, as is the case here, or from ground chile, as in the recipe after this. Use the sauce with burritos, enchiladas, tamales, or other dishes.



Makes approximately 4 cups




  • 8 ounces (about 20 to 25) dried whole red New Mexican chile pods

  • 4 cups water or chicken stock (divided use)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, minced

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons crumbled dried Mexican oregano or marjoram

  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste



 



Toast dried whole chile pods in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are warm and release their fragrance, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove chiles from skillet immediately. When cool enough to handle, break each chile pod into several pieces (wearing rubber or plastic gloves if your skin is sensitive), discarding stem and seeds. Place chile pieces in a blender and pour in one-half of the water or stock. Purée until mostly smooth but with a few flecks of chile still visible in liquid.



Warm oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté several minutes, until onion is limp. Pour in blended chile mixture, then add oregano and salt. Purée remaining chiles with remaining water and pour purée into sauce in pan. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for a total of 20 to 25 minutes. After about 15 minutes, taste the sauce and adjust seasonings. When ready, sauce will be cooked down enough to coat a spoon thickly but still drop off of it easily. Use warm or refrigerate for later use. Working ahead: The sauce keeps for 5 to 6 days, refrigerated, and freezes well.



RED CHILE SAUCE FROM GROUND POD

Ground dried chile is a fine ingredient for making sauce if you’re sure it’s freshly ground. It simplifies the process, and also facilitates the blending of various chiles with different degrees of heat, earthiness, sweetness, or other characteristics to make a signature sauce for a special dish. In New Mexico, it’s fairly easy to find superb ground chile at farmers’ markets, specialty shops, or grocery stores with high turnover, but the search may be more problematic out of state. Smell it if you can, or at least verify that it’s vibrant crimson in color.



Makes approximately 4 cups 




  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, minced

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 3⁄4 cup ground dried red chile, mild, medium, or hot, or a combination

  • 4 cups chicken or beef stock, or water

  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano or marjoram

  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste



 



Warm oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is limp. Stir in chile and then water, a cup at a time. Add oregano and salt and bring sauce just to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Completed sauce should coat a spoon thickly but still drop off it easily. Use warm or refrigerate for later use. The sauce keeps for 5 to 6 days, refrigerated, and freezes well.



GREEN CHILE SAUCE

In the days before freezers, green sauces were far less common than red. The immature chile turned red in the field rather quickly, making the green pod highly seasonal. I prefer to use stock in place of water in both red and green sauces, but especially with green chile, to approximate the meatier flavor that used to come from lard or beef suet when they were the only available cooking fats.



Makes approximately 4 cups




  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1⁄2 to 1 medium onion, chopped fine

  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups chopped roasted mild to medium-hot New Mexican green chile, fresh or thawed frozen

  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste



 



Warm oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and continue cooking for another 1 or 2 minutes. Mix in chile. Immediately begin pouring in stock, stirring as you go, then add salt. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until thickened but still very pourable. Use warm, or refrigerate for later use. The sauce keeps for about 3 days, refrigerated, and freezes well.



Cooks desiring a still meatier sauce may want to brown a bit of ground or cubed pork loin or beef chuck with the onion-and-garlic mixture, then simmer the sauce longer, until the meat is tender.



Chile recipes are adapted from Tasting New Mexico, © 2012 Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Museum of New Mexico Press), carried in the New Mexico Magazine Store.



Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. Read her blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm. See more of Douglas Merriam’s work at douglasmerriam.com.