Recently, I found myself going through the Texas section of my old community fundraiser cookbooks for an idea for a new post in the ‘America’s Food Secrets’ series – it’s been awhile since I’ve done one, and I wanted it to be something good. The reason why I was picking out Texas was that I’ve had some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Texas, and some of the worst as well! But, as they say, when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
After a few hours of browsing, I’d scratched up some good old memories, but no winning idea yet – then I saw it – Migas!
Migas is a very interesting word in the culinary world, and I’d bet that many of you have never heard of it. Originally it has roots in Spain, where it translates to ‘crumbs’, and historically referred to a dish that sheepherders would make from make from old, really stale bread, soaked overnight in water, and mixed the next day with olive oil and garlic and fried – it doesn’t sound really delicious, but then, I guess if you’re really hungry … So I bet you’re thinking, ‘Hey, is there a Mexican migas?’ Nice guess – yes there is. However, the Mexican migas is most often a garlic soup, which is even less like what Texans would call migas.
So what exactly is the Tex-Mex migas? Well, let me answer that by telling you about the very first time I had it. I can remember being in San Antonio for a convention, and I was out at the crack of dawn for my usual tourist stroll – after an hour or so, I knew I had to have coffee, and I came on a busy restaurant, whose name of course I no longer remember. I went in.
This was just the kind of place I was looking for! A Mexican slant on the American breakfast. Most of what I saw on the menu was familiar to me, with one exception -
“What’s Migas?”, I asked the waitress.
She gave me a little smile, and said, “You’ve never had Migas? It’s an egg dish with freshly fried corn tortilla pieces, salsa, and cheese, all cooked up together – you should have it.”
I thought to myself, ‘I’ve had all those things before – how different can this be?’ But I didn’t want to disappoint the waitress, who looked so eager for me to try it. “Sure”, I said, let’s try it.”
You may know that one of the rules for always eating well in a new restaurant is to ask the server, ‘What’s good today?’ If they answer, ‘Everything here is good’, you may want to just leave. Good restaurants instruct their servers on making a guest’s meal a meaningful experience – and recommending the best of the day is part of that – even if they don’t, a smart server knows a happy guest is a good tipper. And on this day, this rule was reinforced in my brain – ten minutes later I was presented with a big plate of wonderfulness that I knew was immediately going to the top of the list of my absolute favorite Mexican breakfasts. It was one of those meals that one remembers forever.
It would be a fair question to ask, ‘Why should a dish that contains such common ingredients be suddenly special?'(and it was!) Well on first glance it may look like you simply throw some Doritos into a hot pan, slip in some scrambled eggs, and some salsa, and just before serving, toss in a little grated cheese – and you’re home. Nope! It may look like home, but it won’t taste like it. And when I show you the recipe I found, you’ll see why.
My Migas recipe comes from a 1990 paperback titled, ‘Texas Country Reporter’, which may not technically be a ‘community fund raiser’ cookbook, but it was created by solicitation of recipes from Texas farm residents – and so it meets the spirit of our project intent. I’m going to immediately give you the recipe just as it appears in the cookbook, and let you see if you can determine why this particular dish may be more flavorful than all of its individual parts.
Sam’s Migas Supreme
(Texas Country Reporter, 1990)
To Serve 4
- ¼ cup veg oil
- 8 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2” strips (Don’t use part wheat tortillas – they get soft immediately)
- 2 Tbs butter
- ½ cup chopped onions (1/4” chunks)
- 10 eggs, beaten
- 2 or 3 medium jalapeno peppers, chopped (or to taste – removing the seeds will significantly reduce the heat!)
- 1 cup chopped, seeded tomatoes (1/4” chunks)
- A good handful of fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
- ½ cup of grated cheddar or jack cheese
- ½ cup chopped chorizo – optional but very nice!
- A few cilantro sprigs for garnish
Heat oil in a large frying pan to medium. Saute tortilla strips in batches (do not crowd pan) until crisp – remove to a paper towel to drain. Set aside.
Remove remaining oil from pan and wipe. Add butter to pan and heat to med-low. Add chopped onions and saute while stirring until onions are just beginning to soften (you want a bit of crunch).
Add beaten eggs, jalapenos, chopped tomatoes and cilantro. Stir all until well mixed and eggs are just starting to come together (this dish is much better if eggs are served soft – to achieve that, they must be only half done at this point). Remove from heat and add the sauteed tortilla strips, grated cheese, and chopped chorizo (if using). Stir one last time and serve with a bit more cilantro sprinkled over top.
So, why would this dish be more than the sum of its parts? I think the answer lies in the freshness of this dish. This is one of those dishes that easily lends itself to short-cutting – packaged tortilla chips could be used – an already prepared salsa could be used too. Surely, these shortcuts are applied in many cases, and in many restaurants – but I would hope that it is the norm in Texas to prepare Migas as freshly as here stated, and as I was fortunate enough to get it on my first tasting.
Having said that, I must admit to you that I have on many occasions taken the shortcut route with Migas, if for no other reason, to use up tortilla chips or old salsa – and I enjoyed those dishes. But, when making this for guests, I would always do it just like I’ve presented here – it’s just so much better.
Of course, Migas is served with additional corn tortillas – this may at first seem to be a little redundant, but actually, the soft corn tortilla goes very well with the crunchy tortilla in Migas – and remember, there’s almost nothing that isn’t eaten stuffed inside a corn tortilla! It wouldn’t be gilding the lily either to put some chopped avocado and/or sour cream on top of your Migas.
For those of you who enjoy Mexican food, you’ll need to add this one to your short list of dishes to watch for while you’re restaurant dining – and if you find it on the menu, don’t fail to ask how they prepare it – fresh is best – it’ll always be worth it.