By JOHN DeMERS
I never really loved eggs very much, raised in a world in which they came only with bacon and, if I was lucky, buttered grits, until I found my way to Mexican egg dishes. Now, from huevos rancheros to the colorfully named huevos divorciados, from migas to breakfast tacos, I’m finally in love with the incredible, edible egg.
It probably has something to with my fondness for red and green, and a decision made long ago that Mexican food whenever possible would borrow its colors from the Mexican flag – the same decision, by the way, made long ago in Italy. In Mexico the green is most often jalapenos, tomatillos, avocado and cilantro, while in Italy it’s basil. If it hadn’t been for Mexico and other parts of the Spanish New World, it turns out, Italians wouldn’t have gotten their hands on tomatoes to begin with.
And sure, I like spicy food in general, more flavor always striking me as better than less. Still, there’s something about the heaven-kissed combination of all things Mexican that I embrace first thing in the morning, as though the paints of this remarkable cuisine were always intended to be art on a canvas made of eggs.
As I can personally attest, it’s possible to go years without noticing Mexican eggs dishes – especially if you live in some state far from the borderlands. In recent years, however, the cultural addition of Mexican workers and Mexican restaurants has at least laid the foundation for a love of these remarkable flavors in cities and towns where you wouldn’t have thought you could find them.
Huevos rancheros are almost certainly the “mother recipe” that expanded into huevos divorciados, motulenos and others. Still, the passion of good cooks and good eaters could never let the process quit while it was ahead. It simply kept trying to be more ahead.
As the name implies, rancheros were a kind of tossed-together breakfast made for laborers on ranches and farms in Mexico. Over time, the central dish became a central plate – outfitted with refried beans, seasoned rice and usually extra tortillas, corn tortillas being more authentic than flour, of course, to sop up whatever good stuff remained. Ranch hands are not known for eating light.
Huevos divorciados (yes, divorced eggs) are a quick trip from rancheros, but they do add one more delicious flavor – the salsa verde spiked with the unique flavor of tomatillos. It may be some kind of psychological test, but you can eat your huevos being careful not to mix sauces, but they taste great all together. Huevos motulenos, from the Yucatecan town of Motul, do the same sort of thing, topping tortillas with eggs but adding black beans and cheese, plus maybe plantains, ham and green peas.
Two other dishes show the flavor profile trying to escape even this loosest of boundaries – migas, essential scrambled eggs with all things Mexican thrown in, and huevos diablo, a peppered-up rendition of deviled eggs.
Of course, if you simply want huevos rancheros, order them. But don’t order them in a music store. You just might be told they were a Canadian surf rock band from Calgary, Alberta (of all places). From 1990 to 2000, they played an instrumental blend of rockabilly, surf, grunge and punk – which just goes to show that Mexicans aren’t the only people who know a lot about mixtures.
If you love huevos rancheros, “divorced eggs” may be your logical next step. The same hybrid of salsa and red chile sauce awaits spooned across half the plate, with a green sauce usually made with tomatillo spooned across the other half. The eggs are mostly just the eggs, but something about sitting atop a corn or flour tortilla with two sauces makes them a regal pleasure indeed.
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 (6-inch) corn tortillas
4 large eggs
2/3 cup Fischer & Wieser’s Salsa a la Charra, warm
2/3 cup Fischer & Wieser’s Salsa Verde Ranchera, warm
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresca
¼ chopped cilantro
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the tortillas, 1 at a time, and cook until crisp-tender, 30 seconds per side. Remove the tortillas to a piece of aluminum foil and wrap tightly to keep warm. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet and fry the eggs until just set, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt. Unwrap the tortillas and arrange them flat on 2 serving plates (1 tortilla per plate). Top each tortilla with 2 fried eggs and spoon about 1/3 cup warm red salsa a la charra over 1 egg and another 1/3 cup warm salsa verde over the other egg. Sprinkle with queso and cilantro.
Serve immediately. Serves 2.
John DeMers is Culinary Ambassador for Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods in Fredericksburg. He is the author of both Fischer & Wieser cookbooks, Fredericksburg Flavors and The Sauce, along with fifty-four other books ranging from cooking to travel to biography to novels.