Burritos may be one of the ultimate double-edged foods. On one hand, you can put just about anything in them. On the other, you can put just about anything in them.
Their versatility is hard to beat, but that just means there is much opportunity for missteps. After all, who hasn’t walked away from the line at Chipotle or a restaurant of its ilk with buyer’s remorse about an overstuffed, flavor jumble of a log?
You can do better, especially if you do it at home. Here are some things to consider:
The tortilla. I love a good corn tortilla, but in a burrito? No, thanks. Flour tortillas are more pliable, not to mention larger. A 10-inch tortilla is ideal, or look for labels that say large or burrito-size. My preferred brand, La Banderita, even makes a 12-inch “mega” size, although I stick with its smaller brethren. It helps to have the tortillas warmed slightly so that they are flexible enough for rolling.
The filling. “Everything can go in a tortilla,” says Louie Hankins, founder and owner of Rito Loco and El Techo in Washington. No matter what you choose, try to make the ingredients as fresh as possible, Hankins advises, although I won’t be the one to discourage you from using your well-preserved leftovers, either.
When it comes to how much you put in, “less is better,” according to Hankins. Too much inside and you not only dilute the flavors but also risk a burrito that breaks or sheds filling with every bite. Try to limit your filling to 1 ½ cups for a 10-inch tortilla, Better Homes & Gardens says.
What your fillings are and the ratio you use is definitely a matter of preference. Hankins doesn’t like to bite into a heap of rice and beans, so at Rito Loco, the emphasis is on the meat or protein — 7 ounces of it to be exact, plus 3 ½ ounces of pico de gallo and 2 ounces of cheese.
The flavors. If you’re going with the less-is-more approach, you want to get the most flavor into every bite. For Hankins, that means delicious meat marinades and sauces. Take the time to give your protein a quick dip, or throw together a blender tomatillo sauce, and you’ll be rewarded with something that tastes great. Plus, making your own sauce will give you extras for more burritos or other meals. I also like this tip from Sarah Larson at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, who suggests seasoning everything, including the rice, which you can jazz up with cumin, bay leaves or other spices. Making the rice with broth is another way to amp up the flavor. Fresh herbs are a high-impact addition that won’t add too much bulk to your burrito. Pickled onions and jalapeños likewise pack a punch in a relatively small package.
The assembly. Now’s the time to slow down and put everything together. Because Hankins prefers his burritos longer and leaner as opposed to short and stubby, he likes making layers about the thickness of a pounded chicken breast. Cheese goes on first (and also at the end if you love cheese like I do) so that it can be closest to the hot skillet and pico de gallo goes on last to keep it from getting the tortilla soggy.
Using warm fillings where appropriate (meat, vegetables, beans, etc.) will make assembly easier. Warm ingredients placed on top of the cheese will help melt it in conjunction with the time you toast it in the skillet. They also mean you don’t have to worry about trying to heat the filling all the way through without burning the tortilla.
Of course, then there’s the matter of rolling. Different people have their preferred methods, but the principles are largely the same: Fold in the sides before rolling up for a secure pocket, and keep the roll as tight as you can so everything stays in place. I favor mounding the filling a bit off-center so that you have plenty of margin in the upper half of the tortilla when it comes time to the final roll and tuck of the tortilla underneath.
Be sure to heat the burrito seam-side down first in the skillet so that it helps seal the burrito shut. No mess, no stress — and no need for a trip to that fast-casual shop.