One of my family’s go-to meals is sopes (pronounced soo-pez). Typically served as an antojito (literally “little cravings” but figuratively, an appetizer), sopes have always been the main event in our family. The base is a fat 3- to 4-inch tortilla-like corn cake baked on a griddle.
In our family, we called these small fat tortilla corn cakes “gorditas,” which means “chubby” in Spanish (Gorditas are also a name for another popular dish that adds baking powder to the masa to help it puff up. It’s then slit, creating a pocket. Instead of toppings, fillings are stuffed into the pocket). You can make these corn cakes with masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour) or all-purpose flour, but for sopes, it’s the corn version we’ll need.
Once baked, the edges are pinched before being fried to give the exterior a crispy finish and more stability. To assemble, a generous smear of refried beans goes down first. We usually add shredded chicken or beef next, but you can just as easily keep this vegetarian by omitting the meat. Toppings can include shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, thinly sliced radishes, crumbled or shredded cheese, salsa, sliced avocado and a dollop of Mexican crema or sour cream to finish.
This recipe has a few different components. None are difficult, and all can be done while the previous component is resting or cooking. To get started, it’s best to make the masa (dough) for the gorditas first so that the flour thoroughly hydrates. The masa is the same one used to make corn tortillas.
While the masa is hydrating, I get the chicken started. You could use rotisserie, but it’s hard to beat the flavor and tenderness of freshly poached chicken. I prefer bone-in thighs, but bone-in breast works, too, if you prefer.
While the chicken is cooking, I get the beans going. Since I don’t always have home-cooked pintos in the refrigerator, I often use canned pinto beans. The rinsed beans get added to a hot skillet with a couple of teaspoons of neutral oil. After a quick stir-fry, I mash them, keeping them somewhat chunky. For an additional flavor boost, I add a bit of Knorr’s Granulated Chicken Bouillon and Mexican cheese, usually cotija or queso fresco.
Next, while the chicken and beans continue to cook, I move on to rinsing and prepping all my vegetable garnishes, storing them in containers in the refrigerator until it’s time to assemble.
About this time, I check the chicken. If it’s falling off the bone, I transfer it to a bowl or plate to cool while making the gorditas.
To start forming the gorditas, I pinch off a ball of masa roughly the size of a head of garlic and roll it in my hands to form a smooth ball, then flatten it by hand. Hand-forming the masa is very typical of Mexican cooking. My mom taught me how even before I could reach the counter. If this intimidates you, you have options: you could place the masa ball between parchment paper or plastic wrap and use a rolling pin or apply pressure with a flat object such as a small cutting board or dinner plate to flatten the ball into a disk.
To bake the gorditas, I use a cast-iron griddle (use a heavy-bottomed skillet if you don’t have a griddle) and bake them on the stovetop. Depending on their thickness, they’ll take about 6 to 8 minutes to bake.
When ready, I transfer the gordita to a clean tea towel to cool for a few minutes. Once it’s gone from piping hot to very warm, I use my thumb and index finger to pinch along the edges, forming a little lip that will help keep the beans in place when ready to assemble.
By now, the chicken should be cool enough to handle and is ready to shred.
Just before assembly, I quickly fry the gorditas on both sides to bump up the flavor and to give them a little more structure. This step is completely optional if you prefer to avoid the added calories.
With all the gorditas fried, I assemble the sopes by first spreading beans into the well that formed when I pinched the edges of the gorditas. I crumble some queso over the beans, then add the chicken.
At this point, I serve them to my family. With the containers of garnishes on the table, everyone can then add their favorite toppings. I love to pile the veggies onto mine and add a drizzle of salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Sopes are finger food, meant to be picked up with your hands, but use a knife and fork if you must.
This recipe calls for more beans than you’ll probably need. Pair the leftovers with a fried egg for breakfast.
Makes 6 sopes
FOR THE GORDITAS:
2 cups masa harina
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus ¼ cup very warm water, divided
FOR THE CHICKEN:
3 bone-in chicken thighs, skins removed
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled
1 celery rib, quartered
FOR THE BEANS:
1 (29-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 cups water, to taste
2 tablespoons Knorr’s Granulated Chicken Bouillon
2 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ onion, finely diced
¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 avocado, halved, pitted, then sliced
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Make the masa: Add the masa harina to a bowl. Dissolve the salt in 1 cup of very warm water (the water should be as warm as you can stand it without burning your hands). Pour into the bowl. Use your hands to mix and knead until the flour is fully incorporated and a soft masa (dough) forms. If the masa is still a little dry or crumbly, knead in the additional ¼ cup water. The masa should feel very moist and slightly tacky but not be overly sticky. It should form a smooth ball, and your fingers should leave an indentation on the masa when lightly pressed. Cover the masa with a clean damp cloth, seal the bowl with some plastic wrap or top with a plate. Let stand for 30 minutes and up to two hours to hydrate fully.
Cook the chicken: Place ingredients into a pot. Add water to cover the chicken by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken falls off the bone. Transfer the chicken to a bowl to cool. Once cool, use your hands or two forks to pull the chicken off the bone; shred it. Discard bones and return to bowl. Set aside.
While the chicken cooks, fry the beans: Place enough oil to cover the bottom of your frying pan and heat over medium-high. Drain and rinse beans. Test the oil readiness by placing a bean into the pan. If it sizzles, add the rest of the beans. Stir, frying for 1 minute. Mash the beans with a potato masher to your desired texture (I prefer mine a little chunky). Pour in 1 cup of water, then stir in the bouillon. Add more water to taste for your desired level of creaminess (I like my beans creamy and slightly runny; my mom prefers them drier, just barely creamy). Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese and turn off the heat (if the beans get too dry, add more water).
Prep the vegetable garnishes: Rinse and dry the vegetables. Chop the onions, then the tomatoes; place into containers. Shred the lettuce, place in a container, cover with a damp towel. Return the veggies to the refrigerator until ready to use (leave the avocado intact until time to build the sopes to keep it from turning brown).
Cook the gorditas: Place a griddle over medium heat and warm for at least 8 minutes. Divide the masa into six equal pieces, then roll each piece into a smooth ball. Flatten the balls by tossing the masa back and forth between your hands, rotating slightly with each pass and applying a bit of pressure when your hands come together. Flatten to about 4 inches in diameter and about ¼- to ⅜-inch in thickness. Alternatively, you can use a rolling pin to flatten by placing the slightly flattened ball of masa between parchment paper or plastic wrap to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin.
Place the gorditas onto the hot griddle and cook for about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the gorditas to a clean tea towel to cool for a few minutes.
While cooling, place a frying pan on medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan).
Take the cooled gorditas, and using your index fingers and thumbs, pinch the edges to form a lip. Place into the hot pan flat side down first, frying until golden. Gently flip and fry until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
To assemble: Generously spread beans in the well of a gordita. Crumble or grate cotija over the beans to taste. Add chicken, then garnish as desired.
Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and is reprinted by permission from “Confessions of a Foodie”.
Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at [email protected].