Tortas are a Mexican street meat sandwich and they are more delicious than than the sum of their parts, which are pretty damn tasty all on their own. I have been in search of the kind of tortas and lonches I would eat with friends at Betty’s Tortas (now closed) and at food carts across the border in Nuevo Progresso down in the RGV. They’re a junk food treat. They’re salty, greasy, fried, and the bread is so soft it just melts in your mouth while also being crunchy where the bread was toasted on the griddle.
The prevailing style of tortas around these northern parts seems to be Michocan-style tortas using layers of grilled deli meats and panela cheese on telera rolls. They’re good and all, but it’s just not the same thing. The Michocan style reminds me of panini with both sides of the bread often pressed and grilled on the griddle. I prefer the bolillo style bread (toasted) with griddle fried steak, carne asada and carnitas as the main meat selections and always served with limes and salt. Needing my fix, I have been working on this recipe for a few years, and I am very happy with the results.
Sometimes I think they might be better than Betty’s, then I say a little prayer to Saint Sandwich of Forgiveness for such blasphemy. This sandwich is worthy of a dinner party and can easily scale to serve many quickly, especially if you have a couple griddles available.
Ingredients & Prep Directions
You are making a commitment to marinade if you are getting in the torta game. Overnight is minimum but, if we’re all being honest here, I’ve done as little as 2 hours and the results were ok. Overnight is better though, so strive to make that your minimum goal with up to 2 days at the top end. My max is a lean 2 days (40-48hrs) for citrus marinades otherwise, for my palate, the citrus is the only thing you taste in the meat and it overshadows the other marinade flavors.
Marinade for 2 pounds of flank or skirt steak:
Garlic – 5 cloves minced
Cilantro – fresh, 1/8 cup chopped leaves and stems
Cumin – 1 Teaspoon
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt – pinch (don’t go nuts. There is a salty spice mix to top the meat while grilling)
Orange juice – 1/4 cup
Limes -2, juiced
Olive oil – 1/2 Cup
White vinegar – 1 Tablespoons
Slice your cuts thin before you marinade if you are using a thicker cut of meat.
In a re-sealable plastic bag, combine the spices (first 5 ingredients), and mash together into a paste with your fingers through the bag, careful not to puncture the bag. Add remaining liquid ingredients and mix well. Add 2 pounds of flank or skirt steak, cut thin and remove excess air from bag and seal. Store refrigerated up to 2 days.
Grill Seasoning aka The Magic
Salt – 1 T
Garlic Powder – 1T
Black Pepper – 1 tsp
Cumin – 2 tsp (fresh ground if possible)
Cayenne Pepper – 1/4 tsp or to taste
Combine all ingredients and store in a shake top container if available. Otherwise, you can pinch and sprinkle from a dish. If you are doing a dinner party and making lots of sandwiches, I highly recommend using a shaker style container for The Magic or your hands will get really gross between the marinaded meat and the dry powder.
Mayo- 1/2 cup
Garlic cloves – 2 , minced or chopped
Lime juice – 1 tsp, fresh squeezed
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – 1/2 tsp minced
Salt & Pepper – to taste
Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until completely smooth. Can easily be made vegan using vegannaise. Store covered in fridge at least 1 hour to allow flavors to combine. I’ve kept it up to 2 weeks, but YMMV.
For the chipotle peppers, I just use the peppers in adobo sauce, puree and freeze them into cubes, so I’m just using a chunk of my reserves. If you have chipotle pepper powder or other sauce, you’re welcome to use that instead.
Oil for grilling meat
Bolillo Bread – 4 buns, as fresh as possible & cut in half longways
Refried beans – warmed
Avocado – thinly sliced
Cilantro – leaves and stems. rough chopped to approx 1.5″ sections
Onion – thin slices, use a mandolin, or knife-it if your skills are up for it, you badass
Panela, cotija or queso fresco (can be easily made with cheesecloth, milk and vinegar)- grated
Lime – sliced into wedges
Salt – to taste
Lettuce & tomato – (optional)
How to Build the Perfect Sandwich
After marinading your meat, the hardest and longest part is over. You are ready to grill up a torta.
Heat your griddle pan or griddle to medium high heat. Your steak should be thin enough for it to cook quickly. Spray a thin layer of oil on your pan and grill meat with a little room around each piece. Sprinkle both sides with The Magic as it cooks and you turn it.
By the time both sides are browned and slightly charred, the meat should be cooked. If you are using a thicker cut, check to ensure you have achieved the desired doneness.
While the meat is cooking, spread an even layer of the chipotle aioli (can also use just plain mayo) on the sliced bolillo bread.
After removing the meat from the griddle, place the bread, aioli-side down, on the griddle.
Once toasted, remove from griddle. You’re ready for final assembly! I bet it smells amazing in your house right now.
On the bottom bun, make a thin schmear of beans. Place the meat next, and top with your desired veggies and cheese if you like. I also like to add more chipotle aioli to the bread as a sauce since the other has cooked off in to the bread or the pan.
Squeeze some lime and sprinkle the avocados with salt, and you’re ready to put this thing in your face!