Saucy Carnitas Sandwich (Torta Ahogada)

Break out the napkins: this dish literally means “drowned sandwich” in Spanish, because it’s drenched in a rich, spicy sauce. A delicious labor of love, this torta is stuffed with carnitas, a beloved Mexican pork dish in its own right.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 3 hr 30 min
  • Active: 1 hr
  • Yield: 6 servings
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Ingredients

Carnitas

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1½-inch cubes

1/2 large white onion

3 cloves garlic

5 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste

1/2 cup lard, rendered from about ½ lb bacon or fatty pork, may substitute vegetable oil or unsalted butter

1 orange, quartered

Salsa Ahogada

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 large white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 chiles, minced, such as serranos

8 plum tomatoes, quartered, may substitute one 18-oz. can of whole tomatoes

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 cup Water, omit, if using canned tomatoes

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

5 whole cloves

5 allspice berries

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Torta

3 rustic baguettes, preferably Mexican birotes or bolillos

1 cup refried black beans, see Refried Black Beans recipe

1 ripe avocado, sliced

Pickled red onions, see Yucatán-Style Pickled Red Onions recipe

Directions

  1. Carnitas: Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork cubes in an even layer, fat-side down, followed by onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and ½ tablespoon salt. Add lard. Squeeze juice from orange wedges into the pot, then add the squeezed orange wedges. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally to make sure the pork cooks evenly.
  2. Remove and discard the orange peels, big pieces of onion, and bay leaves. Increase heat to medium-high and continue cooking for 1 more hour, stirring more regularly as the fat renders out and the pork begins to look shredded and browned. When pork is fully cooked, taste for seasoning and add more salt as needed. Meanwhile, make the Salsa Ahogada.
  3. Salsa Ahogada: In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add onion, garlic clove, and chiles; cook until onions are translucent, 8–10 minutes. Then add tomatoes, tomato paste, and water (omit if using canned tomatoes). Stir, then simmer until the tomatoes are cooked, 10–15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat a comal or skillet over medium heat. When comal is hot, add peppercorns, cloves, allspice, and chile flakes to the hot comal. Toast for 30 seconds, stirring constantly to distribute the heat and prevent burning. After 30 seconds, remove from heat and add cumin, oregano, and bay leaves to the hot pan; keep stirring. (The residual heat will toast the additional spices.) Set aside to cool for 8–10 minutes. Then finely grind the spices and set aside.
  4. Ladle the cooked onion-tomato mixture into a blender, along with the ground spices, vinegar, and salt. Blend on medium speed to purée, 10–15 seconds. Place Salsa Ahogada back into the Dutch oven and simmer over low-medium heat for 10 minutes, or until salsa has thickened and reduced by about one-third. Remove and discard any tomato peels that have floated to the top. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as needed. Keep the Salsa Ahogada warm until ready to assemble and serve tortas. Makes about 4 cups. (Note: Salsa Ahogada can be made 1–2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a lidded container.)
  5. Assemble Torta Ahogada: Preheat broiler. Slice baguette/rolls lengthwise and broil, cut-side up, until toasted, 3–5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop or shred Carnitas into small pieces. Spread about ¼ cup of the refried beans on one half of the toasted baguette, then top with about ⅓ of the Carnitas. Add sliced avocado in an even layer. Spread a lighter coat of beans on the other baguette half and place on top to make a sandwich. Slice into thirds and arrange on a rimmed serving plate or flat-bottomed bowl, cut-sides down. “Drown” the sandwich in Salsa Ahogada by ladling it all around and on top; garnish with pickled red onions. Assemble the other sandwiches and serve immediately (with lots of napkins!).