Friday, November 5, 2010

A Mexican and an Asian Walk Into a Bar....


“A falta de pan, tortillas”
- In the absence of bread, tortillas will do. Mexican proverb.

            When I was in college, one of my closest friends was Mexican-American.  He was cool for so many reasons.  He had street-cred (unlike my wimpy suburban upbringing).  He taught me how to salsa/merengue (I have NO hips or rhythm).  He wanted to be the next Octavio Paz (I did limericks with the word Nantucket).  And he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Mexican liquor – tequila, mescal, whatever.  He could taste “an undertone of smoked agave, mixed with lime blossom and a hint of vanilla” in his Cabo Uno Lowland Extra Añejo.  I just tasted booze. 
            And he could drink me under the table.  There is definitely some truth to the “1 tequila, 2 tequila, floor” saying.  I hit the floor a lot with my friend.  Luckily, he had a solution for this at 5 AM in the morning.  Su madre y migas.  Mama would just look at us pitifully and say “Borrachos.” Wait a minute – then the pans would start clattering.  Holy mother of egg – Migas!
            Migas exists both in America and on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).  They are very different dishes: the American contains tortillas and eggs, and the Iberian includes day-old bread (supposedly the Iberian migas is related to North African/Moorish influences).  The migas of my memories is that of Tex-Mex cuisine.   While Tex-Mex could be the madeleine of taco hell, upon closer examination, Tex-Mex has a history that is uniquely American (and no, Tex-Mex history did not start with the chalupa).
            The term Tex-Mex comes from the 19th century railroad era.  Tex-Mex originally referred to the Texas-Mexican Railway, connecting Laredo with Corpus Christi in 1875. By the 1920’s the term referred both to the rail line as well as residents of the area in which the railroad served.  While the food of the area was predominately traditional Northern Mexican cooking, with the advent of the railroad, Anglo foodstuffs came along with post-Civil War Anglo cattle ranchers.  Mexican ranch cooks, having to cook for Anglo tastes, starting using both the ingredients, such as lard and flour, and the cooking equipment (e.g. cast iron skillets) of Anglo ranchers, mixing it with traditional ranchero cuisine, like carne seca (dried beef) and barbacoa de cabeza (barbequed cow’s head).  Yellow cheese, flour tortillas, lard-roux gravies were added to the mix of tortillas, beef and beans.  By the early 20th century, pushcarts in Houston were selling tamales and chili gravy. 
            Tex-Mex as the label associated with endless baskets of chips and salsa was inspired by food author, Diana Kennedy, in her 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico.  In one of the first books to explore regional Mexican cooking, Kennedy sneered upon the Americanized Mexican food of Texas.  The food community seized upon the word “Tex-Mex” to describe the bastardized form of true Mexican cuisine.  The Mexican restaurants of Texas, however, were not amused.
            While regional Mexican cuisine has had a renaissance in hipster and foodie circles (Rick Bayless comes to mind), Tex-Mex never died.  It has been imported to the rest of the world in the form of bagged chips, jarred salsa and margaritas (try Mexican food in Paris if you want a surreal experience).  But before anyone casts aspersions upon Tex-Mex as a whole, think carefully.  When was the last time you had a burrito?  Chili con carne at the last potluck?  Quesadillas?  Migas belongs in the same category of foods. Although my friend’s mom knew that migas were not the food of her “ancestors,” her son didn’t care.  And frankly, after a warm breakfast and a big hug from mama, neither did I. 

 Migas
            This is a great way to use leftover or stale corn tortillas and leftover salsa from the fish taco recipe.  Although I will list the whole set of ingredients that can go into eggs, most are optional.  If feeding a crowd, it is easier to set the optional ingredients as garnishes and have your guests customize their own.  You will avoid the inevitable “I am allergic/can’t stand/don’t like…” comments.  De nada.

2 Servings
4 large eggs
1 tbs. salsa (chunky is best)
1 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil
3 5-6 inch corn tortillas, torn or cut into small pieces
1/4 c. white onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, without seeds, finely chopped
2/3 c. of cheddar, Monterey Jack or a combination, grated
2 tbs. green chilies (optional)
1/2 avocado, chopped and sprinkled with lemon/lime juice to prevent oxidizing (optional)
2 tbs. cilantro, minced (optional)
crema or sour cream (for serving)
Flour tortillas (for serving)

1.     In a small bowl, beat the eggs and salsa together.  Set aside.
2.     In a heavy skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat, until shimmering.  Stir in tortilla pieces and sauté until softened.  Add chopped onion also into the skillet and sauté until onions are soft and translucent.
3.     If using, add green chilies and sauté for 20 seconds.  Pour egg mixture into the pan and scramble eggs until they resemble soft curds.  Take skillet off heat and add tomato, cheese, avocado, cilantro and fold into eggs.
4.     Serve immediately with warm flour tortillas and crema on the side.
Note:  If you need meat (and some people do), you can also add browned chorizo or crumbled bacon on top.  Frankly, I think that is overkill, but it’s your breakfast – do what you need to do.

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