Chile-Marinated Pork Sandwiches on Cemita Rolls

I love cemitas, a sandwich that originated in Puebla, Mexico that is served on a brioche-like, sesame-seed covered roll with toppings including a thin cut of meat, avocado, chipotle peppers, Oaxacan string cheese, thin slices of white onion, and the secret weapon (and most difficult ingredient to find), papalo, a pungent herb similar to cilantro.

Unfortunately Larry and I have yet to locate a decent tasting cemita in Madison. And we’ve learned that deliveries to Madison of papalo are few and far between. We were thrilled when our friends Jill and Ryan made homemade cemitas for our Iron Chef Chili Pepper dinner last March. The sandwiches were mind-blowingly good and one of my all-time favorite Iron Chef dishes. We realized then that we could make our own cemitas at home in between visits to Mexico (or at least bigger cities with better Mexican restaurants) for the real thing.

This past weekend we made the sandwiches for the first time at home. I loved making the chili paste and the wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen while toasting the cumin, peppercorns, clove, and cinnamon in a skillet over the stove. Thankfully the recipe makes a double batch of the chili paste, so we’ll be able to make our next round of cemitas much faster. This is another recipe that takes work and patience, but it all pays off in the way of an incredibly good-tasting sandwich you won’t forget.

Chile-Marinated Pork Sandwiches on Cemita Rolls (from Gourmet via Epicurious, May 2004, makes 4 large sandwiches)

For chile-marinated pork
6 dried guajillo chiles (1 1/2 oz)
1 dried ancho chile (1/2 oz)
4 thin (1/2-inch) rib pork chops (1 lb total), bones discarded
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole clove
1 (1/2- by 1/4-inch) piece cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, quartered
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

For sandwiches
4 Mexican cemita rolls (available at Mexican bakeries) or 8 sesame seed hamburger buns
2 ripe California avocados
1/2 cup fresh papalo leaves (available at Mexican markets) or cilantro leaves
6 oz Oaxacan string cheese, finely shredded with your fingers (1 1/2 cups)
4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo (optional), finely chopped
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 large plum tomato, thinly sliced crosswise

Prepare chiles and pork:
Discard chile stems and cut guajillo and ancho chiles open lengthwise with kitchen shears. Discard seeds and ribs.

Heat a dry 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet or griddle over moderate heat until hot, then toast chiles, a few at a time, turning and pressing down with tongs, until softened and fragrant, about 10 seconds per side.

Transfer chiles to a bowl, then cover with hot water and soak until softened, about 20 minutes.

Flatten pork while chiles soak:
Trim fat and sinews from pork and pound between 2 sheets of wax paper with flat side of a meat pounder or with a rolling pin until meat is about 1/8 inch thick.

Marinate pork:
Heat skillet over low heat until hot then toast cumin, peppercorns, clove, and cinnamon, stirring constantly, until fragrant and cumin is a shade darker, about 1 minute. Transfer hot spices to a blender and add vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, and soaked chiles with about 1/3 cup soaking water, then blend until smooth. Transfer half of chile paste to an airtight container and chill or freeze for another use, then put remainder in a small bowl.

Spread a thin layer of chile paste in middle of a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to wrap all of meat and put 1 pork chop over paste. Spread a thin layer of chile paste on top, then continue layering meat, spreading each piece with chile paste. Wrap stacked pork in plastic wrap and marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours.

Cook pork and assemble sandwiches:
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Season pork chops with salt and sauté, in batches, adding more oil as necessary, until just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer chops as cooked to a sheet of foil and keep warm wrapped in foil.

Preheat broiler. Cut rolls in half horizontally and arrange, cut sides up, on a large baking sheet. Broil buns about 6 inches from heat until golden, about 1 minute.

Halve, pit, and lightly mash avocados in peel with a fork, then spread thickly on cut sides of rolls. Season avocado with salt, then top with papalo. Make sandwiches with pork, cheese, chipotles (if using), onion, and tomato, pressing sandwiches together.

Category: Kristin's Kitchen 3 comments »

3 Responses to “Chile-Marinated Pork Sandwiches on Cemita Rolls”

  1. nichole

    Those sound delicious! So many flavors.

    You’re right, Madison restaurants seem long on tortas and short on cemitas. Have you been to La Concha on Fish Hatchery? They seem like the most likely place to find a good one.

  2. Kristin

    Hi Nichole! Yes, I have been to La Concha and agree that it’s probably the best cemita in Madison. It’s also where we got the bread to make our sandwiches.

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