spicy burnt cheese tortilla

Burnt Food Done Right

In Mexico by Mark MaskerLeave a Comment

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By José C. Marmolejo
Have you eaten a tortilla reheated on coals, ashes included? That is one of my favorite food experiences. There are two versions of this pleasure: number one is burnt on the edges but soft in the middle, it can be folded and stuffed with carne asada. The second version is toasted all the way, burnt on the edges and some parts in the middle, hard all around, to effortlessly hold guacamole. The smell, taste, and texture brings me back memories of my childhood around a camping fire where it all was about open air, nature, fire, and happiness was to calm the cold and hunger with warm soul food.

spicy burnt cheese tortilla

Burn, baby, burn!

Exposing food to heat changes the flavor, smell, and texture, often improving digestibility, but unfortunately, at the same time, the longer we cook it the fewer the nutrients that reach our bodies. Additionally, animal fats exposed to high temperatures are known to release carcinogens, so unfortunately, burnt food has been associated with cancer. That said, let’s differentiate burnt tortillas—or other burnt ingredients of vegetable origin—from burnt fat. It’s unlikely that anything bad will happen if we enjoy some burnt food once in a while. The problem arises when we make it a habit.
Blackened Fish is a great example of burnt cuisine and a personal favorite of mine. It did not exist in my childhood, it arrived later after some travel helped me discover new foods. It was in the U.S.A. where I had my first blackened fish. I thought it was daring, one of those things you should try the first time with your eyes closed, but it was a surprising and delightful experience. The mixture of the right burnt herbs and spices was great but the best was inside. The burnt crust kept the hot juices inside, cooking the flesh. Must I say, the best was the combination of the burnt crust and the juicy, lightly cooked fish inside? What a technique!
Recado Negro prep

Ready for Recado Negro.

Another extraordinary example of burnt food is Recado Negro or Chilmole, a black paste made from burnt tortillas, herbs, spices, and chiles. The purpose of this paste is for use with meats. It’s very easy to prepare (see recipe below) but most people prefer to purchase it rather than to prepare it at home because the burning of the chiles can be a torture. It’s documented that the Aztecs used to punish their misbehaved children by forcing them to breath burning chiles! Chilmole is sold in the open markets of the Yucatan peninsula, but If you must prepare it, my advice is to do all the burning in the backyard while watching the wind direction. It’s better to get a complaint from the neighbors than experiencing severe nasal and eye irritation.
costras spicy cheese crusts

Costras!

In some taquerías in Mexico City you may find costras. They are nothing but burnt cheese. Literally costras mean “crusts” and are the result of laying in a hot griddle a slice of Chihuahua cheese—the equivalent in the USA would be Monterey Jack—but it would work with any cheese that melts. After melting, the cheese will darken and harden; it will need a meticulously scraping off from the griddle before you can use it as a tostada. You’ll find my home spicy version for costras recipe below.
Burnt food is not limited to salty and fiery foods, we have all had crème brûlée or flan or cajeta. All are variations of burnt milk and sugar. In sugarcane producing areas, the abundance of sugar and the creativity of its inhabitants will produce marvelous combinations. The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago for example, has many dishes flavored with sugar and burnt sugar. A real sweet variety! While we don’t promote excess consumption of anything, we do encourage you to try the recipes below. Bon burnt food appétit!
Serranos Toreados
Chiles Toreados
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Hot
Servings
6 servings
Servings
6 servings
Serranos Toreados
Chiles Toreados
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Hot
Servings
6 servings
Servings
6 servings
Instructions
  1. Sautée the serranos in oil until they're dark. They will blister. Keep them whole—seeds and veins—and do not remove the burnt skin.
  2. Place them in a small bowl that contains the rest of the ingredients. Once cold they will shrink and wrinkle.
  3. While enjoying any food, hold one of the serranos by the stem and chew on it to your liking. That’s flavor!
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Recado Negro prep
Recado Negro
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Medium
Recado Negro prep
Recado Negro
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Medium
Ingredients
Servings: paste for 1 lb meat
Instructions
  1. Soak the chiles in water for 10 minutes to remove their sour burnt flavor.
  2. Mix and grind all ingredients to a paste using 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil. Rub the meat and let it rest overnight. Cook the meat slow the following day.
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costras spicy cheese crusts
Costras
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Medium to Hot
Servings
2 servings
Servings
2 servings
costras spicy cheese crusts
Costras
Print Recipe
Heat Scale: Medium to Hot
Servings
2 servings
Servings
2 servings
Ingredients
Servings: servings
Instructions
  1. Spread a little oil on a griddle and bring it hot. Before it starts smoking, place the slices of cheese on the griddle and sprinkle the crushed chile on top.
  2. When the cheese turns brown turn off the heat and wait until the griddle cools off. Carefully scrape off the crusts, keeping them complete.
  3. Serve by themselves or with guacamole, pico de gallo or your favorite salsa.
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Managing Editor | Mark is a freelance journalist based out of Los Angeles. He’s our Do-It-Yourself specialist, and happily agrees to try pretty much every twisted project we come up with.