Wonderers! I hope this blog finds you well. As always, it has been forever since my last post - this blog is really just a storage place for interesting thoughts that come to my little brain, and this entry will be no different.
Just yesterday, the boyfriend and I were out for a post-Valentine's, pre-movie breakfast burrito at my favorite burrito spot. It was over these burritos (and perhaps the recent creating of rubrics I've done for school) that it suddenly dawned on me how simple it could be to determine a burrito's satisfaction quotient.
|A thing of beauty.|
To preface what follows, I, a self-proclaimed burrito snob, have not developed a rubric for creating the perfect burrito. There are just too many variables, and too many different tastes/opinions to combat. Instead, I have decided to call attention to a few simple factors that can make or break a burrito's performance on the tastebuds.
*It should be noted that this list applies to burritos of both standard, and breakfast varieties. It absolutely does NOT apply to fast food garbage like Taco Bell.*
1. The Tortilla
Let's start with the number one thing that makes a burrito, a burrito. A burrito, by definition, is a selection of fillings wrapped in a tortilla. Am I crazy, or does that mean maybe we should pay a little attention to the tortilla portion of a burrito? The thing is, all tortillas are not created equally. And they are not treated with the same care. Having lived in San Diego (seemingly the burrito capital of California - some would argue the country) for a good six years, I had the chance to develop a taste for a really well made tortillas. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of tasting a freshly made tortilla, I can tell you that it tastes nothing like ANY tortilla you can find at your local grocery store.
In the best cases, a burrito is influenced by the flavors and the texture of its encasing - after all, that's why it's edible! A tortilla should be just thick enough, and just dry enough to have a nice chew, were you to say, get a few layers in your mouth at a time - like you might at either end. Too thin, or too moist and your burrito will break, not to mention it might have a softness that makes it stick to the roof of your mouth when you take a bite. *Note: I find that the tortillas at Chipotle to be like this, too soft and mushy. It should taste vaguely of salt and flour, with a gentle sweetness. Just oily enough to wrap around the fillings, but not so oily that your hands get greasy while eating. In fact, the tortilla should stiffen just slightly after it has been wrapped around the burrito fillings, as that is how the burrito keeps its shape. It should look a lot like the first photo in this post.
2. The "Wrap Job"
Another frequently overlooked factor of a burrito's enjoyability is the way it was wrapped. It is very important to note that many, many people on this earth do not understand the proper way to wrap a burrito. Let's start with this; have you ever attempted to make a burrito, or even a wrap sandwich at home? Then you probably realized that there's more to it than shoving some stuff in a tortilla and rolling it up. *Note: At home, I like to butter the tortilla and a pan or a griddle until the tortilla is just soft enough to be pliable without tearing.*
For starters, a burrito is meant to be portable. You eat it with your hands - sometimes just with one, so the last thing you need is to have burrito guts spill all over you. This means it needs to be closed ON ALL SIDES before you take your first bite. To clarify, both ends should have a tight, inward fold. Without enough slack to fold the edges inside, the ends are prone to open under the pressure of biting into the burrito, and in those cases, you have only the paper and/or foil it's wrapped in to save you. Second, the overlapping edge should not have ingredients spilling out of it. And absolutely NO corners! If your burrito has a corner, it is a burst waiting to happen. Let's look at some examples:
Granted, this one is served "wet" on a plate, but that is no excuse for the shoddy wrap job on this burrito. Just because it must be eaten with a knife and fork does not mean it can forego the necessary wrapping that makes it a burrito. Look at the end; it is practically spilling out with its weak fold. It almost looks like someone just tried to re-stuff it with their fingers. This is a classic case of a poor filling-to-tortilla ratio. May as well open it up and serve it in a bowl...
How about this one? This burrito has a corner. This means that not only are the filling ingredients distributed unevenly, leaving pockets of air throughout the burrito, but also that there is more than one weak spot in the structure of the burrito itself. The corner will burst first, probably with just a small amount of pressure, say, the displacement of ingredients after a first bite. After that, it will probably collapse to one side, likely opposite the burst hole. I don't think I need to tell you that this is basically burrito-geddon. Fillings everywhere. On you, on the table, on the floor... you get the picture. There's a condom joke in here somewhere, but I'll leave it to your imaginations...
There are two ways in which proportions affect a burrito. One way is the proportion of ingredients to other ingredients. The other, is the ratio of filling to the size of the tortilla. We'll start there. Once again, I am obliged to bring up Chipotle and their ginormous burritos. Aside from the fact that their burritos are about twice the size they should be, and therefore at least two servings, they also have something to learn about the amount of filling they put inside that too-soft tortilla. There is WAY too much filling inside a Chipotle burrito, which is probably why it is usually shaped short and fat, as opposed to long and more cylindrical (see first photo). This, coupled especially with the soft tortilla, makes Chipotle's burrito susceptible to a burst about twice as easily as any other poorly made burrito. (It's a simple fix, if you're listening, Chipotle. Use. Smaller. Spoons.) It also means that you will take bites of an overfilled burrito and end up with only fillings in your mouth. As previously stated, the tortilla is part of the burrito experience, and you should have both tortilla and fillings in every bite you take.
Be aware that this situation can also happen in reverse, where not enough fillings have made it into the tortilla, and the result is a dry, chewy, wrapped tortilla that may as well be eaten flat like a quesadilla.
And for those burrito joints outside of San Diego that have started offering the genius that is the California burrito... the french fries are INSTEAD OF the rice. There is no rice in a California burrito. Don't make me ask you to take it off. And put some fresh avocado or guacamole on it. California is where avocados grow.
Those are the big three factors to pay attention to the next time you are out looking for a burrito. The tortilla, the wrap job, and two kinds of proportions.
I would mention that the combination of ingredients should taste good together, and not be crazy for the sake of innovation, but I understand that people's palates are different, and "tasting good" is sort of implied in a list like this.
It is also good to keep in mind that a burrito should be complemented with a good hot sauce. That's right, hot sauce, NOT salsa. They are different.
My favorite hot sauces are usually rich in texture, more like a thin purée, not watery, and not chunky. Depending on my chosen burrito, I like green, tomatillo-based hot sauces because they tend to be milder, and slightly vinegary... which can cut through the richness of beans and cheese. I also like hot sauces that have roasted ingredients in them, because they provide a depth of flavor. However, there is nothing worse to me, than a hot sauce whose flavor is simply "hot." These usually have visible seeds from the peppers that were used, or a visibly noticeable ratio that is dominated by pieces of the peppers themselves.
I have friends who choose to use these ultra-hot sauces for reasons I don't really understand, other than maybe to prove something - no better than a pissing contest. But the reason I don't like HOT hot sauces is that any other flavor I might have tasted is then compromised, because the only flavor I can taste is hot. My tastebuds go numb, and water or soda only spreads the heat around my mouth. It's not worth it. So if you ever tell me that your favorite kind of hot sauce is the really, really hot kind... I'm just going to assume you don't actually like the flavors of the food you're about to put it on.
That's it. A few simple items to help you on your way to discovering your own, favorite, perfect burrito. Ándale!