Welcome friends and burrito-lovers. You know what you’re here for. It’s that hallowed activity of the gods: ARGUING ABOUT FOOD ON THE INTERNET.
Whose sauce is too saucy? Who doesn’t have the astronomical fat content we want — nay need — from a burrito like this? And what monster added mushrooms? Find out below and deliver your hot takes with a side of Fire sauce.
BLT Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Mac & Cheese Showdown — 1) Vince 2) (tie) Zach, Steve
Taco Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Winter Stew Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Date Night Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Pasta Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Hot Beef Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Shellfish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
BBQ Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Pumpkin Spice Showdown — 1) (tie) Vince, Zach 2) Steve
Thanksgiving Side Dish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Christmas Dessert Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Vince 3) Zach
Chili Cook-off Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Nacho Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Burger Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. As it stands, the score is:
STEVE’S BREAKFAST BURRITO “The Fat Kid’s Hangover”
Oh, it’s that time of the month again! The special day when I spend a goddamn fortune on organic meats and cheeses so that my cohorts can write “Steve you really Steve’d the Steve this Steve!” and trot away with my well-deserved victory.
It’s not just the losing that gets me, friends. It’s the ease with which Vince and Zach trump me. As I delicately dress each hand-fried chip individually, colorblind Vince drops a pile of meat on a bed of bone-dry corn crisps and walks away with a win. While I use a recipe learned in Hawaii to create succulent butterfish, Zach cleans out his fridge and calls it a “tasting plate” — beating me handily.
At this point, Zach and Vince — who have joined some unholy alliance of humans who apparently never want to be sent on a travel writing trip by their editor ever again — are definitely in my head. With each dramatically overdone ingredient I buy to “out fancy” them, with each complicated technique that I mollify in hopes of winning the low brow vote, they burrow deeper into my brainstem. Two voices, whose punctuation tics I’m left to edit, trashing me on the monthly.
They don’t even bother talking smack to one another anymore, though that’s the literal selling point of this series. Instead, each month we get two old Oxford pals rubbing elbows — “Zach, you old scamp, love the bruleé!” “Spiffing work, Vincent, you certainly amuse’d my bouche!” — before joining forces to declare: “Sorry, Steve, EVERYONE looks at the color of the delicious sauce inside their burgers. That’s why ketchup, literally used to imitate blood in low budget horror flicks worldwide, is so dang popular!”
To which I calmly respond:
It’s maddening, of course, but the best I can do is keep cooking and hope for an eventual “I get it now” montage at the 3/4 mark of the series run, in which our hero finally decides to “go out and cook my food” before charming the judges and winning the top prize. Either that or our hero starts mailing packages of festering raw meat to his “pals” anonymously. Whatever the case, the monthly food challenge waits for no cook — so again I found myself at the stove last Saturday, trying not to be influenced by the two chefs I’m up against, who once argued about water molecules on Slack for 45 minutes but seem to all too easily agree about my food.
Fortunately, dear readers (and SERIOUSLY, please), I had one ace in the hole: A hungover partner. My girl Nikta, she of the “getting pregnant the eve of the Date Night Cook-Off” fame, had partied hard the night before I was to cook and awoke with a hangover and a willingness to forgo a few thousand years of Muslim heritage and eat pork.
I decided to make the classic hangover burrito that I used to order when living on the beach in San Diego. Heavy enough to soak up alcohol, light enough to still get a surf in. Me being me, I twisted and tweaked it a few times, mostly by adding dramatic amounts of cheese.
Here are my ingredients:
- Insanely sharp, expensive “why are you wasting this in a burrito?”-style cheddar.
- Pepper jack.
- Organic singles (all the creaminess, slightly less guilt).
- Chorizo that’s specially made by my Mexican butcher.
- Double thick bacon, sliced at 1/4 of an inch, as per my request.
- Crema Mexicana.
- Onions (yellow and spring).
- Pasilla chiles.
First, I butterflied my bacon. At 1/4 thickness, bacon fat will bubble and crisp like a chicharron. I wanted that, but also wanted some soft spots. Four hard corners would have been too much crunch.
I set the strips on a paper town and filtered the fat for later use. Easy peasy, and we’re off to the chorizo. I was working with an awesome, locally made product that didn’t need any spice added. I did add the diced pasilla chiles and some garlic.
When that was cooked, I started adding in cheese like a madman to create a queso fundito — a dish I learned at a cooking class in Mexico, but which Zach is no doubt an expert on an is already preparing to remind me of some subtle error. (Christ, I’m bitter.)
I really thought about not using processed singles here — chemtrail cheese has gotten me in trouble before — but then was like, “Fuck it, it’s a hangover burrito.” I will say, for what it’s worth, that my beloved singles help make a queso creamy instead of clumpy.
That cheddar on top is so sharp it cuts your mouth. Does it translate in flavor when part of a big, brawling, mixed up burrito? Yes, absolutely.
Next, I used some bacon grease (a little bit of the excess cheese grease) to fire off some mushrooms and onions. This is my “potatoes” element and I find it preferable flavor-wise.
I did the mushrooms pretty big because so far there was nothing chunky going inside my tortilla and I thought it would be a fun change.
Finally, it was time for the eggs. I undercooked them and under-stirred them — a lá Eggslut. I also added two extra yolks because anyone who acts like more yolk isn’t better is an enduring enemy of mine and this is an easy way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There’s a little shred of shell in there that was fished out, but Vince will probably use to nullify my entire existence. Anyway, here’s how they cooked up:
I actually turned the burner off at this point and flipped them one more time. The goal was indeed to leave them ever so slightly undone because I’m not a goddamn monster and of course I was going to grill my rolled burrito.
If you don’t already know about your boy Steve, let me give you a little insight into my aesthetic.
Skateboarding with basil is basically my personality in a nutshell and if you read this column regularly you had to know that I was going to have some greens in my gut bomb. I chose Thai basil, green onions, and cilantro. The Thai basil is sweet and not licorice-y (like other basils I know). It was an easy fit here. (Also, I’m leaving town and don’t trust the neighbor I hired to water my plants so getting one last taste of my beloved Thai basil felt crucial.)
END HERB INTERLUDE.
Finally, I mixed the crema Mexicana with some homemade taco sauce — which I’ve outlined here before: dried chilies, water, onions. Nikta doesn’t like spice all that much so I reserved the serious heat for myself. I also added raw tomatoes because they’re awesome and I love that brightness. I bought avo but passed at the last second. That little Coco Chanel move might just be my donwnfall.
Here’s your build:
And the roll, post grilling on low in bacon fat, so that the whole dish was piping hot.
Served with a Mexican Coke, toasted to a cold-blooded hatred of Vince and Zach. Nikta reported that her hangover was gone after three bites, a malady which I’d completely forgotten about as I cooked but seems relevant again now that it might help butter up the judges.
Vince on Steve’s Burrito:
Steve, let me start at the beginning, with a few compliments, before I get to the meat of my critique (a little good, a lot of bad, and then the tiniest fraction more good at the conclusion — back in the ol’ MFA program we used to call this a “shit sandwich,” though for our purposes let’s call it a shit burrito). So… I like the way you scored your bacon. And I like your bacon philosophy — I too like a little chewiness in my bacon. I would’ve put mine in the oven, but that’s just me.
I can’t shade your extra yolks idea, even if it seems unnecessary. And chorizo and bacon? Sure, why not, everyone loves chorizo. Also, I appreciated this, the perfect, unironically-written Steve sentence: “I was working with an awesome, locally made product that didn’t need any spice added. I did add the diced pasilla chiles and some garlic.”
Oh… and then you put… mushrooms? Instead of potatoes? We will have to agree to disagree here, friend. I’m not sure in what world giant chunks of watery mushrooms are an adequate substitute for crispy potato, but… yeah, there’s nothing good I can say here. As Tommy Lee Jones once told Jim Carrey, “I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”
And then you just… kept going. Why am I still reading? Steve, what all did you put in this thing? Two meats, double yolks, three cheeses, three types of herbs, and another wet ingredient (tomatoes)? (And yet curiously, no avocado?) But yeah, nice restraint on the 37 ounces of crema in there, Coco Chanel. What was your food cost on this, $37 per burrito? I’m not saying I wouldn’t eat this, I’m just saying you worked insanely hard and probably spent $70 making what looks like two yellow tofu sticks poking out of a mushroom hash. Who doesn’t want ratatouille in their breakfast burrito, right?
Zach on Steve’s Burrito:
Oh, Steve. How we’ve broken thee. Shall I count the ways? My biggest concern with this burrito is the loosey goosey roll. It looks like all the filling is going to fall out every time I pick it up. Look at all that empty space!!! And that’s somehow in counterpoint to huge chunks of onion and mushrooms that should fill things out nicely. But, also, get those mushrooms out of my burrito! Also, I hope your butcher never reads this sentence, “I was working with an awesome, locally made product that didn’t need any spice added. I did add the diced pasilla chiles and some garlic.” Those motherf*ckers are experts with cleavers, you know. Steve’s gonna Steve, yo!
Look, I’m just not feeling this one. I wanna see that fundito gooey and oozing from the burrito with every bite, not hiding next to the eggs. I can see more herbal green than your luscious cheesy sausage sauce. That feels wrong.
VINCE’S BREAKFAST BURRITO “The Redneck-Mexican Crunch Wrap”
If you’ve ever read my rants about hash browns over home fries, or my love letters to papa a la huancaina, McDonald’s hash browns, and Taco Bell crunch wraps, you know that Potatoes Rule Every Breakfast Around Me (prebam, get the taters, dollop dollop cheese y’all). It’s also true to say that crunchy potatoes are my favorite part of the breakfast burrito.
So the choice was clear: the base of my burrito would be tater tots, easily America’s greatest food export and one of the greatest potato products worldwide. Somehow they’re both crunchier than french fries and softer on the inside. God, I love them. And they go perfectly in a burrito.
A breakfast burrito doesn’t need to be complicated, you just have to execute every element well. My ingredients:
- Two eggs (scrambled omelet style, with cheese)
- Tomatillo Salsa
- Tater Tots
- More Cheese
- Shredded Beef
I was initially going to use bacon, but I had some shredded beef I’d just made, and I actually ended up liking it more than the bacon. The softer texture worked better with the crunchy tater tots, and the salsa is already so smoky that another smoky element was kind of overkill.
Yeah, I mean they’re scrambled eggs, we’re not exactly reinventing the wheel here. Everyone has their favorite way to do eggs, and everything thinks theirs is the best, but I’m here to tell you that those people are wrong and that my way is the actual best.
My rules: Beat the eggs ahead of time (I’ve tried the Gordon Ramsay method like 20 times and I still think it’s dumb and like my way better). Salt. Don’t add milk, cream, or sour cream, use cheese instead and beat it together with the eggs after they’re beaten. Lots of butter in the pan. Cook gently, on medium low heat, like an omelet. You should be able to fold it into a cylinder at the end and slide it out of the pan without touching the eggs.
Only barbarians buy store-bought salsa. If you can’t be bothered to make your own damned salsa you shouldn’t be allowed to entertain.
Also, this salsa is super easy. I put the cleaned tomatillos and about a head of garlic with some peppers (two jalapeños, two serranos, in this case) onto my stove-top smoker and smoke them until the tomatillos get soft and the garlic turns into nutty cream cheese. Sometimes I add a little more char to the peppers with my torch. Then I dump it all into a blender with a handful of cilantro, the juice of a lime, a little water, and about a teaspoon and a half of salt.
Hey, cilantro haters. I know you hate cilantro. If I was making this for you I’d leave out the cilantro, I promise. Since it was for me I left it in. Don’t automatically put my burrito in last place because you have the cilantro-tasting disability. We know it exists. Thanks.
You best believe I deep fried them shits. I kind of wanted to use lard, but I forgot to buy some so I just used Canola oil instead. They were still really good. I recommend making extra so you can snack while you roll your burrito.
If you remember my shredded beef from the taco challenge, I basically made a simplified version of that here. I took a big chuck roast, cut it into cubes, and salted it. I toasted and rehydrated some chiles (guajillos, New Mexicos, and Ancho this time). Then I browned the meat in a pot, and poured the rehydrated chiles and chile water over the meat. I added some of the leftover broth from my previous batch of braised meat (I’ve started adding a little leftover braising liquid to my new braises, I saw a guy do it on Somebody Feed Phil), and I let that simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat was tender and shreddable. I only needed a little of it for the burrito.
Again, we’re not reinventing the wheel. I used a Guerrero brand riquisima. I think they’re pretty good. Also, I’ll just say this: I don’t think a flour tortilla tastes quite right if it doesn’t have a little char on it, some leoparding. Those tiny black spots and the smell it makes are like the essence of Mexican food to my reptilian brain. So I always run my tortilla directly over the gas range or hit it with the torch to make sure it has a little char.
Put it all together. Cheese on the bottom, made sure it was melted, to help bind (I used a mix of jack and havarti, creamy and good for melting). Tater tots next, then the eggs (with cheese mixed in), then salsa, then avocado chunks (salt them) and shredded beef chunks.
It’s soooo goooood. Char on the outside, big, crunchy pillows of tater tot, soft, buttery avocado chunks, smoky, tangy salsa, and rich, deep shredded beef. You guys can vote me down and shit on this however you want, just getting to eat it was all the reward I need.
Zach on Vince’s Burrito:
This looks decent. I gotta say though, it feels a little lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the malformed chunks of avocado or the lack of more melty cheese. It just sorta leaves me “meh…” And I love, love, love tater tots in burritos. But, here, I don’t know. The meat looks good. Do I want it in a breakie burrito. Not really… Certainly not over bacon, sausage, or even steak. I kinda feel like with Vince’s meat (natch), I’d be picking those stringy meaty bits out of my teeth all day long.
Basically, it feels like this burrito is missing one element that would have made it pop. Instead, I feel like this is a decent burrito from a food truck on the back lot at Universal Studios that all the white contestants go to in between takes on the Price is Right. While the dope food truck is just around the corner, out of earshot of the rabble.
Steve on Vince’s Burrito: I think we’re at odds here on what breakfast is. This is breakfast because of the potatoes? Bruh, I have Cali burritos with French fries for lunch three days a week. It’s breakfast because of eggs? I guess that’s fair. But those’d better be some fine ass eggs.
I don’t know, I guess I just think of breakfast as PORK. And red salsa. Somehow your shredded beef (which you’ve used before, revealing the absolute paucity of imagination it takes to beat Steve in this comp), and bright, tangy tomatillo salsa feels very “lunch” to me. Or insufferable LA-brunch-burrito-that-doesn’t-quite-hit-the-umami-notes-I’d-longed-for. As much as I try to eschew your and Zach’s lazy “X always has X but never Y” food critiques, I do think that a breakfast burrito is supposed to have some red-chile spice and fatty pork. And though I disagree heartily with Zach’s introduction of race into the argument — can breakfast burritos get woke? Is there a precedent for them in Mexico? — I do get the sense that this is just slightly under-engineered for your food truck to go viral and make you the next Roy Choi.
Some pull apart cheese or clever application of sausage feels like it would win the day. And find me the person who wouldn’t order the red salsa if both red and green were on the menu.
HOWEVER, I do agree with you on the introduction of avocado chunks the size of f*cking bear knuckles. They look good and I like that fattiness — especially since shredded beef is inevitably lean-tasting. Would eat, after ransacking your drawers for red salsa packets.
ZACH’S BREAKFAST BURRITO “THE QUATRO”
The Quatro was born.
It has four proteins: pork collar “bacon,” chorizo, chicharrón, and (four) eggs. It has four layers of, yes, four different kinds of cheese. And there are four dipping sauces. A lot of fours is what I’m saying. It’s big, meaty, cheesy, and goddamn delicious. Though, one word of warning, this is definitely a recipe for two servings.
For this recipe, I had the luxury of being in America and, thus, being able to go to an actual Mexican supermarket. It. Was. Delightful. In fact, I think I should get extra points every time I have to cook anything remotely Tex, Cali, or standard Mex in Berlin from now on as those products are not easy to come by in this part of the world.
But, back to the ingredients. I got a huge flour tortilla, Goya black beans, Tillamook’s Shredded Mexican 4 Cheese (Medium Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Asadero, and Queso Quesadilla), plus an extra round of Queso Quesadilla, dried Chiles California, some loose chorizo, a large chicharrón, cage-free and organic eggs, Oaxaca sour cream, a little lard, white onions, and everything for a simple guacamole and pico de gallo.
The Base Layer
First things first, I get the beans on the stove. I sweat about one-quarter of a white onion in a heavy tablespoon of lard. Then I add in the can of beans with a pre-soaked, diced chile. I let that simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Then I mash the hell out of it and bring that up to a pop-pop-pop simmer. While that’s happening, I fry off the bacon and set aside and then fry the chorizo in the same pan.
Once the chorizo is getting a little crispy and the beans are just right, I add a thin layer of each to the tortilla and finish it with a sprinkling of the cheese mix. The key here is that it’s a thin, narrow outer layer. This is where all the spiciness will come in — with the spiked black bean paste and the spicy sausage — but it’s crucial it’s not too thick.
So, the next step is to make two two-egg omelets. I’m cooking in my mom’s kitchen and her pans aren’t mine. So my omelet is a little malformed but still works.
Basically, I whisk two eggs with a dash of MSG and a teaspoon of the Oaxacan cream. I add a very big dollop of unsalted butter to the pan, let it melt, and slowly cook the eggs until they’re set. It’s the basic omelet recipe. Each side should be set with zero char or browning. Then I do it all again.
Next, I make my filling bomb as I like to call it. I’m pre-rolling the filling and then rolling that into the tortilla. This gives me a little more evenness without wasting extra layers of tortilla in the burrito. So I lay out my two omelets and sprinkle with the cheese mix. Then I place the bacon on top and layer that with a generous sprinkling of the Queso Quesadilla cheese.
Lastly, I take about six pieces of the chicharrón (skin, fat, and lean). I cut them into about tater tot size. I was originally going to literally go to Taco Time and get some Mexifries, but when I was wandering around the Mexican supermarket, I spotted a massive pile of warm chicharrón and had to buy some. Sorry, Taco Time.
At the base of the eggs, bacon, and cheese layout, I place a small band of black beans (again, very thin layer), the chicharrón, and a small spattering of cheese. Then, very gingerly, I roll that up like a giant sushi roll.
I place the giant egg roll on the bottom section of the tortilla and then roll that like a standard burrito. Dunzo.
Next, I sear the burrito in the pan which cooked the bacon and the chorizo. I don’t need to add any fat, there’s plenty of tasty, spiced fat from the meats to get a nice, crunchy char on both sides of the burrito. The one thing to watch here is to not turn the heat up too much. You want a nice even toasting that also heats and melts the cheese inside. So aim for a low-medium heat and don’t be afraid to press that big ol’ burrito down.
After that, I wrap the whole thing in good, heavy-duty foil and let it rest for a good five minutes. Also, how much better are burritos when you can unwrap them from warm foil? It’s like opening up a piece of meaty candy, peeling away layer after layer of deliciousness. I’m very pro foil when serving burritos.
While the burrito is resting, I throw together a pico and gauc. It’s the basic tomato, the rest of the white onion, lime, salt, cumin, soaked chiles, cilantro, and so forth.
I also set out some of that deliciously sour Oaxacan sour cream and the remaining black beans because, well, there was some left over. I tried to find those little black sauce cups with the clear lids you usually get at a burrito truck but gave up after two shops. But, you get the gist: Pour sauce on the burrito, bite there, repeat.
And that’s it. I cut the burrito in half (I save the rest for the next morning) and dig in. The umami, spice, subtle black bean, crunchy chicharrón, savory bacon, and soft egg make for an astounding burrito. I rotated the sauces with each bite and it was glorious.
Steve on Zach’s Burrito: This burrito was an Instagram favorite because it looks like a mushy, gooey, fatty pile of decadence. When I saw it, I thought I was sunk. Imagine my surprise to learn that we’re looking at BLACK BEANS and CHEWY HAM.
Zach, I love you and I love the creative liberties you take. Editing you for going on three years now, I recognize your small exaggerations and I let them pass with a wink and a nod. But to call what you have pictured “bacon” in the American understanding of the word is an out and out falsity. I don’t know how you do it in Old Burrr-lin, but here in ‘Murica bacon crisps. Bacon has fat. Bacon does not willingly roll up in a burrito, pink as the pig it was sliced from. You have it in scare quotes for a reason: this Irish boiling bacon will not resemble the bacon your beloved readers love so much in taste or texture, and I think you know that.
I’m very curious to see how our fans react to the sauce cheat you have here. I could have made 400 side sauces — it seems very on brand for me. Are these are part of your dish or not? Did you serve a salsa-less burrito? Are we supposed to dip our beany burrito in still more beans?
You photographed this nicely. The foil was a great call. But Zach, it’s what’s inside that counts. What’s inside you is a big beautiful lug who sometimes stretches the sauce, a yarning and beloved friend — a wise and trusted expert on many things. And what’s inside this burrito is the sort of bacon that should be boiled in split pea soup, not in my fatty Mexican-American breakfast.
Vince on Zach’s Burrito:
I have to give Zach points in a few areas, specifically construction, which looks top notch, and concept. Yes, you used four cheeses and four meats or whatever, but at least you had a justification for it. And chicharrones… yes, I kind of wish I would’ve thought of that, though I imagine they perform largely the same function as my (yes, superior, in my mind) tots.
FIRST CRITICISM: Beans in my breakfast burrito? Oh hell to the motherf*ckin no. Absolutely not. I know some weirdos are into that, but even if I was, canned beans? Come on, man. None of those construction workers could respect you if you told them your frijoles came out of a pinche can. And not even pinto beans, but black beans, for breakfast. Absolutely not.
Also, I love pico de gallo in my breakfast burritos, and perhaps their color would’ve satisfied Steve (I have always preferred the green salsa to the red salsa, but that’s just how I get down). Where I have to dock you is for your “dips” concept. Shit, man, you’ve got four eggs and four meats and four cheeses in that thing, maybe leave out a cheese or a meat next time and save some room for a sauce. Your construction was otherwise spot on, but I feel the same way about a burrito as I do about a hamburger, or sex — if it’s not inside, it doesn’t count. A burrito is supposed to be a one-hander, something I can comfortably eat while driving, or doing dumbbell presses. I ain’t got time to be sprinkling sour cream on each bite like Little Lord Fauntleroy.
By the way, what’s with both you guys and the sour cream? I love me some Mexican crema, but it seems entirely unnecessary in an eggy, cheesy, breakfast burrito. Throw some avocado chunks in there like I did and you wouldn’t need it. Anyway, I would eat this big ass salt-bomb mess, but I’d probably order it without sour cream or beans.