The Making of a Burrito

A couple of years ago a new take-away moved into what used to be a dental practice directly beneath the platform of a Docklands Light Railway station. The establishment called itself “Tortilla” – a fitting, if somewhat unimaginative name for a place that sells burritos. Given that it was just next door to where I used to work at the time, it didn’t take me – a long-time chilli con carne buff – to become a regular. At some point Tortilla’s burritos must have been my primary sustenance during the working days.

As is often the case with food I’m addicted to, I attempted to recreate this culinary masterpiece in my own kitchen. The ingredients are simple enough: a tortilla, some rice, fried onions and peppers, some beans, some meat and salsa, lettuce, chillies and soured cream. A couple of the items above deserve more detailed discussion.

  • tortilla: there’ll be a decent choice in your local supermarket, but you can also make your own. It’s a bit time-consuming, so we won’t do it this time round. Choose six large, wheat ones.
  • rice: the take-away offers a choice of tomato or lime and coriander. I find the latter has much more character, so we’ll need a small bunch of fresh coriander, one lime and, of course, some easy-cook long grain rice.
  • beans: any random can won’t do; what we should go for are refried pinto beans. Cans of these, made by Discovery, should be in Mexican section of said supermarket. Take three.
  • meat: Tortilla offers dry chicken, tough steak and succulent pork. We’ll go for the latter, so grab one nice, large fillet.
  • salsa: again, we’re not going to make our own just yet; the supermarket’s Mexican section should have a choice of at least two: Discovery’s, in a plastic, squeezable bottle, and Old El Paso, in a glass jar. Get the El Paso one, it’s much nicer.

The other items are so mundane they barely deserve a mention, but here we go, so that the shopping list for the nearby Tesco’s is complete:

  • one large onion
  • two peppers: red and yellow
  • a bag of fresh, green chillies
  • some crunchy lettuce – a little gem will do
  • a pot of soured cream

Obviously, we always have some garlic, red wine, extra virgin olive oil and smoked paprika in our pantry, so no need to list these.

After getting home with all these we need to start with the meat as soon as possible. Ideally it should be slow-cooked, but I’m never inclined to prepare my dinner a day in advance, so somewhat accelerated slow cooking will have to do: first cut the pork fillet in half and season well with paprika. In the mean time heat some olive oil in a pan; once really hot, sear the pork for a couple of minutes, until it becomes brown. Reduce the heat to minimum, add one halved chilli, a couple of lightly crushed cloves of garlic and pour in some red wine so that there is about 5 mm of it at the bottom of the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for about an hour or hour and a half, adding some more wine from time to time if the liquid evaporates.

The rest of the ingredients is much less involved, so after starting the meat off in the manner prescribed, we can take a break.

Some 20 minutes before the meat is ready – or about an hour from the start – put sliced onions and peppers in a pan so that they soften. Cook the rice (a glass of it for six burritos), and once it absorbs all the water, mix it with some roughly chopped coriander and lime juice. Slice the lettuce and thinly slice the chilli. Heat the refried beans (half a can per burrito) in a pan. Put the grill in the oven on high.

Once the meat has cooked (it should be easy to shred with a fork), the rice is ready, onions and peppers soft and beans hot, it’s time to put everything together. Tear off a square of kitchen foil and put it on the worktop. Heat a tortilla under the grill, a couple of seconds on each side, and put on the foil. On that put some rice, beans, onions and peppers, meat, salsa, lettuce, chillies and soured cream. Don’t worry if it seems a bit too much to fit comfortably in the tortilla – that’s what the kitchen foil is for!

Now comes the tricky bit: rolling it all into a neat packet. I contemplated recording a video with a demonstration, but my skill in this matter proved so inadequate that I thought I’d better leave it to the reader’s ingenuity. The idea is to start rolling both the tortilla and the foil together, from the end closer to you, then grab the other end of tortilla and lift it so that the contents don’t spill out, at the same time taking care that they don’t flow out from the sides. It actually sounds more complicated than it is – if in doubt, go to Tortilla at lunchtime and have a look how they do it.

The final result is a bit messy, but surprisingly close in taste to what people are prepared to queue for during lunch hours at Canary Wharf, so we must congratulate ourselves on this effort.