Friday, March 13, 2015

Pambazo at the Happy Fruit!


Chorizo and potato pambazo at Fruta Feliz

Earlier this week an old pal of mine was in town from L.A., and we zipped over to Fruta Feliz to grab lunch. I like FF because they have fresh, authentic, handmade food, the prices are right, and it’s only a few minutes from Campus. They have every variation of Mexican fruit dish imaginable, and I enjoyed an especially delectable, tall, frosty, and refreshing agua fresca made with fresh pineapple and mango. Homeboy ordered tacos of chivo, picadillo (made with minced meat and not ground beef; their ground beef taco is called a “crispi”), and chicharrón on their handmade corn tortillas. All excellent, by the way. I went for delicioso tacos of chivo (luscious shredded goat), and picadillo, both topped with the requisite onion and cilantro. They had three dynamic and tasty salsas that day: a fiery red chile with a bit of chile de arbóI, the standard taquería green with avocado, and a very piquant jalapeño-serrano fresh green chile sauce that sizzled the hair right off of my tongue.


Homeboy's tacos

I also ordered a pambazo, a less well-known sandwich here in The City with the Violet Crown, but one that is a big favorite all across Mexico. The happy fruit taquería makes a nice version, using a bun with exceptional flavor and softness, to go with that crispy, guajillo chile-anointed crust. They offer several filling variations, and I chose the classic potato and chorizo, which was delightfully delish.

Picadillo left, and chivo (goat) right

This is a fantastic sandwich that more folks need to know about, so I’ve included a recipe from my upcoming eBook,
Favorite Dishes from Regional Mexico, Texas and the Border, and New Mexico

Pambazos · Guajillo Salsa-Dipped Potato and Chorizo Sandwiches

A pambazo (also spelled panbaso, pambazo, and even banbaso) is a type of torta. It’s too big and hearty to be an antojito, although on occasion, slider-sized versions of pambazos, called pambacitos, are made for use as appetizers at parties. The name comes from pan bajo, or “low-class bread”, a reference to a bread made from the lowest grade of wheat flour during the days of Spanish occupation (the Spaniards in New Spain were exceedingly class-conscious). It began as a meal for the commoner and the laborer, made from the dregs of the mill.

The bun itself is also known as pambazo, and is a hamburger bun-sized soft roll shaped like a football (an American football). They are typically made by the local bakeries, or panaderías, and the bakery will usually offer warm pambazos to sell as well. The sandwich has some regional variations but they are minor. In some regions the bottom half gets a schmear of refried beans topped with longaniza or chorizo sausage and extra sauce instead of just crema fresca and the potato-chorizo filling. In Veracruz it typically gets a filling of black beans, queso fresco, tomato, pickled jalapeño, and chipotle powder.

The pambazo dominates in the center of the country (especially Veracruz, Puebla, Michoacán, and D.F.) but you can find them north to south. It is typically made with a doughy pambazo roll that is dipped in guajillo chile sauce and then fried on a flattop griddle in some lard to seal in the chile flavor on the outside, until the exterior gets crunchy while the interior remains moist and soft. Think of it as a lard-griddled French-dip. Some cooks stuff it before it gets fried, so that the cheese gets completely melted, and some stuff it after the frying, but the typical filling is chunky potato and chorizo, topped with shredded white cheese (queso fresco, panela, quesillo, Oaxaca, asadero, etc.). Some cooks add an extra bit of sauce to the potato mixture, to punch up the flavor. Some vendors try to economize by adding extra crema in place of the cheese, but the sandwich really needs the richness of the cheese to go with the potatoes.  Add some onion slices, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and a bit of salsa, and you have an appetite-filling behemoth.

The pambazo is eaten any time of the day, and it is sold by street and market vendors, by some taquerías, and by torterías, or sandwich shops. This sandwich really needs to be eaten hot, so if it is sold para llevar, or “to-go”, they’ll wrap it in foil to keep it warm. Since it is messy because of the chile sauce on the exterior, it really needs to be wrapped in foil so that you have a way to keep your hands clean while eating it.

Guajillo Chile Sauce                                       Makes about 2 ½ cups
15 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 plum tomatoes
½ medium white onion, cut horizontally
3 large cloves garlic
2 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon comino

Potato and Chorizo Filling                             Fills 8 pambazos
1 pound red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced ½-inch
Hot water to cover by 1-inch
¾ teaspoon salt
1 pound Mexican chorizo, homemade if possible (casings removed if necessary)
1 small white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh serrano chile, or 2 to 3 minced chipotles en adobo
Pinch crumbled dried Mexican oregano (optional)
About 2 teaspoons lard, bacon fat, or vegetable oil, if necessary

¾ cup crema fresca
1 ½ cups shredded queso blanco (quesillo, Oaxaca, panela, queso fresco, etc.)
½ cup thinly sliced white onion
2 cups thinly shredded young green cabbage or romaine lettuce
Aluminum foil, to wrap the bottom half of the sandwich
Fire-roasted avocado and tomatillo salsa verde, for service

1. For the guajillo chile sauce, heat a comal or skillet over medium heat and briefly dry-toast the chiles until they are fragrant; do not scorch. Place the chiles in a small pan with the chicken stock, bring just to a boil, turn off the heat and cover, and let sit until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Roast the tomatoes, onion, and garlic on the comal or dry skillet until softened and lightly charred. Add the soaked chiles and chicken stock, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and comino to a blender and puree. Place a sieve over a large bowl and pour the sauce through the sieve, forcing as much of the pulp through as possible, while excluding any seeds. Reserve for dipping the pambazo buns.

2. For the potato and chorizo filling, bring potatoes, water, and salt to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook potatoes until just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and reserve.

3. Put the chorizo in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and breaking up the chorizo, until completely cooked and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, chile, and oregano (if using), along with lard if chorizo hasn't rendered enough fat. Cook while stirring and scraping until the onions are translucent and soft, about 6 minutes.

4. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are hot and have absorbed some chorizo fat and other flavors, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve hot for filling pambazos or tacos.

5. To prepare and assemble the pambazo buns, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of lard or vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Using a hand placed inside a disposable plastic glove or plastic bag, submerge the pambazo bun under the sauce for about 8 to 10 seconds. Remove and drip dry for a few seconds, and place bottom-side down in the skillet. Cook the bun until starting to brown, while pressing down with a spatula, and then turn over, repeating on the other side. Tilt the buns upright, so that they lean against each other, and cook each side until browned. You should be able to cook 3 to 4 buns simultaneously. Remove to paper towels to drain, and repeat with the remaining buns, until all are dipped and fried.

6. For assembly, slice the sauced and fried buns about 2/3rds of the way through, horizontally. Spread 1 ½ tablespoons of the crema fresca on the bottom bun and top with evenly divided amounts of the potato and chorizo filling. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the remaining sauce over the filling, and top with 3 tablespoons of the shredded cheese.  Add a few slices of fresh onion and ¼ cup of the shredded cabbage or lettuce, and then wrap the bottom half of the torta in aluminum foil. I prefer the tomatillo-avocado green sauce on the side for service, but a chipotle salsa, or a fire-roasted red salsa works fine also. Serve immediately.

For the buns, bolillos, teleras, hamburger buns, or Kaiser rolls can be substituted, but they are not nearly as good as a torta made with the genuine pambazo bun. The best way to dip the bun in the chile sauce is to use your hand, covered with a disposable kitchen glove or plastic bag.

For the guajillo chile sauce, you can use any dried chiles you like, but guajillo chiles are the standard. I like to add several chipotles to amp-up the heat level just a bit and add a bit of complex smokiness. Ancho, pasilla, pulla, cascabel, and mulatto chiles can be substituted for the guajillos, or used in combination with the guajillos. 
If you are extremely lazy, or pressed for time, a canned or bottled red chile enchilada sauce can be used instead of the guajillo sauce.

For the potatoes, you may prefer to omit the fresh chile and substitute 2 or 3 minced chipotles en adobo, or powdered jalapeño or chipotle chile instead. For even richer flavor, omit the salt and boil the potatoes in chicken stock (which can be saved for soup stocks).

Mick Vann ©

My previous Chronicle review:

La Fruta Feliz
3124 Manor Rd.; 512-473-0037


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