Many delicious things in history have been created by happy accidents, including this sandwich. By the slip of a hand (literally), the torta ahogada—or, “drowned sandwich”—had its birth in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the early 1900s when a street vendor accidentally dropped the whole torta into a container of salsa. The customer loved it and word of the freshly minted sandwich quickly spread.
An authentic torta ahogada has a fairly simple blueprint. A long, flat roll with a crunchy exterior and fluffy center—called a birote—is filled with fried pork carnitas. The torta is then either media ahogada (“half drowned” or partially dipped) or bien ahogada (“well drowned” in a vat of spicy, tomato sauce infused with the potent chile de árbol, a pepper native to Mexico, until the bread and meat are completely submerged). The carnitas and bread soak up the piquant salsa, creating a savory balance of richness, acidity and mouth-singeing heat.
Pepper: Chile De Árbol
- 1 ½ pounds pork shoulder cut into 2 inch chunks
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- ½ white onion, quartered
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh oregano
- 1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
- 10 roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ cup water
- ½ tsp salt
- 20 chile de árbol
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 bolillos or French rolls split in half lengthwise with top and bottom hinged
- Thinly sliced red onions marinated in lime juice for garnish
Pork Carnitas: In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat. Season the pork with salt and place flat in the Dutch oven. Cook meat until browned on all sides. Add onion, garlic, bay leaf and oregano. Add in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer until pork is very tender, for about 2 hours. Shred with two forks.
Tomato Sauce: Place the roma tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, water and salt in a large saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the the tomatoes and onions become soft. Allow the mixture to cool, then place in blender and purée. Strain and set aside.
Chile Sauce: In a frying pan, gently heat the chile de árbol until fragrant (be careful not to burn as this will result in a bitter taste). De-stem and remove seeds. Add water and red wine vinegar in saucepan. Cook until chiles are soft. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool. Place ingredients in blender and purée. Strain and set aside.
Tortas: Remove the bread from the center of the rolls to create a trench in which to place the carnitas. Place the rolls in shallow bowls. Heap the meat into the roll, place pickled red onions on top of the carnitas and close the sandwich. Laddle the tomato sauce over the torta first followed by the chile sauce. Serve immediately.