Cook this: Drowned sandwich — torta ahogada — from The Latin American Cookbook

The torta ahogada is thought to be the product of one of Mexico’s happy gastronomic accidents

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Our cookbook of the week is The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez. Over the next two days, we’ll feature another recipe from the book and an interview with the author.


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To try another recipe from the book, check out: Bolivian-style turnovers (salteñas).

“When you eat this, I’m sure you’ll make a whole mess of it with your hands,” chef Virgilio Martínez says of the torta ahogada.

Translated as “drowned sandwich,” the name of this Mexican invention is especially apt. Either submerged (bien ahogada) or dipped (media ahogada), this pork sandwich is soaked in sauce.

The torta ahogada is thought to be the result of a happy gastronomic accident, Martínez writes in The Latin American Cookbook . In the early 1900s, a street vendor in Guadalajara is said to have inadvertently dropped a sandwich into a container of salsa — much to the customer’s delight.

Today, drowned sandwiches  — made with crusty birotes — are a staple throughout the state of Jalisco, and are a showcase for exceptional carnitas as well as salsas.


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“(Mexicans) are very talented, and they put so much effort into the quality of the pork,” says Martínez.

You can eat the torta ahogada drenched in a spicy chile de árbol-based sauce or a tomato option, or a mixture of both as written here. From salsa to moles, “(Mexico might be) the country with the most sauces in the world,” he adds.

The Latin American Cookbook
The Latin American Cookbook is Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez’s second book. Photo by Phaidon Press


Torta ahogada

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 15 minutes soaking
Cooking time: 2 hours 30 minutes

1 lb 8 oz (675 g) pork shoulder
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 mL) water
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced into half-moons
Juice of 1 lime
4 birote rolls (or hunks of baguette)
4 tbsp cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Salt and ground pepper
Lime wedges, to serve


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For the spicy sauce:
1/2 oz (15 g) dried chiles de árbol (see note)
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 mL) hot water
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup (1 oz/30 g) toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin

For the tomato sauce:
2 lb (900 g) tomatoes
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas Mark 4).

Step 2

Season the pork with salt, pepper and garlic, and place in a roasting pan. Add the bay leaf and water to the bottom of the pan and cook in the oven for 2 hours, turning the meat over after 1 hour; it is ready when a knife inserted in the middle comes out warm. Remove and let cool until warm, then shred the meat with your hands and set aside.


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Step 3

For the spicy sauce, place the chiles de árbol and hot water in a bowl and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Drain, and place the chilies in a blender with the garlic, vinegar, sesame seeds, oregano and cumin. Season with salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture and keep the liquid sauce.

Step 4

For the tomato sauce, boil the tomatoes in a pan of water for 10 minutes, then drain and peel. Clean the blender and add the tomatoes, cumin, onion, oregano and garlic, and blend to a paste. In a medium pan, heat the oil until hot, add the tomato mixture and cook for 20 minutes, letting some of the liquid evaporate, stirring continuously so it doesn’t stick.

Step 5

Season the red onion with lime juice and some salt and leave for 5 minutes.

Step 6

Cut open the bread and place some meat inside and then onions on the top. Pour some tomato sauce on the bread, add the spicy sauce and some cilantro. Serve warm with lime wedges.

Serves: 4

Note: Chiles de árbol are small, thin Mexican chilies that are very hot and used mostly for sauces.

Recipe adapted/reprinted from The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez. © 2021 Phaidon Press



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