Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Marfa

Somewhere around sunset I was having dinner at a small café in Marfa, Texas when an old cowboy came in with a bottle of his favorite beverage in a brown paper bag.  The older lady who had waited on me immediately grabbed a big wooden bean masher and informed him in rapid fire Spanish he was leaving right now if not sooner.  With that she snatched the bag from his hands and threw it out the front door toward the street, and then marched the man out the door with the bean masher held up in a very threatening manner.  This is how I met Carolina Borunda Humphries.
 
My cousin’s family had a ranch in west Texas where he and I spent a little time hunting for dove, deer and, at one time, a mountain lion.  It wasn’t too far (maybe 30 miles) from the small town of Marfa where one of the best cafés on this earth stood for most of the 20th century—The Old Borunda.
 
I don’t know just how accurate this is, but I have read somewhere the cafe was started in 1887 by Tula Borunda Gutierrez and in about 1908 it was rented to Carolina Borunda a sister-in-law.  In 1938 the café was passed on to Carolina Borunda Humphries, the daughter of Carolina Borunda.  And in her hands it thrived until 1985 when a family illness forced the doors to close.  When those doors closed, an era ended, but Tex-Mex is alive and well because of this small café.  Many Tex-Mex historians point directly to this establishment as the point of origin for this gastronomical phenomenon.
 
The town of Marfa lives on today to a certain extent because of James Dean and the movie “Giant” filmed in part near the town.  Many of the Hollywood stars of the day stayed at the Hotel Paisano, and that was my hotel of choice also, but not because of the stars, it was because of room availability the first time I was in town.  There were other places to stay, but the Paisano was the only one with a vacancy the first time I was there.  They gave me the “James Dean” room.  Okay, it was just a room, but apparently James Dean slept there.  So did I, so why didn’t they rename it the “David Lloyd” room?  I need to talk to them about that.
 
Marfa is known for another happening.  It’s called “the Marfa lights.”  Who knows what they are, but they are the subjects of endless speculation.  These same blueish lights could be seen at my cousin’s ranch, or so he said.  I never saw them.
 
Many times I’ve thought back on the four times I ate at the Old Borunda.  I believe it was truly the center of the Tex-Mex universe when Carolina Humphries was the owner/cook, and maybe that’s what the lights are about.  Maybe some space aliens are out there searching for a great stacked enchilada with a fried egg on top.  I know I’ve never had a better one anywhere.
 
I won’t even try to copy her version of the enchilada.  Others such as Robb Walsh have done a wonderful job of keeping Carolina’s legacy alive, and I could do it no justice.  Therefore, here is my recipe for Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas.  These enchiladas were a favorite of mine before visiting the Old Borunda.
 
Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Makes 6 servings, or 4 large servings, or maybe 2 really large servings.  One?

4 Anaheim chiles
3 jalapeno chiles
4 medium tomatillos
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or more as needed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
8 ounces sour cream
2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cooked, cooled, and shredded
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
12 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Longhorn or Colby cheese             
 
Under a broiler or over a gas flame, roast the chiles until blackened and blistered, turning every few minutes.  Place in a tight sealing plastic bag and let stand 15 to 20 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the blackened skins and discard.  Remove the seeds and stems and discard.  Chop the remaining chiles.  Should measure just under 3/4 cup.  Husk, rinse and chop the tomatillos and add to the chiles.
 
Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame and add the onion to the pan.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the garlic and continue to cook about 1 additional minute.  Sprinkle with the flour, and stir for about 1 minute.  Add the chiles, tomatillos, cumin, coriander, salt, and chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and allow to cool at least one hour, and three is preferable.
 
When cool, puree until smooth.  Use batches if necessary.  Remove 3 cups of the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  To the blender add the cilantro and the sour cream and puree to make the sour cream sauce.  Set aside.
 
To the 3 reserved cups of puree, add the shredded chicken, and chopped medium onion, and mix well.
 
Preheat oven to 350F.
 
Wrap the tortillas in a damp cloth and heat in a microwave until soft. Pour about 1/3 cup of the sour cream mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place 3 tablespoonfuls of the chicken mixture in each tortilla, roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish. Pour remaining sour cream mixture over all and top with shredded cheeses.
 
Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for about 1/2 hour.  Serve hot and bubbling.
 
It doesn’t hurt to have a James Dean movie playing on the television.
 
I know I’ve said many times that everything is better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.  This may be one of the few exceptions, but I’m not willing to find out.

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