The Best Reason to Bake, Not Fry: Flavor

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ON THE SAUCE Simmering the beans and leeks in white wine makes for a fragrant, flavorful purée.

ON THE SAUCE Simmering the beans and leeks in white wine makes for a fragrant, flavorful purée.


Photo:

James Ransom for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Eugene Jho, Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

The Chef: Fermín Nuñez

The Best Reason to Bake, Not Fry: Flavor



Illustration:

MICHAEL HOEWELER

His Restaurant Suerte in Austin, Texas

What He’s Known For Smart, elevated takes on Mexican cooking. Perfecting the art of the tortilla.

AS A NEW college student homesick for his mother’s cooking, Fermín Nuñez stepped up to the stove. “I didn’t want to eat frozen food,” he said. He started simply, with rice, beans and tacos. After a few semesters, he dropped out and dedicated himself to cooking professionally.

Now, at Suerte in Austin, Texas, Mr. Nuñez is refining the basics he began with. In this tostada recipe, he calls for baking tortillas to a crisp and smearing them in a white-bean-and-leek purée laced with white wine. He tops that with spicy chorizo and a layer of mild Oaxaca cheese that goes all oozy in the oven. Finished with fresh herbs, arugula and ground almonds, it’s a satisfying meal.

Mr. Núñez opted for baking rather than frying the tortillas because “I didn’t want to mask the corn flavor.” At Suerte he uses an herby house-made green chorizo, but the widely available red variety works well too. Mr. Núñez hopes home cooks will take their own liberties with the recipe. “If you want more beans, that’s fine,” he said. “If you want more cheese, go for it.” Who knows where that might lead?

TIME: 30 minutes SERVES: 4

1 large leek

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed

2 àrbol chiles

1 bay leaf

1 cup white wine

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

8 corn tortillas

6 ounces chorizo, removed from the casing and chopped

1½ cups shredded Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella

3 cups mixed cilantro, parsley and arugula

10 blanched almonds, finely ground

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove green part of leek and discard or save for stock. Halve white portion lengthwise and wash thoroughly to remove all grit.

2. In a small pot, combine drained beans, split leek, chiles, bay leaf, wine and stock. Pour in water and season with salt. Simmer beans over medium heat until broth thickens and flavors deepen, 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and chiles. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Transfer beans to a blender. With motor running, drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Purée should be thick but spreadable. If necessary, blend in splashes of reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt to taste.

3. Arrange tortillas on a baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 7 minutes. Spread white-bean purée over each tortilla and scatter chorizo evenly over purée. Scatter cheese over chorizo. Bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes more.

4. Meanwhile, in a salad bowl toss herbs, arugula and ground almonds with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Mound dressed greens over hot tostadas and serve.