Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good Quesadilla, Bad Quesadilla


One irony about cooking is that it's often the simplest dishes, the ones that seem un-screw-up-able, that you are most likely to -- wait for it -- screw up. Maybe it's overconfidence, or maybe it's that simplicity does not always equal lack of difficulty. Or maybe it was a combination of the two that led to last night's Quesadilla Fail.

A quesadilla seems like a no-brainer, right? But I made two fatal errors, both intended as concessions to "health-consciousness": (1) using whole-wheat tortillas; and (2) using the toaster oven instead of frying in a generously buttery saucepan. The result was a goopy, curdly mess inside (I had included some leftover pork and beans, which did not help the aesthetics) and resembled leather in both appearance and taste outside; in short, it did not deserve to be called the Q-word.

So tonight, I was taking no chances. I vowed that my next quesadilla would be the ultimate quesadilla.

First I covered a big white-flour tortilla with thin-sliced cheddar. You want to leave a margin around the outside of your fillings (proportionally, think the width of a pizza crust in relation to the toppings) so the filling won't all ooze out when you cut it, and it won't be unwieldy to handle.

On top of the cheese, I layered sliced turkey and diced tomatoes (from a half a deli sandwich left over from lunch), scattered some diced red onion, sprinkled salt and pepper, and grated some chipotle jack on top of the filling.

I got out my big nonstick skillet and lumped in a pat of butter. Once it had melted over medium heat, I lay a second tortilla in the pan to just coat it with butter, then flipped it on the top of the quesadilla (unbuttered side down). This is so you don't have to put more butter in the pan when you flip halfway through cooking.

Then I put the quesadilla in the pan for about five minutes. When the bottom had golden-brown clouds on it (you have to lift the edge with a spatula and peek), I flipped it. If the quesadilla starts to fall apart as it flips, it's not ready -- let the cheese melt so the sides stick together when you turn it over.

Cook the other side until it's golden brown too. Turn off the burner, and let the quesadilla sit in the pan for a few minutes. I don't care if it's 2 AM and you're drunk and starving, you will regret it if you try to take a bite too soon and hot liquid cheese shoots all over you and burns you and leaves you with two empty tortillas.

I recommend putting the slightly cooled quesadilla on a cutting board and cutting into quarters. If you have some sour cream, salsa, cilantro, and/or avocado slices, they make great garnishes, but you can pretty much devour this all on its own. Just don't try to make it "healthy."

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