Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monster Burritos for Fourteen!

One of my friends just turned 30, and so his wife and several of his friends decided it would be fitting to have a little birthday party for him (at an indoor water park, no less!) last Friday. My wife and I were invited and decided to go, and everything looked very promising for offering a great time. The only thing that wasn't settled at least a couple of weeks ahead of time was what we'd be doing about dinner. I suggested that we should make a roast or a huge amount of spaghetti (or both!) because it would be cheaper and more fun than everyone going out, and so in the process, my title "Untrained Gourmet" preceding me, I got hired to make something good. I decided on mega-sized, super-delicious pork burritos because of the overwhelming crowd-pleasing ability of burritos, particularly huge, sloppy, delicious ones. Here's mine, just before I tried to wrap it up and eat it, on a tortilla that easily measures fourteen or fifteen inches across (and that is flavored with chili!).
Apparently, folks raved about them. Some of the things I heard were about three or four variations on "That was seriously the best burrito I've ever had." and "Thanks for your gourmet expertise this weekend. Everyone raved about it after you left and all day Saturday. A great time was had by all." Well... that's what burritos are good for.

This was a bit of a monument for me, honestly, since I've never had to cook for more than 10 before in one go, so it was a little bit exciting and a little bit scary and a little bit trial, experiment, and error. There were three dishes: the meat filling for the burritos, some black beans (I say for the burritos, though I guess they could have been a side), and Spanish rice (again, I say for the burritos, though I originally intended them as a side). The entire undertaking was rather epic! Remember, this recipe feeds 12-15 hungry adults.

Meat filling and sauce:

  • A five pound pork (or beef) roast -- I used pork loin;
  • 2 1/2 sweet onions, halved and sliced thinly;
  • 8-10 medium-to-large cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes;
  • 6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped;
  • 2 thinly sliced fresh (red) cayenne peppers (more, optionally, for more heat);
  • 6 Nardello (or other sweet, red peppers), seeded and roughly chopped;
  • 2 tsp. whole (or freshly ground) cumin seeds;
  • Several sprigs each fresh thyme and (Mexican) oregano, finely chopped;
  • 4-6 bay leaves;
  • Zest and juice of half a lime, grated or very finely chopped;
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses;
  • 2-3 tbsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
As for the tortillas to serve it on, if you can get the giant, delicious ones that are available at EarthFare (sorry, I cannot recall the brand, but they come in a wide variety of flavors including chili and sun dried tomato), then get those. Otherwise, get other flour tortillas, as large as you like, or for a crowd, in a variety of sizes. We had three sizes, including the super-giants pictured above.

How to make it:
Start out by seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, and ground cumin, and then sear it in a relatively hot Dutch oven or other large pan. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside and add some oil and the onions and fresh sweet peppers (Nardellos for me). Cook them until the onions are translucent, and then add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, cayenne, garlic, tomatoes with their liquid, and the vinegar and deglaze the pot, scraping up as much of the gramines (delicious burned-on meat bits) as you can. Then add the lime zest and chipotles, stir well, and put the meat back in, wiggling it so that it is mostly covered with the liquid. Resist the temptation to add more water. It will be okay. Salt and pepper everything lightly and let it come to a boil; then reduce the heat to low, cover it most of the way, and let it cook until the pork is quite tender (probably three or four hours -- having access to an indoor water park is helpful for this stage, though keep things on the very low if you're leaving a cooking pot unattended). *Alternatively, skip the searing/sauteing parts and just put everything in a big-enough crockpot, set to high unti it boils and then to low until it's done.* Once the meat is to pulling-tender, remove it from the pan and add in the freshly chopped herbs, sugar/molasses, and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to continue to cook, uncovered and preferably over somewhat higher heat so it reduces somewhat, while you let the meat rest and then pull and cut it apart. Once it is pulled, add the meat back into the sauce, mix thoroughly, and reduce the heat to low to await serving. Just before serving, add the lime juice.

For the black beans:
If you want to be a rockstar, use about two cups of dried beans and soak/cook them until tender according to the package instructions. Then set them aside and use as instructed below. Otherwise, use canned beans. We used six cans of black beans and had only a little left over.
  • 6 cans of beans, all black or with some pintos mixed in (at most 2 cans of pintos), thoroughly rinsed;
  • One sweet onion, chopped medium-fine;
  • Two bell peppers, chopped likewise;
  • A couple of tablespoons of your favorite not-crazy-hot hot sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Half a stick of butter and a little oil for cooking.
Start out by preparing and then sauteing the onion and peppers in the oil and butter. Once they've softened considerably (and even caramelized on the edges somewhat), add everything else and stir. Cook over medium in this way for a few minutes until the beans are all warmed through, which takes roughly 5 minutes or so. Try to time this to finish around the same time as the meat, which is most easily accomplished by having someone else pull the meat apart. Assistants are great.

The rice, which we overdid, but if people are hungry or like Spanish rice on the side, then this will work great. I'll put up what I actually made for posterity's sake, but feel encouraged to half this recipe in practice since we ended up with plenty of left over rice (which is a fantastic ingredient, by the way, in scrambled eggs the next morning!). This is the proper pinkish-reddish-orangish "Spanish" (read: Mexican) rice made properly from scratch.
  • Four cups of white, long-grain rice;
  • Half a sweet onion, finely chopped;
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid;
  • Half a stick of butter;
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds (or the equivalent, freshly ground);
  • 4 bay leaves;
  • A little finely chopped fresh (Mexican) oregano;
  • 3-4 tablespoons hot sauce;
  • A heavy dash of Worcestershire sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Enough water to mix with the tomatoes and their juice so that the total quantity of liquid is as specified on the package cooking directions (usu. 8 cups, or generally, two cups of water per cup of dry rice). NOTE: If you missed it -- measure the water, tomatoes, and juice together or you're going to have some soggy, not good rice.
Doing this stuff right isn't hard, but it isn't a freebie. You have to start by toasting the rice in a hot pan (the pan you'll cook it in). This requires moving the rice around pretty much the whole time while it's on a fairly high temperature, and it takes several minutes that cannot be used for anything else. When the rice is getting nicely toasted (it gets all extra white and some of the grains get a little golden), add the cumin seeds and bay leaves and continue this dry-toasting for about thirty more seconds or perhaps a minute. Next, add the butter, onion, and garlic, and continue swirling the rice mixture around in the pan. It will start to sizzle, and that's what you want. This should continue until the butter more or less melts, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Then, add the water, tomatoes with juice, hot sauce, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and stir. Let the mixture come to a boil and cook on that relatively high heat for 2-3 minutes. Then reduce the heat immediately to low (on an electric burner that means you have to use two eyes or plan ahead knowing how your electric range works with heating and cooling times... kind of a pain) and cover the pot. Leave it this way until the time period stated on the package directions (probably 20 minutes) has elapsed. At that point, turn off the heat (remove it from the burner if electric) and leave it alone until you're ready to serve it. You can fluff and mix it just before serving. Again, plan ahead and try to time this to be finishing around the same time as everything else.

Once it's done, get out some tortillas and add some sides. The recommended list includes, but is not limited to:
  • Freshly grated lettuce (iceberg is popular);
  • Diced tomatoes (2 is probably enough);
  • Finely diced sweet and/or spring onions (1/2 of a medium onion is enough);
  • Some kind of Mexican blend, Monterrey Jack, Colby, cheddar, etc., cheese, freshly shredded if you have the time and manpower;
  • Sliced, pickled jalapenos;
  • Salsa, though not much will see action due to the sauce with the meat;
  • Hot sauce;
  • Sour cream or Mexican creme, optionally enhanced with some freshly grated lime zest;
  • Guacamole (preferably homemade);
  • Whatever else you like on burritos.
A good time will be had by all... guaranteed!

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