What is a Cemita?

cemita

What is a cemita? Well, the cemita is a sandwich originally from Puebla, Mexico. Making it a type of torta. What distinguishes it from other more generic tortas is its place of origin within Mexico and the roll it’s made with– also called a cemita.

The roll itself is pretty specific. It’s made with an egg-rich dough and is often (usually) topped with sesame seeds, giving it the appearance of a traditional American style hamburger bun. But its texture is much different. Hard and crunchy on the outside. Soft and rich on the inside. Best described as a cross between challah and brioche. They’re available at many Latin markets. However you can also make a pretty good version at home. Just find a good Kaiser roll recipe and replace the egg white with an egg yolk. Don’t forget to finish the roll with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

In Puebla this sandwich is made with meat. Typically a thinly pounded piece of breaded and deep fried beef, similar to Milanesa. Though carnitas or another type of pulled, stewed or BBQ pork is also quite popular. I think the cemita is a great way to use up leftover barbecue– be it beef, pork or even chicken. The other ingredients in this sandwich are rather familiar and mostly easy to obtain: sliced avocado, Oaxacan cheese (similar to string cheese or mozzarella), onions, chipotle peppers, a spicy red sauce (I used adobo) and a pungent Mexican herb known as papalo. Many times you’ll see a re-fried-bean-like paste slathered on the roll. Occasionally there will be lettuce and tomato.

The herb is the only ingredient that can be hard to find (even in Los Angeles). It’s not well-known or well-appreciated north of the border as it has particularly strong odor. It can be a bit of a turn off to a lot of folks. It’s flavor is quite strong too, best compared to a minty (citrus-tinged) cilantro. I replaced papalo with cilantro because the papalo was just too pungent for me. Besides, I often find cilantro to be just the right balance with smoky, spicy flavors as in the chipotles and adobo sauce in the following recipe.

I realize I’ve given a rather lengthy definition. That’s the food geek in me. He’s hard to repress, and today he’s quite impressed with this cemita. You see, I have lived in Los Angeles more than 25 years. We have arguably the very best Mexican food in the United States. Our choices stretch far beyond the standard taco or burrito. I’m constantly (and gleefully) discovering new regional Mexican dishes. So when the cemita sandwich came onto my radar I wanted to welcome it into my life the best way I know– right here on this blog. GREG

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Cemita Sandwich

cemita sandwich

Ingredients

  • 4 cemita rolls (sesame topped kaiser or hamburger rolls are good substitutes)
  • 1 pound pulled pork such as carnitas
  • 4 ounce shredded Oaxacan cheese (string cheese or mozzarella may be substituted)
  • 2 ripe avocados halved, pitted, peeled and sliced
  • ½ small red onion skinned and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves
  • 4 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce seeded and cut into strips

Directions

Slice the rolls sandwich style, then toast or grill the cut sides until browned.

Divide the meat between each of the 4 bottoms of the rolls. Top with cheese, avocado slices, onion and cilantro (or papalo) leaves. Lay as much or as little of the chipotle strips on top. You may also brush a bit of the extra adobo sauce onto the inside of the top of the rolls before closing the sandwich.

Notes

The pulled pork in this cemita recipe could be replaced with a thinly pounded piece of breadcrumb coated, deep fried beef. This is the most typical version found in Puebla, Mexico.



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