Huevos Rancheros is probably my favorite breakfast dish of all time… and I’m pretty sure I’ve had them all! From simple oatmeal over full British fry-ups to Wagyu Eggs Benedict. Yes, it’s a thing, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Don’t believe me? check my Instagram for proof!
Ahem. Anyway, I’ve had a range of breakfast dishes from around the world, but the one that holds my heart is that simple Mexican mix of staples: Huevos Rancheros. A dish that is satisfying, filling and so simple at its core that it can be easily underdressed or overdressed according to mood and context.
Today we will explore the context and recipe of my favorite Mexican breakfast dish and overall breakfast dish and we will put together a few tricks we’ve already learned in the Beginner’s Guide to Mexican Food series to put together our own perfect version. But first, we’ll have a look at the dish and the history of Huevos Rancheros. As always, if this is not your thing, you can skip directly to the recipe and get cracking.
What are Huevos Rancheros
Huevos Rancheros, in its simplest form, is an absolutely easy and minimalist dish consisting simply of fried eggs, in a spicy tomato sauce (salsa) served with tortillas – traditionally corn, but sometimes also served with flour tortillas depending on the preference of the diner. These, believe it or not, are the simple basics behind one of the western world’s most iconic breakfast dishes that can, depending on mood and situation, be served plain and simple as part of a weekday morning ritual, or… if things are to be fancy, can be dressed up with a number of toppings or sides for that perfect Sunday brunch – or (trust me on this one) the world’s best hangover cure.
Huevos Rancheros: History
Of all places in the world, I originally ran into Huevos Rancheros in Kansas City one fateful October morning of 2003 after spending a little too much time with my first American love, Jack Daniels, the night before. Truth be told, it was probably this very inauthentic version’s function as a perfect hangover remedy that sparked an interest in learning more Mexican dishes that had traveled so very far and lengthy to end up under my radar. But wanting to learn more I did, so I started researching and recreating like any good geek would.
Huevos Rancheros originated in Mexico. Thus far all culinary sources agree and from there – like most traditional dishes – the history sort of branches out a bit and becomes rather fragmented. Rumored in some (undocumented) claims to date as far back as the 16th century, the dish certainly seems to be rather classic and simple in nature which seems to support the general understanding that it evolved upwards of hundreds of years ago somewhere among the peasant or farmer population of rural Mexico. While no primary sources on these claims exist, they seem supported by the fact that the dish can be prepared quickly and cheaply even in larger batches using ingredients readily available to peasants and farmers (masa, tomatoes, onions, chilies, eggs), but easily at the same time provide enough protein and carbs to keep farmhands going through what would have been a straining and physically demanding day.
Given its statute as a quick, simple and cheap dish, it made sense for the dish to spread quickly across the farming communities of Mexico. But how then did it become a world-renowned breakfast staple? Well, as with so many other things Mexican in this culinary world, it boils down to events that took place in the great state of Texas. It is commonly believed that Huevos Rancheros, like so many popular dishes before it, entered the US through the border state of Texas at some point during the 1950’s when across the border tourism and migration really became a thing.
During this cross-border shift, Huevos Rancheros, like so many dishes before it, quickly became popular with the new crowd north of the border. It also quickly became vastly Americanized – in this case apparently fueled on by the addition of bacon and potatoes as sides, a brilliant move that would resonate well with any pure-blood American. In fact, to this very date, ham-products and potatoes remain a popular side to Huevos Rancheros stateside, in leu of more traditional options like beans or avocado.
Variations of Huevos Rancheros
It goes to reason that a dish that starts out simple will, in the hands of talented chefs, eventually become, well less simple – and indeed Huevos Rancheros has taken on a myriad of shapes and variations over the years: From differences in sides ranging from the afore-mentioned bacon and over the addition of non-Meixcan ingredients like lettuce, Monterey Jack cheese and and sour cream, to brand new variations.
Take Huevos a la Mexicana – or scrambled eggs in the form of Huevos Rancheros, for example – or how about Huevos Divorciados, two eggs in the fried in classic style but separated and served with two types of sauce (usually a salsa roja and a salsa verde)… Remove the salsa from the equation and add black beans and cheese instead, and you’ve suddenly got yourself a popular Yucatán dish in the shape of Huevos Motuleños and so on and so forth. The point to be made here is that the possibilities are endless and that the lines between what constitutes Huevos Rancheros and something else are starting to blur a little, but as long as we’ve got tortillas, salsa and eggs, we’re pretty much on track.
There are even variations in terms of the now classic and very basic method of preparation. Most will see the eggs fried, while others call for poached eggs to be used. And then there are the sort of rogue people like myself that are somewhere in between.
Me? Eeeeh, I usually go for a pseudo-poached egg version in which I’ll usually be so naughty as to cook my eggs in my salsa rather than pan frying them on the side. It makes for a simpler preparation and better flavor, I think. It’s kind of like stealing a few tricks from Middle Eastern tradition and their world-famous breakfast dish shakshuka, but I reckon that if the Mexicans can adapt Pork al Pastor from the Lebanese immigrants (no, really, Lebanese Mexicans, it’s a thing!), then I too can borrow a few tricks from them – am I right?
Come to think of it, that technically make my Huevos somewhat of a cross between Huevos Rancheros and another variation thereof, Huevos Ahogados, or “drowned eggs” poached and completely emerged in salsa… But before I lose my entire audience arguing with myself over definitions, let’s just end it here and stick to Huevos Rancheros for obvious reasons.
I also usually make Huevos Rancheros as a left-over – even hangover – dish, meaning I’ll usually invite pseudo-stale homemade corn tortillas from the night before as well as some homemade salsa roja in exchange for the slightly simpler, chunkier, tomato-based salsa fresca (aka pico de gallo) championed by others.
Huevos Rancheros – Gourmet Style – the Perfect Recipe
Looking for the perfect Huevos Rancheros recipe? Well, you know what? It’s simpler and easier than you think! To perfect a dish as simple as Huevos Rancheros, you’ll need only one thing: quality ingredients! In our case, that means fresh corn tortillas (that can be hard to acquire in many places of the world so do consider making them yourself using our homemade corn tortillas recipe), a good, salsa roja and the freshest organic eggs, you can get your hands on. Add some fresh, chopped cilantro as garnish and that’s it. No secrets, no fuzz, just pure, fresh, quality ingredients. Ain’t life simple and grand sometimes? From then on, you can always dress things up and make them special, but we’ll get to that after the recipe!
Wait… What? Yeah, okay, so I twisted the truth… A bit… Obviously making your own corn tortillas and your own salsa isn’t the simplest task on the planet, but it’s hardly rocket surgey either and both are crucial components in a plethora of Mexican recipes. So why not knock yourself out? Make a full on feast out of it, cook up some tacos al pastor or carne asada for dinner and use the leftovers tortillas, sauces and even meats for Huevos Rancheros in the morning? I know that’s what I would do. But, ahem, on with the recipe!
Huevos Rancheros – A Perfect Authentic Recipe
Simple and authentic recipe for Huevos Rancheros, made entirely from scratch.
- 300 grams salsa roja see link above
- 4 eggs
- 4 corn tortillas see link above
- 1 tsp oil can substitute bacon fat
- 1 bunch cilangtro
- 30 grams Cotija cheese can substitute feta-style cheese where not available
- 2 tbsp Salsa verde see link below
- 2 tbsp Guacamole see link below
- Refried beans see link below
- Mexican Hot sauce Cholulah or Vera Mexicana brands come to mind
Put a cast iron pan over medium heat and add a thin layer of oil or bacon fat to the bottom.
Separate the leaves from the cilantro stems with a sharp knife. Chop leaves finely and reserve the stems for some other purpose. Sauces, marinades or similar, They are super flavorful.
Pour salsa roja into pan and distribute evenly, allow to slowly heat through until barely simmering.
Carefully crack eggs into warm salsa making sure to space them evenly.
Allow the eggs to cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny like your standard sunny side up egg.
Remove pan from the heat and sprinkle liberally with cilantro leaves and other toppings of your liking (cheese, hot sauce, etc).
Heat or toast your corn tortillas for a few seconds until fragrant and pliable.
Put a couple of tortillas on each plate and top with eggs and salsa mixture.
Add any sides of your choosing, stir together and eat as civilized as you can manage. There really is no pretty way.
Huevos Rancheros: Sides and toppings – Kicking things up a notch!
And there we have it. Huevos Rancheros in all their simplicity. Okay, again, I lied. A little. But that doesn’t mean that, in the true spirit of Johan Johansen, we can’t have even more fun and dress tings up even further.
Below is a list of some of my optional but recommended Huevos Rancheros toppings and sides. You can choose as few or as many as you like, or even add your own suggestions to the list, it’s your damn taco party and the whole point is to have fun and shake things up.
Cilantro – to me – and the other half of the population not struggling with the dreaded gene deficiency that makes it smell and taste like soap – is an absolute must on anything Mexican.
Salsa Verde – something in the tart tanginess of tomatillos just seems to play well with the sweet spicy depth of the tomatoes and the creaminess of the eggs.
Guacamole – Left-over guacamole is not usually a problem I suffer from as my friends are absolute monsters when it comes to devouring homemade guacamole during taco parties. But if you have some, by all means use it. Guacamole is a perfect breakfast item that goes with just about anything, and it spoils quickly.
Cotija cheese – is a most wonderful Mexican cow’s milk cheese that is available either as a semi-soft crumbly variant or a hard, aged ditto. Huevos Rancheors just scream for a sprinkle of the mild, slightly tangy, creamier version. You’ll be hard pressed to find said cheese outside of Mexico, the US or surrounding countries, though, so feel free to substitute a cow’s milk-based Feta-style cheese in Europe or elsewhere.
(Refried) Beans – Beans, whether cooked or served as refried beans – a popular American bastardization of the words frijoles refritos which actually mean well-fried beans – remain a popular and wholesome addition to Huevos Rancheros for those who crave a bit more depth and (admittedly not very pretty) protein in their most important meal of the day.
Hot sauce – Cholulah and other Mexican-style hot sauces are standard in Mexican restaurants both sides of the border – and should be in your home Mexican kitchen, too. What is a spicy breakfast without extra heat after all?
Make it your own: Time to get cooking
And there you have it, the greatest breakfast dish in the world, in all it’s glorious non-simplistic simplicity! Regardless of your desired level of complexity, I hope you’ll give this breakfast of hung-over champions a whirl, even if it has to be done using your favorite store-bought salsa and tortillas from the market.
It may be a little more time-consuming than your regular sunny side up eggs, but as with so many other things in the culinary world, it’s extra time well-invested. Regardless, really, of how much extra time goes into the project!