How to Make Traditional Huevos Rancheros in a Flash

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Fiery, smoky tomato salsa with runny eggs and corn tortillas. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt. Video: Serious Eats Video]

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Some folks go for pancakes. Others like their sausages and home fries. Breakfast sandwiches are popular, I hear. But sit me down at a brunch spot with huevos rancheros on the menu and everything else disappears. There's nothing like runny fried eggs, fiery salsa, and fresh corn tortillas to start my morning. Add some refried beans on the side, and I'm likely to hit my daily happiness goals before lunch.

Making huevos rancheros—"rancher's-style" eggs—is an inherently simple, impromptu affair at home. Briefly fry some corn tortillas to soften them; add a couple of crisply fried, runny-yolked eggs; and ladle on plenty of salsa. That's it. Everything else is just window dressing. As someone who makes a ton of salsa at home, and who has access to the extraordinary array of local brands available in San Francisco's Mission District, it's easy for me to think of huevos rancheros as a dish so darn casual that it doesn't even need a recipe.

But then I wouldn't be doing my job, now would I?

I've already shared a recipe for my go-to—Huevos Rancheros Verdes, with a green tomatillo salsa—but after a recent trip to LA, where I was introduced to the awesome huevos rancheros with a chile morita sauce at the Lotería Grill, they've haunted my dreams.

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My goal was to come up with a recipe for huevos rancheros, with a smoky and wickedly spicy tomato and red-chili salsa, that requires nothing more than basic supermarket pantry staples. And I wanted it all in under half an hour, because who has time to wait for breakfast?

(Spoiler alert: I reached my goal.)

The Salsa

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I knew that I needed two basic ingredients in my salsa: tomatoes and chilies. I started my testing using fresh Roma tomatoes and fresh chilies, which produced a nice, fresh-flavored salsa, but it wasn't quite right. I wanted something richer, smokier, and more brooding for my eggs.

Making the switch from fresh chilies to dried chilies was a big step in the right direction. Morita chilies, the ones used in that sauce I loved so much in LA, are the dried form of a red jalapeño-like chili. It's very similar in flavor and smokiness to a canned chipotle chili, so that was an obvious first step. For extra depth and richness, I also added a couple of dried ancho chilies, which I toasted in the microwave—30 seconds in the microwave will toast your dried chilies faster and better than either the stovetop or the oven—then snipped into strips with a pair of kitchen shears so they incorporated more easily into the sauce.

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I sautéed these snipped chilies, along with onions and garlic, in canola oil, adding some Mexican oregano at the end. Then I added my diced Roma tomatoes and chipotle chilies, cooking the whole thing down until it was completely softened before puréeing it.

It tasted great, but those Roma tomatoes simply took too long to cook down. Making the switch to canned crushed tomatoes—fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen were my favorite—delivered a salsa that went from pantry to ready-to-eat in just about 15 minutes.

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Well within my timeframe.

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A quick blast with the hand blender, along with a splash of lime juice and soy sauce (my secret weapon for adding a salty, umami boost to my sauces) and a handful of chopped cilantro, and the sauce was exactly where I wanted it to be.

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Strike that. Not quite where I wanted it to be (my mouth).

Assembly

With the salsa out of the way, the rest was a snap.

Normally, I like to heat my corn tortillas by dipping them in water and heating them in a dry skillet until they're nicely charred—the water ensures that they stay moist and pliable as they char—but this time, I decided to use an alternative method: light frying.

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The goal is to hit that sweet spot right in between soft and crunchy. I like it when the tortillas have a few crisp bits around the edges and in the center, but are still pliant and flexible enough that I can swipe them through stray sauce and runny egg yolk (there will be plenty of both). About 15 seconds per side is ideal.

As for the eggs, some people like their fried eggs completely pure white and tender. Not me. I like my fried eggs with plenty of crispy, bubbly edges. This means using plenty of oil and heat.

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To ensure a nice shape in my eggs (I hate it when the egg whites spill around all over the place), I heat up canola oil in a nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, crack my egg into a small bowl, then tilt the pan so the oil collects in one corner.

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Next, I gently slide the egg into the pool of oil, letting it rest long enough just for the outer edges' shape to set. This takes about 10 seconds. You can then repeat the process, tilting the pan in a different direction, until you've added as many eggs as you'd like.

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To really get the eggs extra crisp, while keeping the yolk completely liquid, I use a spoon to baste hot oil over the surfaces of the egg whites (be careful not to scratch your nonstick pan with the spoon!). This creates tons of little bubbles on the surface, while also ensuring that there's no runny, snotty undercooked egg white left over.

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I slip the fried eggs on top of the crisp tortillas, then spoon the salsa all over the eggs, making sure to keep their liquid yolks exposed—they just look so good that way.

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A spoonful of Daniel's Perfect Refried Beans and some slices of avocado, and breakfast is ready.

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That first knife stroke? The one that breaks the yolk and pulls it through the salsa, so it flows like a river of liquid gold through a lava field?

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That's the knife stroke that I live for.