25 April 2012
Making huevos rancheros at home is something of an endeavor. On the surface the process seems pretty simple--we all know how to make a sauce, warm up tortillas, and fry eggs--but the nature of the ingredients means that timing and order is more important than it may seem. Mise en place is actually necessary to ensure that you're eating your eggs as close to hot off the pan as possible.
- Make sauce
- Prep all garnish & add-ons
- Warm tortillas
- Stage everything
- Fry eggs
- Final assembly
For ranchero sauce, chop up an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and a hot pepper (or more) of your preference. Soften these in a little olive oil in a saute pan or saucepan. Chop up some green and red pepper and throw them in too if you so desire. Season with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper, and let cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until everything is wilted into a lovely mix of aromatic vegetables. Add tomato puree (or whatever form of tomatoes you have around), stir, and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to your preferred thickness. I like to make ranchero sauce fairly thick, so there are no issues with wateriness on the plate. Sounds good?
When you reach this point, put your pan on the lowest heat and let simmer very slowly while you make everything else. The sauce can keep warm on the back burner for a good half-hour; just add a trickle of water if too much liquid burns off.
While your sauce simmers, prepare everything else but the eggs. This means two main things: garnish and tortillas. (John wanted refried beans too, so we warmed those up, but I think they're unnecessary for a plate of good huevos.)
What garnish do you want on your huevos? Cilantro, green onion, avocado, tomato, lime wedges? Chop these up and put them in easily accessible piles. Keep the avocado for last, since it will turn brown if left in contact with air for very long. You can also add a squirt of lemon or lime juice to the sliced avocado; this will slow the oxidation, but only a little. I think submerging cut avocado in your choice of salsa works better--it's acidic, precludes contact with oxygen, and you're going to put both on your huevos anyway, right?
Next: tortillas. We warm our corn tortillas directly over the gas burner, flipping roughly every 30 seconds, so they toast and char just a touch. If you aren't into putting food directly on a gas flame, you can warm them on both sides in a frying pan--preferably the one you're planning to use to fry your eggs, so it will be hot and ready. If you aren't using a frying pan for your tortillas, put your presumptive egg pan on another burner and heat it on medium-high while you're singeing the tortillas. You want it ready to use as soon as your tortillas are done. This is obviously one of those things that's much easier if you cook on a restaurant flattop, right?
(If you want to use flour tortillas, it's probably best to put them in a foil packet and stick them in a low oven or toaster oven for ten minutes. Start them while the sauce is reducing instead of afterward.)
When your tortillas are warm, put them on plates and stick them in a very low oven to keep warm. I think it's best to use plates, so you can just whip them out of the oven and deposit the eggs on them as soon as they are ready. Plus, a hot plate will make for a hotter & therefore superior finished product. You could keep the tortillas warm in a foil packet if necessary, though.
Now it is time to fry eggs. You must work quickly from this point on if you want a plate of hot huevos, so have all your eggs, butter, a little water (I use the teapot), the pan lid, potholders, and a spatula, as well as your finished sauce with ladle, garnish, and tortilla-topped plates ready to grab. You should also preferably have coffee or your choice of beverage already served, and forks, knives, trivets, etc. already on the table.
Melt a whack of butter in your hot egg pan; crack in your eggs. Give them about thirty seconds to begin to set. Then pour in about a teaspoon of water (don't measure; who cares?), give the pan a little shake to let the instantly sizzling water get under the eggs' edges, and IMMEDIATELY slap on the pan lid. If the pan was overly hot--i.e. your eggs' edges started browning--turn the heat down as well. The steam trapped in the pan will cook the top of the eggs in about a minute, depending on how you like your eggs and how hot your burners get.
When your eggs are done, it's time for immediate assembly. Put on a potholder and grab a hot plate out of the oven. Pour a couple spoonfuls of sauce over the tortillas, top with egg(s), add a little more sauce, and sprinkle on garnish. Serve instantly, preferably on a towel or heatproof trivet, and make sure to warm people about the hot plates. Repeat with the rest of your plates. Do NOT try to apportion all the plates before you serve--do them one at a time and get them to the table ASAP. Tell people to start immediately, whether or not you're still at the stove.
Now eat your plate of hot and perfect huevos in good health and good conscience.