How to Make Chef Aarón Sánchez's Tasty Chile Con Carne Burritos (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
"We reinforce our culture with food. It just brings everyone together," Mexican-American celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez tells ET.
The MasterChefJunior judge and El Paso, Texas, native began cooking at an early age, helping his mother, famed restauranteur Zarela Martinez, prepare traditional Mexican meals for her catering business and later Café Marimba. Growing up with a family that dedicated their lives to the food industry, Mexican cuisine was always a way to connect with his roots and relive moments from his childhood.
"When you're able to relive a grandmother's recipe or your mom's favorite casserole, that happens to be an enchilada, all that just connects you to home and it's a very special moment that you can only relive through food," Sánchez, 44, who is the chef/owner of Mexican restaurant Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans, Louisiana, elaborates. "This idea of flavor memory, and when you taste something, it automatically transports you to another time of your life. It's kind of like a song, where you listen to [it] and it's like, 'Aw.' It reminds you of a place, and food very much does that."
For Sánchez, special dishes are also how he passes down traditions to his 9-year-old son. Whether it's making tamales for Christmas, Chiles en Ahogada (stuffed peppers) for Cinco de Mayo, or mole for Dia de los Muertos, "Those kind of cultural connections to dishes is something that I am very conscious to impart in my son," he notes. "There is a time of year that you make certain things."
With a culinary empire of his own, Sánchez is aware of his cultural impact and how he's representing Latinxs on the screen. "I feel blessed every day and that's why I'm always trying to get better," he expresses. "As a chef, you have to constantly challenge yourself. You always have to make sure you're getting better at your craft. So I am always trying to bring dishes to the front and rescue old-school dishes that we forgot about and bring them back."
Now, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the award-winning chef, in his own words, shares one of his favorites recipes and the special meaning behind it.
Tio Mario’s Famous Chili Con Carne Burritos
"They remind me of my childhood in El Paso, where I'm from, and there's something very tender about it. When Tio Mario and I first moved to New York together, I traveled often. Since I was usually pretty run down, Tio took it upon himself to do some of the cooking and when I’d come home, he always had this dish ready for me.
He made everything entirely from scratch, toasting the chiles and grinding them by hand. Over the course of my life, it didn’t matter if we were staying in a small Brooklyn apartment or a 5,000-square-foot house in Louisiana, he cooked this chili no matter what.
The comfort of returning to a home-cooked meal after being on the road was so meaningful to me. Chili is always better after a day or two, so this is a great make-ahead recipe. Sometimes, Tio and I would have it stewed for dinner, and then if I was leaving town the next day, he’d make burritos out of the leftovers so I could take them on the plane (yes, I was that guy)."
6¾ cups (1.6 L) chicken stock
4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed
4 dried árbol chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 dried ancho or pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 pounds (1.4 kg) beef chuck or brisket
Ground black pepper
¼ cup (60 ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 bay leaves
1 medium ripe tomato (4 to 6 ounces/110 to 170 g), finely chopped
¾ cup (140 g) long-grain white rice
6 large (12-inch/30 cm) flour tortillas
1 cup (115 g) shredded sharp Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup (60 g) crumbled cotija cheese
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups (480 ml) of the stock to a simmer. Meanwhile, set a skillet over medium-high heat and toast the peppers (in batches, if need be) until they’re fragrant, slightly charred, and a little more pliable. Transfer them to a heatproof bowl, pour the simmering stock over them (weight them down with a small bowl if they won’t stay submerged), and set aside to steep for 30 minutes. When they’re soft, cut them open and scrape out some or all of the seeds (leave them in for spicier chili), then, in a blender, puree them with the steeping liquid until smooth.
2. Trim the fat from the beef and cut it into approximately 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes; season with salt and black pepper.
3. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels or a metal rack.
4. Working in batches, sear pieces of beef on one side, leaving space between them so you don’t crowd the pan; cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes, until nicely browned. Transfer immediately to the lined sheet, leaving the other sides raw (this helps it stay tender when it braises).
5. Adjust the heat to medium. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the onion for the rice; add the rest to the pot along with the bell pepper, carrot, and 1½ teaspoons salt. Sauté until the onion is soft, with a little color, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in two-thirds of the garlic and the cumin, oregano, and cinnamon, and toast for a minute or two, until fragrant.
6. Return the beef to the pot along with the bay leaves, chili sauce, and 3 cups (720 ml) of the stock. Adjust the heat to high just until the sauce comes to a simmer, then adjust the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is falling-apart tender, 2½ to 3 hours.
7. Meanwhile, make the rice: In a bowl, combine the tomato and the reserved 2 tablespoons of onion and the remaining garlic with 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
8. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, shaking the sieve to get rid of excess water. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Stir in the rice to coat it evenly in the oil, then adjust the heat to medium and keep cooking, stirring regularly, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the rice is fragrant and lightly golden.
9. Stir in the chopped tomato mixture and cook for a couple of minutes, until the tomatoes have melted into the rice. Pour in the remaining 1¾ cups (420 ml) stock and adjust the heat to medium-high until the liquid is simmering. Cover, adjust the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. If the rice finishes cooking but there is still more liquid, uncover the pot and keep cooking until the steam evaporates.
10. Remove the saucepan from the heat and sandwich a clean dishtowel between the lid and the pot; this helps absorb extra steam. After 15 minutes or so, fluff with a fork.
11. To make the burritos, preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). Over the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish, spread a ladleful of the sauce from the cooked chili. Using a slotted spoon, scoop some beef into the center of each tortilla; add some rice. Wrap burrito-style and arrange the burritos snugly, seam side down, in the dish. Ladle more sauce over all the burritos to cover, then sprinkle with the shredded Cheddar and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese lightly browned. Garnish with cotija and radishes; serve with a knife and fork (and napkin).
This recipe can be found in his latest memoir, Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef, available now.
Sánchez's list of notable credits includes starring in multiple Food Network shows like Chopped,Next Iron Chef, Iron Chef, Guilty Pleasures, Best. Ever., Heat Seekers and Chefs vs. City. He’s also the author of cookbooks, La Comida del Barrio and Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes From My Kitchen to Yours. Sánchez once again appears as a judge on the upcoming season of MasterChef Junior, premiering 2020/2021.