Hola amigos, y bienvenidos al Catástrofes de la Cocina, la telenovela sobre las adventuras de Juan O’Guin, o, como ellos se llaman en la calle, “Bruno”. Or, for those of you who don’t speak Spanish: “Hello.”
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, bitches and bastards, it’s time for another KITCHEN CATASTROPHE. In this note we tackle Mexican Sombrero Pie, a name that is completely false, as I can find no evidence of it ever being made in mexico, it contains no hat, and it’s not technically a pie. Well, some of it isn’t. I’ll get to that in a second. If you just want a recipe, of course, just click HERE.
The Old Switcheroo
We’ll get to the food in a bit, but first, I have to talk about video games.
There’s a phrase I’ve stolen from video games that I use fairly frequently in my life: “Palette Swap”. A “palette swap” is, classically, when a game designer creates different enemies for you to fight, but rather than make them look distinctly different, they only change the colors of them. An easy example is ANY of the Ninjas in the early Mortal Kombat games: Sub zero, Ermac, Reptile, Scorpion, Noob Saibot: They’re all the same model, they just wear different colored vests.
Taste the rainbow. OF SHADOWS. The rain-dow. The…look, these don’t go together well.
I co-opted the phrase because I figured out that a lot of Improv Games and recipes fall under the same sort of concept: identical base build and goal, but with slight cosmetic alterations. Basically the entire genre of “line games”, where the troupe is standing in a line, and given a prompt, and step forward to give one-liners or short scenes based on the prompt, are palette swaps. The only thing that changes is the original prompt. “A world without Bacon” or “The world’s worst Dentist.” Recipes are the same way, where you’ll realize that a lot of them are fundamentally another dish, but with this ingredient swapped for another one.
Now, I want to be clear, I don’t think this is a BAD thing. By not having to waste time and money on making each of the ninjas in MK different LOOKING, they were able to spend time and money making them PLAY different. “World without” and “World’s Worst” have identical formats, but the scenes created are very different. In the same way, a dish can end up totally different by only changing one or two things. And this dish is actually a surprisingly good example.
A World of Hats
There’s an old joke that I first heard told by Jim Gaffigan, where he points out that Taco Bell only has one trick: everything on the menu is meat, cheese, beans or veggies (both if you’re fancy) and some form of tortilla. He punctuates the joke with a friend complaining she got a taco when she wanted a tostada, and Jim just breaks the taco shell so it lies flat.
This is the basic palette swap nature of tex-mex cuisine. But, Mexican Sombrero Pie not only doubles down on the premise, it TRIPLES DOWN.
I’m not a great gambler.
Because when I looked up the recipe, I found two distinct camps of how to make it. The first seemed to trace to a 1965 Betty Crocker recipe book, and is meat, tomato sauce, vegetables, sautéed and cooked together, then baked under a layer of cornbread dough. Making it a Tex-Mex Shepard’s Pie (or closer to a pot pie with no bottom crust, I suppose). The recipe I have, which was written on a 33-year-old pie plate, is a cornmeal crust, a meat and veggie filling, suspended in an egg mixture- “THIS IS A QUICHE!” I yelled, as I was pouring the eggs into the plate, realizing all too late I had been tricked by a fancy Mexican hat to make French food with cumin. So it’s two potential palette swaps, which, if you took out the eggs, are just palette swaps of each other (The only difference is if the crust is on bottom or top.)
Sometimes, food is trippy as all hell.
Don’t Believe Me? Ask the Dishes!
As I noted a second ago, I got this recipe from a plate. “Watkins Mexican Sombrero Pie” is fully explained on a single dish, in which you’re supposed to make the pie; which is kind of unhelpful after you put in the crust, since you can’t read the directions anymore. And as far as I know, no means has been invented to preserve or record information beyond its immediate revelation.
Oh, yeah, pictures. And the concept of writing in general.
Now, I know you’re anxious to get to the actual food porn in my notes, but I want to make one last detour, like a dad on a shitty road-trip. I promise, we’ll be at Disneyworld soon, but first, let’s visit Potter’s Wax Museum International Hall of Fame, in St Augustine Florida! It’s America’s FIRST wax museum!
My detour is that the company that gave us this recipe, Watkins Incorporated, also known as J.R. Watkins, calls itself “America’s Original Apothecary manufacturer”. This is a company whose first product was “pain relieving liniment”. It still had a website! It’s great. This is a company that is unapologetically old school, though they seem to be flipping the script, so to speak, in this instance. Instead of taking something from indigenous peoples and calling it theirs, Watkins made a thing, and claimed it was made by indigenous peoples. Giving back to the community, eh, you snake-oil salesmen?
By the by, does anyone know where Snake oil comes from? Is it an olive oil thing or a baby oil thing; by which I’m asking, is the oil made FROM snakes, or is it meant to be used FOR snakes? Shit, I’m detouring from the detour. We’re about to all end up in Ripley’s Odditorium, the first permanent home of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not franchise, also in St Augustine! Why are we spending so much time in St Augustine?
Beatssss me, amigo. Sssaayy, what wasss that about ssssnake oil?
An ounce of prevention, chopped fine and deep-fried
Many food magazines, chefs, and other food experts will tell you a lot about mise en place, or, in English “setting your shit up beforehand” and the pleasure of preparation. I tend to treat the concept of preparation as one would Preparation H: useful when absolutely necessary, but hopefully avoidable, and a little shaming. But for this recipe, I indulged in some, by mixing the dry ingredients for the crust a day ahead of time, so I could mix them into dough in the afternoon so the crust could be chilled until dinner.
The pie crust calls for shortening, because this is going to be “short dough”, or dough that can’t be stretched. In case you, like I, ever wondered why it was named shortening, that’s why. Originally, any fat used in short dough was shortening, but now the term is almost exclusively used for hydrogenated vegetable oil, because it’s a lot easier to say.
Crisco’s even easier to say, but it makes you a sell-out.
Now, if you have a complaint with using shortening, and would prefer to use butter, I’d like to point out you’re actually hurting yourself. Shortening and Lard have had a hard time of late, because of a widespread wave of anti-fat campaigns in the 80’s, after research showed that too much fat made you more likely to have heart disease, and shortening and lard are the only fats solid at room temp that don’t taste as good as butter, so they’ve been pushed to the fringe, like most visibly fat things are. However, continued research ended up dividing fats into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and surprisingly, while both shortening and lard have more fat per serving then butter, they also have a higher ratio of good fat to bad. Despite having 20% more total fat, shortening’s good to bad ratio is 2:1, while butter’s is 1:2, making shortening arguably 4 times healthier for you (technically closer to 3.2, given the higher total value.)
Fat mathematics aside (fat-ematics?), you make the dough by cutting the shortening into the dry goods. Now, the best tool for this is a pastry cutter, those half-moon shaped, kinda brass-knuckle looking doo-hickeys. We keep ours…not in this drawer. Or this one. Wait, it’s probably on the island! Um… nope, not here either. Did we leave it in the holiday cooking supplies? Crap. I cannot find this piece of crap anywhere. It’s been five damn minutes. Screw it, we’ll improvise.
Damn, we should have said “Fork it, we’ll improvise.” Another pun missed. I do this all the…tine.
This method’s a little more tiring on the arm, as you have to keep pressing the fork, and then PRESSING the fork, but it gets the job done. Get the dough incorporated together, then get it into a ball. You’re going to roll it out with a rolling pin, which we keep…not on the island, like I thought. Nor in the pantry. AW CRAP, NOT ANOTHER ONE. Okay, this is fine. Maybe we keep it in the third drawer, with the Ziploc bags! Shimmy this bad boy open and…!
You half-moon shaped, knuckle dusting piece of shi-
After cursing violently at an inanimate object, which I tend to do daily, to the growing concern of my loved ones, friends, and fellow users of public transportation, I resolved that I had no idea where the pie roller was, so I pushed it out by hand. Just press downward, flattening the dough with your palms. It’ll be more rustic, but that makes it more like house the Mexican housewives would have made this dough, or at least how the mid-20th century marketing teams who actually made it would have wanted you to picture them making it.
Put it in the tin, get it up the walls, crimp the edges, and you’re good. If you don’t know what ‘crimp the edges” means, don’t worry: neither do I. I end up just pushing the edge into something that looks kind of wavy with my thumb, or a more choppy pattern by just pressing a fork into the edges.
Darker than Black 2: Bouillon Boogaloo.
Chill that crust, and brown some beef. Then add the a couple fun ingredients. A can of green chiles, and a can of pimentos both go in, after you drain them, pat ‘em dry, and chop them up. Pimentos are particularly weird, since they’re basically itty bitty pickled bell pepper strips, a phrase surprisingly difficult to say. Toss in a bunch of spices, tomatoes, and Watkins beef soup mix. Which…wasn’t at the store. In fact, there was NOTHING at the store simply labeled ‘beef soup mix’. Further, image searching “Watkins beef soup mix” only shows you the packaging.
If you’re wondering why that’s an important question to answer, there’s a LOT of different ways to start beef soup. From powdered mixes to cans of condensed stock. Without knowing which type to use, we could quite easily make our pie too soupy, or too dry. In the end, we cast ourselves into a black hole, hoping to make the best of it.
“And then our band did retract in fright,
From an inky dark that drank-in light.”
Bouillon mix is a dense paste of stock flavoring ingredients. It’s enough that a single teaspoon can intensify the flavor of a pound of meat. It’s also strong enough that licking that spoon hits you with enough salt and beef flavor to make it hard to breathe for three minutes. Or so I’ve been told.
So you add your black magic potion to the other spices and flavors, and simmer it down. Throw some cheese on the crust, and throw the meat on top. Then, you add the egg mixture.
And here’s where we screw up. My family has a habit of rounding out fiddly numbers to something more immediately workable. For instance, this recipe called for 1 lb of ground beef but we had bought a 1.23 pound brick from the store. To which we said “The hell if I’m going to leave a quarter pound of ground beef uncooked.” So we cooked it. And seasoned it, and ladled it into the pie. And it was only as we poured in the eggs did we remember, “Oh yeah, I meant to take that out.” This becomes important, because if you try to pour a thick egg mixture into an overly full pie dish…
As they say, no use crying over spilled eggs you have to break to make an omelet. Or something.
Yeah, we didn’t just overflow the pie crust. We overflowed (overflew?) the crust, the dish, and the edge of the counter, “covering” the front of our dishwasher, and “Making a tripping hazard”. Those were my mother’s words. I called it “Making 2 minutes of clean-up work”.
But yeah, you toss the whole ensemble into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, and you get basically a mexican quiche. Top it with shredded lettuce, some tomatoes, or chopped black olives, basically anything you would see in a normal taco, and we used homemade ranch dressing, and you’ve basically got a Mexican Breakfast Pizza. JESUS, HOW MANY DISHES IS THIS IMPERSONATING?
(do I have to do this? I mean, I POSTED A PICTURE OF IT. Ugh, okay.)
1-1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold water
1 lb lean ground beef
4 oz jar pimentos, (chopped, drained, and blotted dry)
4 oz chopped green chilies (drained, and blotted dry)_
3 tbsp onion flakes
2 tsp beef soup mix
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp bail
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 ts garlic powder
16 oz can whole tomatoes (cut up)
1-1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
3 eggs slightly beaten
1-1/2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
Shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, green onion, olives for garnish
Mix flour, cornmeal, salt. Add shortening & cold water, mix into dough.
Roll into pie plate (or press out by hand, whatev). Chill 1 hour.
Brown meat, drain fat, add remaining filling ingredients. Simmer 18 or so minutes, until liquid evaporates. (Weirdly, there won’t be a lot of liquid at the start, then around 10 minutes, it’ll show up, then go away again.)
Take the pie crust, add cheese, then meat mixture.
Combine eggs, salt, half & half. pour over beef mixture.
Sprinkle with a little grated cheddar cheese then bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Do the toothpick test to make sure it’s done.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with shredded lettuce, tomato, and some dressing.
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NEXT TIME, ON KITCHEN CATASTROPHE: SUPER BOWL SNACKS, WAY TOO FUCKING LATE.