Although they seem simple at first glance, a torta ahogada (translates to “drowned sandwich”) is packed with flavor and complexity. The refried beans and carnitas add a rich, smokey flavor that perfectly pairs with the chile de arbol sauce’s acidity and nuttiness.
The torta ahogada is popular in the Mexican state of Jalisco but can be found in many different areas of the country.
It is traditionally made with birote bread, which has a very thick crust. It isn’t available in West Texas, where I live, so I substituted bolillo rolls. If you can’t find either, just use a bread with a thick crust. That will help it hold up to the sauce.
The recipe here is relatively traditional, except for buttering and toasting the bread. I added that extra step just because that’s how I like to do it. Buttering and toasting bread makes any sandwich exponentially better.
For the sandwich stuffing, I highly recommend you make your own carnitas. Plain old pulled pork just isn’t the same. You can also make your own refried black beans or buy them canned from the store if you want to save yourself some time.
If you can’t find refried black beans, just use regular refried pinto beans.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Traditionally, chile de arbol sauce for a torta ahogada is hot. Very hot.
A chile de arbol pepper usually registers between 15,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville Scale. For reference, a jalapeno usually registers between 2,500 and 10,000.
I like heat, but the traditional preparation of this sauce takes me just a step past my comfort zone. Especially considering how much of it ends up on the sandwich.
I’ve toned this recipe down to suit my tolerance for spice. I can handle a bit of heat, so if you’re sensitive to it, you might want to tone it down even more. Maybe cut the arbol chiles down to three if you want something mild.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to make this the way you might find it served on the street in Guadalajara, try using about fifteen chiles de arbol. It’ll taste even better, but you might want to keep a glass of milk ready to cool things down.
Torta Ahogada – Drowned Sandwich
- Remove the chile stems and shake out seeds. Bring pot of water to boil. Turn off heat, add chiles, cover and let soak 15 minutes.
- Cut out tomato stems and cores. Place on a broiler pan under the broiler. Cook until the skin is blackened, then flip and cook the other side. 8-10 minutes all together.
- While the tomatoes are broiling, peel garlic and place in a small bowl with just enough water to cover. Microwave for one minute then drain.
- Strain chiles. Add to blender along with the tomatoes, clove, garlic, cumin, peppercorns, vinegar, and salt. Blend until very smooth.
- Pour sauce through a medium mesh strainer into a bowl.
- Cut the bolillo rolls in half and butter each one lightly on the cut side. Place under broiler until lightly toasted.
- Spread refried beans on each cut side, then add 1/4 pound of the carnitas to the bottom bun. Put on the top bun and press together. Dip the sandwiches into the salsa with a pair of tongs or ladle the salsa over the top.
- Serve with pickled red onions, avocados, diced white onions, cilantro, or a lime wedge.