Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: You don't need a recipe to make a burrito -- you just need to know the art of burrito rolling.
The burrito's essence is a big hunk of stuff (meat, beans, rice, etc.) wrapped up in a large flour tortilla. It gets its name from the pack animals, the burros, which delivered them from Sonora when our borders were more porous than they are now. In central and southern Mexico the tortilla of preference is corn. This makes for a nice taco, but not a burrito.
The arc of the story goes like this: a burrito is border food, a hybrid of northern Mexico and the U.S. border states, its wellspring in Southern California and Arizona. Diana Kennedy’s book My Mexico doesn’t even mention it. However, you can learn a lot from Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
In his book Arellano describes the “Mission Style” burrito, which originated in San Francisco’s Mission district. This was the prototypical assembly line concept that the Chipotle chain eventually adopted. The steps you will see below are based on this style. The essence is a very large flour tortilla filled up with beans, rice, etc., swiftly folded and then taking on an external carapace of aluminum foil. You don't need a recipe for this. You just need to know how to roll.
How to Make Any Burrito in 5 Steps
1. Heat your oven to 350° F and then go to work. First, set up your mise en place: your meat of choice, heated refried beans (canned is fine), cooked long grain rice, grated cheese (swiss, jack, cheddar, or a mix) or crumbled queso fresco, chopped cilantro (optional), chopped cabbage, salsa of your preference -- homemade is best, but you can use a jarred salsa. I like the Rick Bayless tomatillo style.
2. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil just larger than the big flour tortilla you are about to lay on top of it. You need the largest tortilla you can find for this -- I use 10-inch. Next, cover the midsection of your tortilla with a layer of beans and your cheese of choice. Spoon on some rice, chopped cabbage, a sprinkle of cilantro, and then a generous drizzle of salsa. That’s the fill.
3. Next: the fold and the wrap. Pretend you are facing north. Fold over the east and west sides to cover the ingredients by about a third of the way from each end.
4. Now pull the south side (closest to you) over the ingredients, allowing a margin at the far end. Pull toward you as you roll northward. Seal by pushing everything on top of that last bare margin of tortilla. Sometimes it helps to dip a finger in water and run it along the margin first. You might need to poke the ends in a bit to keep tucked.
5. To finish, wrap the burrito in the foil in exactly the same way you folded the tortilla. Bake this in the oven for 8 minutes. Lunch is ready.
Photos by James Ransom