Lost in Translation, but Still a Good Reason for a Fiesta

First, the name of today’s recipe: Burritos Ahogados….I have to admit it’s kind of a funny name – little drowned donkeys!  Some people say burritos get their name because they resemble a burro’s ear, but a better explanation seems to be that the tortilla can carry a load of good-to-eat filling.  Traditional Mexican burritos are actually quite simple and not super-stuffed, but the American version, sometimes known as a California burrito, is a whopper.  And this fat little donkey, filled with the leftover Chipotle Chicken and Saffron Rice from our last post and drowned in a zesty sauce, is perfect for Cinco de Mayo.  Our Burritos Ahogados are really more of a Mexican-American/southwest-influenced taste than they are a traditional Mexican recipe, and Cinco de Mayo is also a much bigger deal in the U.S. than it is south of the border.


If you’re wondering how Cinco de Mayo became such a big deal in the first place, it all started one day back some time in the late eighties.  Representatives from the Mexican Restaurateurs’ Association, the California Avocado Commission, and all of the major salsa and tortilla chip manufacturers got together with a laudable goal in mind: let’s make more money.  Of course, if you are selling something, one logical way to improve profits is to increase sales.  These clever marketers figured out that the time was right – multicultural education was becoming a big thing, “ethnic” was suddenly cool, and besides, how hard can it be to create an appetite for delicious south of the border flavors?  The group’s brilliant plan was to tie their products to a big holiday celebration, so after a quick perusal of the calendar and a review of possible Mexican history events to commemorate, they settled on Cinco de Mayo.

Of course, I’m making all that up, but the fact is, where I grew up in a Mexican-American community (and went to school with many kids from migrant families who were deeply connected to traditional Mexican folkways and lived in Mexico for part of every year), no one I knew ever even mentioned Cinco de Mayo.  Long about the nineties, however, there was sort of a renewal of latino pride that was matched by a greater general interest in all kinds of celebrations of cultural heritage, and all of a sudden Cinco de Mayo became a big and contagiously fun fiesta in many areas of the U.S. even though it is not commonly observed in Mexico outside of the state of Puebla.*

But enough background, let’s get to the recipe!  As I mentioned, this dish is made from leftovers, so if you haven’t yet tried our Chipotle Chicken with Creamy Tomato Bacon Gravy, get right on it and you’ll be glad you did (but be sure to save some of the chicken, rice, and sauce for the burritos!).  All of the measurements are approximate, and burritos really lend themselves to improv, so feel free to toss in some tender pinto or black beans, small chunks of fried potatoes, sautéed peppers, corn, or whatever else you have on hand.  After the burritos are filled you drown them in a smoky creamy sauce made from the leftover chipotle bacon tomato gravy and bake them for about 20 minutes.  That does something pretty amazing to store-bought flour tortillas, and the best way I can think of to describe them is to compare them to crepes.  The quantities below will make six jumbo burritos.

Chipotle Chicken Burritos Ahogados

  • Chipotle chicken pieces (OK to leave some of the gravy sticking to it) – I probably used the equivalent of a large breast half, but it was mixed light and dark meat
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups cooked rice (I used saffron rice cooked with leeks, but plain rice or seasoned sopa de arroz would be fine)
  • 1 cup shredded sweet potato (this was half of a small one and I cooked the other half in the microwave, mashed it up, and mixed it into corn muffin batter – really good!)
  • 6 large flour tortillas
  • 1 cup creamy chipotle tomato bacon gravy
  • 1 cup milk

Spray a 9 x 13 or thereabouts baking dish with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 F.

Dice the chicken up and combine it with the rice, shredded sweet potato, and anything else you want to add; if you have leftover gravy besides the cup you’ll need for the burrito sauce, you could also stir some of it into the chicken mixture.  I usually warm the chicken mixture in the microwave before filling the burritos so they will get done faster in the oven.

Heat the tortillas on a comal, griddle, or in a non-stick frying pan for a minute or two to soften them (it works well to do two at a time, turning every few seconds and flipping each one so both sides are exposed to the hot surface); stack the warm tortillas and generously fill them with the chicken mixture.  Work quickly to keep the tortillas from drying out and cracking, and to shape, fold along one side, both ends, and then the other side (see photo).  Place the burritos seam side down in the baking dish.

Blend the gravy and milk, and you can use an immersion blender if desired to make the sauce smooth if there are big tomato chunks in the gravy.   Warm the sauce in the microwave or on the stove and pour it evenly over the burritos to cover them completely.  Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the filling is good and hot.



*Yes, I see those raised hands waving and hear the eager requests for the true story of the Batalla de Puebla, which was an unexpected early Mexican victory during the French Intervention (which happened back in the 1860s because Mexico suspended payment on its debts to France, triggering a French invasion and occupation that might have caused the U.S. to try to act on the Monroe Doctrine if we hadn’t had too many troubles of our own in 1862).  The whole thing ultimately ended badly for the French.  The Día de la Batalla de Puebla is commemorated to this day in the state of Puebla, but it is not really a significant occasion in the rest of the Republic.


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