Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scrambled Eggs, Meet Chilaquiles

When it comes to eggs, scrambling has been my technique of choice since I was a kid. On Saturday mornings my two brothers and I would watch cartoons as our parents slept upstairs, laying on the floor with our noses practically touching the screen in a position my mother said "will ruin your eyes." At a certain point we'd break for breakfast, my brothers hauling out plastic bowls, milk and boxes of cereals with names like Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes and Sugar Crisp.

I don't know what was wrong with me, but I wasn't enamored with the cereals I considered "too sweet," preferring instead those with less (but by no means without) sugar like Wheaties and Grape Nuts. I even had a flirtation with various shredded wheat varieties, but that soured when it became too much like eating a bowl of twigs.

My mother's cast iron skillet.

At some point in elementary school I was old enough to be allowed to use our electric stove without supervision, and I started making scrambled eggs in my mother's small, well-seasoned 8" cast iron skillet which sits in my kitchen to this day. It took practice, but I learned to manage the heat and not burn the butter and to crack the eggs without getting bits of shell in the mix—biting down on a shell in a creamy mound of scrambled eggs still sets my teeth on edge—as well as figuring out how much to stir them to give them that not-too-curdy, not-too-dry creaminess.

I continue to make them to this day, though I've varied the original butter-egg-milk-salt mixture of my childhood to a butter-egg-salt-sprinkling of cheddar combination that suits my current tastes. Dave has mastered the omelette after watching Julia Child's technique on our collection of French Chef DVDs, and I've grown fascinated with one Mexican version, chilaquiles (pron. chee-lah-KEY-lays) that includes chopped tortillas, tomatoes and onions.

Beautiful tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal.

Sainted researcher and chronicler of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, has a superb version of chilaquiles in her The Tortilla Book that we like to make with corn tortillas; flour tortillas make them too doughy. And, fortunately, the best tortillas I've had lately, from Portland-based Three Sisters Nixtamal, are now available in local stores.

Made with organic corn, the dried kernels are combined with lime and water in a process called "nixtamalization" that causes the kernels to swell and enriches the nutrients in the corn. The kernels are then washed, drained, ground and combined with water and salt to make masa dough, which is then pressed into tortillas. I can't recommend them highly enough, and they add a deep, authentic flavor to the chilaquiles.

For a devoted scrambled egg fan like me, these not only make a stunning addition to the weekend breakfast repertoire, but would even make a great dinner paired with simmered black beans and a green salad.

Mexican Scrambled Eggs with Totopos
Adapted from The Tortilla Book by Diana Kennedy

Peanut or safflower oil
6 tortillas, each cut into six wedges
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 large tomato, chopped into dice
4-6 chiles serranos, seeded and minced (we use 2 chiles, or one large ancho chile)
6 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

In a frying pan over medium-high heat, pour in the oil to depth of 1/4" and heat until it shimmers. Add half the tortilla pieces and fry until they are hard but not browned. Drain on a paper towel and fry the remaining tortilla pieces. Keep warm in a low oven while preparing the other ingredients.

Drain the tortilla frying oil from the skillet and add 3 Tbsp. fresh oil. Heat oil over medium-high flame until it shimmers, then add onion, tomato and chiles. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs, salt and tortilla pieces to the skillet and cook, stirring gently, until the eggs are set but not too dry. Adjust salt to taste and serve.

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