Tortas Ahogadas – A Mexican Hot Sandwich

Lists of “top things to do in Guadalajara”, the capital city of the Mexican state of Jalisco, almost always include eating a torta ahogada, a classic Mexican sandwich invented there, prepared with local extra-crusty buns called birotes. When it was first created in the mid 20th Century, an open bun was traditionally filled with pork and dunked in a pot of fiery hot red pepper sauce (ahogada translates to English as “drowned”). Because birotes are extra crusty, they were ideal for this sandwich, since they maintained their integrity and lovely texture in spite of being smothered in sauce.  A slightly milder and more manageable version of this sandwich is a “medio ahogada” – “half drowned”, made by just partially dunking the pork sandwich in the hot sauce.  Nowadays, it is common to have choices, anything from an original “fully drowned” (“completa”), a milder partially dunked (“medio ahogada”.)  A standard way to offer them at restaurants is in a pool of mild tomato-based sauce, and a side of spicy sauce, sometimes with the addition of onions and lime wedges, like the one I bought for $149 pesos (about $8 USD) at a restaurant in the Guadalajara International Airport (photo below, left); it came with a spoon so I could “drown” the torta to my taste (photo below, right):

In my previous post, I shared my recipe for birote-style extra-crusty buns, so the natural progression was to prepare my own tortas ahogadas.

“Drowned” Mexican Sandwiches – Tortas ahogadas

Printable recipe: “Drowned” Mexican Sandwiches – Tortas Ahogadas

Printable recipe: Extra Crusty Buns (Birote Style)

Printable recipe: Pan Fried Carnitas


Extra crusty buns, preferably birotes (printable recipe above; other very crusty bread, such as baguette sections, may be used)

Pork meat, roasted or fried (printable recipe for my Pan Fried Carnitas above; or any pork roast may be used)

Tomato-based Sauce:
2 large tomatoes; stem ends removed, quartered
½ onion; peeled and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic; peeled
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp oil

Very Spicy Sauce
8 dry hot red peppers (such as de árbol, Thai, hot fingers, etc.); stems removed
¼ onion; peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic; peeled
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp oil
½ cup hot water (freshly boiled)

I had birote style buns from my previous post:

101 birotes

And a batch of my Pan Fried Carnitas:

102 batch of pan fried carnitas

To prepare tomato-based sauce: Place all ingredients except the oil in a blender jar (photo below, left) and process until smooth (photo below, right):

Warm up oil in a pan over medium heat, pour the tomato mix; bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook for at least ten minutes.  Keep simmering over low heat:

105 tomato-based sauce

To prepare very spicy sauce:  Warm up oil in a pan over medium heat; add hot peppers and roast just until they crisp (photo below, left).  Remove promptly into a bowl with the freshly boiled water (photo below, right):

While the peppers soak in the hot water, fry onions and garlic in the same pan, allowing the aromatics to get slightly charred (photo below, left); remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.  When cooled, place peppers with water from soaking, charred onions and garlic, and salt, in a blender jar (photo below, right):

Process until smooth, then pour back into the pan, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally:

110 cook spicy sauce

To fix tortas ahogadas: Warm up pork meat in a casserole over the stove or in the oven; cut into small chunks and reserve, covered, to keep warm.  Open buns by slicing lengthwise across the middle, being careful not to completely separate the bread into two slices; if the buns are cold, slightly warm up in a toaster (or microwave) oven.  Fill each bun with a generous amount of meat:

111 slice bun and fill with meat

Finish by pouring simmering sauce of choice (tomato-based, or very spicy, at your own risk!) over the sandwich.  Smother all over for a “completa”, or partially cover, as shown below – with mild sauce – for a “medio ahogada”:

112 pour sauce of choice on half for a medio ahogada half drowned

I like spicy food, but I could not take the bait of a spicy “completa”, so I chose the restaurant style, and smother my torta with mild sauce, with a portion of very spicy sauce on the side:

113 Torta ahogada

You are supposed to eat it with your hands, but I used fork and knife; by “drowning” bite-size pieces in the spicy sauce just now and then, I was able to enjoy this sandwich with mirth, without getting overwhelmed by the hotness of the very spicy sauce.  This platter made me think of a torta ahogada as the Mexican version of a hot turkey sandwich covered in gravy … if only I had thought of serving it with a side of French fries!

Note: My very spicy sauce looks different from the side I got at the Guadalajara airport.  This is because I like toasting the hot peppers and aromatics with a hint of oil, for extra flavour; some of that oil coats the veggies and gets in the blender, making the sauce appear somewhat creamy and orangey in colour, due to emulsification.  Skipping that step, just soaking the peppers and adding aromatics raw to the blender, will result in a purely red spicy sauce.

I am sharing my recipe at What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up # 239 with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

11 thoughts on “Tortas Ahogadas – A Mexican Hot Sandwich

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