For the past several days, I've been working on a recipe for the Tex-Mex version of migas*—scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, chili, and tortilla chips. I have to admit, though, that there's an inherent contradiction in trying to perfect a recipe that seems to be designed as hangover food. I'm not sure whether Tex-Mex migas started as a morning-after headache cure, but I have to believe that's one of the main appeals of a breakfast dish that's made from stomach-friendly ingredients like eggs and tortillas, with just enough punch to blow the dust off plastered eyes.
* Not to be confused with the Spanish, Portuguese, or Mexican versions of migas, which are all different.
Another of its appealing characteristics is that it's darned tasty.
As simple as the dish is, there's quite a bit of opportunity for things to go wrong. Or, if not wrong, at least not quite right. The first, a pet peeve of mine, is when eggs are served with undercooked onions. I just don't find the crunch of a half-cooked piece of onion pleasant when eating soft eggs. The second is watery eggs, caused when ingredients dump water into the pan—which is easy to do with migas, since they contain watery ingredients like tomatoes, and because the eggs themselves can release water when overcooked.
With that said, if you wake up one morning after having drunk too much and just need some spicy eggs stat, as I did this past Sunday, I won't fault you for throwing everything in a skillet and going to town. But if you're up for giving this dish slightly more attention and care, there are some things you can do to make it even better.
Stop the Synning (Syneresis, That Is)
Have you ever overcooked meat, custard, or scrambled eggs and noticed how they dump out water? Or have you ever had an emulsified sauce, like mayonnaise or Hollandaise, break? That's a phenomenon chemists call syneresis, and it describes a process in which the water in foods expands when exposed to heat, while the proteins bond and contract, causing the water to break free. It's generally a bad thing.
The first step in preventing syneresis is to cook the eggs gently. But we can do even more: We can add salt. A lot of people think that pre-salting eggs ends up making them tough, but, as we've shown before, it's actually the opposite that's true. Salt, it turns out, acts as a buffer, preventing the proteins in the eggs from bonding too closely and squeezing out the water. The longer you let the salt sit with the beaten eggs, the more noticeable its effect.
In this recipe, that just means that I make sure to beat and then salt my eggs before I prep anything else. Then, as I chop onions and fry tortillas, the salt has time to do its thing in the eggs.
A similar thing happens when you cook watery ingredients, like fresh tomato, with eggs: They can dump water and ruin the texture of the dish. I had considered a few different ways of dealing with this, including precooking the tomato to remove its water, but I decided that the pop of freshness from the barely cooked tomato was an important quality in migas. Instead, I borrowed an idea from Kenji's pico de gallo recipe, in which he pre-salts the diced tomato, then sets it in a strainer to drain. The salt pulls water out of the tomato through osmosis, while preseasoning it.
So, in this recipe, right after I salt my eggs, the very next thing I do is dice the tomato, toss it with salt, and set it in a strainer over a bowl to drain.
Let he who is without syn(eresis) cast the first tomato!
Frying your own tortilla chips may seem overly labor-intensive for a breakfast recipe, but I figured I had to buy fresh tortillas anyway, since migas are typically served atop them, to be eaten taco-style. Might as well use some of those tortillas for the chips. Still, if you want a shortcut, this is the place to take it, since the dish will definitely work with store-bought chips. (I actually really want to do a drunk-food version of this with Doritos...who's in?)
I cut the tortillas into strips that would fry up into chips roughly the size of Fritos (Fritos, by the way, would be another really fun convenience product to throw into a batch of migas), then fried them in vegetable oil until crisp.
The hardest part is not eating them all before it's time to use them in the recipe. I had to scold some of my coworkers for stealing bites.
As I mentioned above, I have a pet peeve about undercooked chunks of onion in my egg dishes. I am equally peeved about onions in dishes like this that are large. Maybe I'm weird, but I'd like to think other people feel the same way.
To solve that here, I just chopped everything up more finely, and then cooked them long enough in the pan to soften them thoroughly. No oniony crunch here. Of course, if you're sitting there reading this and thinking, this guy is nuts, I LOVE large pieces of crunchy onion in my eggs, it's pretty easy to alter the recipe to your tastes.
All the migas recipes I've seen call for onion and chili pepper. Some call for bell pepper. With the exception of certain Spanish and Creole dishes, I tend not to like what cooked green bell pepper adds to a dish. Still, I liked the idea of getting more capsicum flavor into the dish, and there's a limit to how many serrano peppers one can add before the food goes up in flames.
I reached for a Poblano pepper instead, which isn't traditional to migas, but its more concentrated peppery flavor did a good job of enhancing the serrano chilies I was using, without doubling down on the Scoville scale rating.
The Migas Sequencing Project
The next main consideration was the sequence of cooking. Add the tortilla chips too early and they'll be pure mush; add them too late and they'll be too crunchy. Add the tomatoes too early and they'll break down into mushy lumps; add them too late and they won't warm up enough. Here's the order I settled on.
Once the aromatics had softened sufficiently, I lowered the heat and added the eggs, slowly scrambling them. I know people can be very divided on the topic of proper scrambled-egg texture—my girlfriend and I debate it just about every time we scramble eggs—but I'm firmly in the not-firm camp.
Therefore, the finished egg texture I'm going for is soft, creamy, and custardy. If your preferences differ from mine, you can cook your eggs more, and even raise the heat a little to help them along. No harm, no foul—they're just eggs, after all.
When the eggs had started to set just a little, I added three-quarters of my tortilla chips. Since the eggs were still wet, those chips were going to soften into the mixture. I liked the idea of some of that corn-chip flavor blending seamlessly with the eggs. But I reserved some to add toward the end, so you still get some semi-crunchy bites.
Then I tossed in the drained salted tomatoes and served the eggs with warmed tortillas, hot sauce, and sides like refried beans and avocado.
The one thing I didn't do here was add cheese. Some people swear that cheese shouldn't be added to proper migas. I don't really have an opinion on it, but I love melted cheese something fierce, so I started off with cheese in my basic recipe. My early batches all had it. At some point I decided just to try it without on a whim, and was surprised that I actually preferred it without the cheese: The flavors of the eggs, onion, peppers, and tomato were all clearer and cleaner without cheese in the mix. And, with the custardy texture I aim for, the eggs already have a decadent quality. They really don't need the cheese.
But, you know, I won't narc on you if you add some cheese when you make it. Whatever gets you past that oh-so-crapulous feeling is all right by me.