The same weekend that I spent making quiche for a large group, my friend Jesse was in charge of the second day of breakfast. I obsessively planned, spent an afternoon prepping, and basically hovered over the task of breakfast. Jesse arrived with several bags of ingredients and a basic plan: breakfast would be huevos rancheros. Never mind that he hadn’t actually made them before and certainly never for a crowd. He’d eaten huevos rancheros and had some idea of what went into it which was enough for him. He polled people on what should be included, enlisted some others to help, and then went for it bright and early on a Sunday morning while we all shuffled sleepily into the kitchen.
He set up a few stations and got multiple pans simmering on the stove. The tortillas warmed in the oven and there were bowls of toppings and additions for a customizable breakfast experience. Then he started handing out plates of fried eggs on lightly crisped tortillas, with or without beans, and adorned with salsa and cheese. We piled the already high plates with avocados, cilantro, more cheese, more salsa. And then it was mostly quiet in the kitchen while everyone stuffed their faces savored breakfast.
Ok, so there was a bit more cleanup given the number of plates and bowls that were used to give everyone a personal breakfast, but it reminded me that sharing meals doesn’t need to mean planning down to the last second. That’s not to say my next group breakfast will be huevos rancheros, or at least, they won’t be the kind he made, with individually fried eggs. While wanting to recreate this breakfast while still being too lazy to fry four eggs, I hit upon the idea to just poach the eggs in salsa. After all, huevos rancheros are mostly about the eggs and salsa so I simplified the time it takes to make and combine the two main ingredients.
The best part about eggs-poached-in-tomato recipes, like Middle-Eastern ‘Shakshouka’ and Italian ‘Eggs in Purgatory,’ is that they are dead simple to scale up or down. I would make this for two or twelve (with a big enough pan) and even for one, like I did when I shot the photos for this post. It all takes the same amount of time. The end result is just as delicious as it was on that Saturday morning, just without as much chaos. Or at least breakfast (or dinner) doesn’t add to the chaos.
Ok, here’s the thing. Poaching eggs in tomato sauce is infinitely easier than doing it with sub-boiling water because the eggs take longer to cook in the sauce so you have a bigger window to get them out of the pan and you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll hold together. But since this is so much easier, I felt bad just giving a recipe for dropping eggs into a pan of salsa. So I’m giving you a homemade salsa recipe too. Would this be just as good with brand name salsa? Absolutely. Think of it as a suggestion, not a necessity.
Adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless
Makes about 2 1/2 cups of salsa.
2-3 dried chiles – use Anaheim, New Mexico, or Ancho, or a combination
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes (or use a 14 oz can and halve the other ingredients)
1/2 a yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, in case your chiles aren’t hot enough)
Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and add the dried chiles. Toast the chiles, turning them often, until they darken a bit in color. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Remove them from the pan (turn off the heat) and let them cool on a counter or cutting board until they are cool enough to handle. At this point you can cut the chiles open and remove the seeds if you want to reduce the spiciness a bit. Then rip the chiles into about 1 inch pieces and put them in the bowl of a food processer or blender.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the chiles and then process or blend the sauce until it’s the texture you want. It can be chunkier or smoother – I prefer a pretty smooth sauce. Then pour the sauce back into the skillet you used to toast the chiles – or use another pan if the sauce won’t fit. Put it back over medium heat and cook the sauce for about 10 minutes until it has been bubbling for a minute or two. That will cook out the raw onion/garlic flavor. Taste it to see if it needs more salt. At this point you can serve it hot or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
1 tbs oil for every few tortillas.
1-2 tortillas per person (depending on the size of your tortillas)
Up to 1/4 cup cheese per person – something melty like cheddar or jack cheese
1/2 cup ranchero salsa per person
1-2 eggs per person
Toppings – chopped cilantro, chopped chiles, extra cheese, chopped raw onion*, guacamole, whatever you might have in the fridge
In a nonreactive pan (I prefer nonstick), heat up the oil over medium heat. Add the tortillas a few at a time and fry them for a few minutes on each side, until they pick up some brown spots but before they brown all over – you want them to still be tender, not crunchy. If you’re making this for a crowd, fry the tortillas 2 or 3 at at time and then remove them to foil-lined baking sheet in an oven set for 200F. When you remove the tortillas from the pan, sprinkle them with the cheese right away so it can melt a bit from the heat of the tortilla – it will also melt more when the eggs and salsa are poured on.
Using the same pan, heat up the salsa in an even layer over medium high heat (you may need a little more than a 1/2 cup if you’re only making this for one, or just use a smaller pan). Once the salsa is bubbling a little, turn the heat down to medium low and crack in the eggs. Try to make sure they don’t overlap too much and keep them separate if possible. Then let them cook in the sauce for about 3 minutes. At this point the whites should be partly set but the tops of the whites will still be a little runny. Cover the pan for about 2 minutes and then remove the lid – this should be enough time to cook the whites without overcooking the yolk. If you’re nervous about not having a runny yolk, check the eggs at the one minute mark to see if they’re ready.
When the eggs are done, use a serving spoon to scoop out some salsa and egg together and place them on the tortillas. I generally like two eggs and two tortillas for a meal and just one for a snack. Then top them however you like and eat them while they’re hot. The finished dish won’t keep in the fridge but you can prep everything ahead of time and store it in the fridge for a few days (longer for the salsa). It’s also a great way to use up stale tortillas – they fry up beautifully.
*If you choose to go the chopped raw onion route I would highly recommend putting the onions in a mesh strainer and running them under hot water for a minute or two and then drying them before you serve them. That way you’ll still get the raw onion flavor but without the pervasive bite that makes you taste onion for hours.