Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Crushing on Tortas

I had the good fortune of spending some time last weekend in Chicago. As a lover of Mexican food, I *HAD TO* visit one of Rick Bayless' restaurants. Had. To. I have stalked him on Facebook and Twitter, drooled over his cookbooks, and unearthed his PBS contributions from the archives. I am a fan, to say the least.

The casual atmosphere of XOCO fit our schedule for the trip, and we popped in for dinner on Friday night. The Xoco Michelada was refreshing, and guacamole topped with roasted chiles and pepitas served with both tomatillo salsa and a 3-chile salsa whet our appetite for the main course. We chose a torta (Spanish for sandwich) to complete our meal. The option of suckling pig danced toward me on the menu. There was no resisting that Cochinita Pibil. I can only lamely describe the pork as the best wood-smoked pulled pig you have ever eaten kicked up twenty-thousand notches with black beans, pickled onions and a VERY flavorful and spicy habanero dipping sauce. Bite after incredible bite of the crusty, toasted bread left me licking my fingers and forcing myself to slow and savor it. It was that good. Really.

The torta that I made here at home a few months ago is not even comparable to Rick Bayless' masterpiece. The pork is nicely seasoned with the smokiness of cumin; pinto beans are mashed with my favorite homemade salsa; and the addition of avocado layered with other veggies is a creamy bonus. It is good--don't get me wrong--but, Rick Bayless won't be beating on my door for the recipe. In hindsight, I didn't toast my bread enough. The crispness of the crusty baguette was a great texture balance with the tender pork in the XOCO sandwich.

While I would love to rush back to XOCO (or one of Rick's other restaurants) for another sampling of his tortas, a trip to Chicago when the craving hits me just isn't really that feasible. I believe I will be making this version of a Seared Pork Torta at home with more attention given to toasting the bread...maybe I will even smoke the pork someday instead of sear...and those pickled onions were delicious...oh man...there might have to be another blog post with my version of THAT recipe.

(adapted from Cooking Light)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 (1/4 inch thick) boneless center-cut pork loin chops
1 baguette, cut in half horizontally
1/2 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons salsa (I used my home canned garden salsa.)
1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 large tomato, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 avocado, sliced

Preheat broiler.
Heat oil in a large skillet. 
Season pork with cumin and salt.
Add pork to pan and cook 2 minutes on each side, or until done. 
Let stand 5 minutes; slice thinly.
Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 3/4-inch shell.
Place bread halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet and broil until golden brown...don't skimp on this.
Combine beans and salsa in a small bowl; mash together with a fork.
Spread bean mixture on bottom of baguette.
Top with pork, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapeno, avocado, and crown with top half of baguette.
Cut into 4 pieces. (Serves 4)

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