Down to the last crumb

Everyone who cooks knows that finesse derives from balance: a seesaw of salinity and sweetness, acid and fat, raw and cooked, cold and hot, spice and umami, flavor and texture. A mixture of red harissa paste and labneh cheese makes a lovely dipping sauce for air-fried red pontiac potatoes tossed in olive oil and salt, for instance. Focaccia topped with tzatziki, anchovies, arugula, and al dente-cooked carrot slices creates a similar harmony. Take half an avocado and stuff it with crab or lobster salad, capers, and panko, and you’ll taste what I’m talking about. This principle of balance is why things like Hawaiian pizza work, why lox and cream cheese belong together on a toasted bagel, why granola goes with berries in yogurt and caviar with boiled eggs and diced raw onions en croute. It’s really as simple as cheese and crackers: richness and depth paired with delicate lightness and crunch. But add a dollop of Mike’s Hot Honey to a smear of chèvre on baguette and everything is elevated.

Fried chicken and waffles is another example. Pepper jelly and Neufchâtel. Ricotta with fresh peaches, candied pecans, and balsamic glaze. Cheddar with apple pie, too. I detest the idea of ketchup on scrambled eggs, but there’s a reason people do it. Potato latkes, however, do deserve both sides of sour cream and applesauce, hard sauce should stick around with plum pudding, and horseradish cream cozies up to prime rib cooked rare-to-medium-rare. This is why cranberry sauce has a place on the Thanksgiving table: without that sweet/tart punch, the entire meal would lack a big bit of brightness.

I’ve mentioned time and again how little I like wasting, among many things, food. This has led to much experimentation and trial and error in the kitchen and compelled me to invent or reinvent recipes to incorporate ways to make use of what would otherwise be waste. I’ve been trying to crack the case of the “crumbs in the bottom of the bag” conundrum for years and have had middling success with a variety of solutions, including breading chicken cutlets in Lay’s potato chip bits, adding Pirate Booty powder to pizza dough, and using pretzel-bag silt to salt water for boiling pasta. Recently, though, I was faced with a Costco-sized sack of tortilla chips that had been eaten down to the dust, and I almost, almost just threw it out, but after a minute of staring at those little shards of what was once perfectly good corn, all those tiny pieces that had been brought into this home by the forces of everything from photosynthesis to factory ovens and freight shipping, it was just too compelling a challenge not to accept: how could I dignify all the details, all of the energy and money and calibrated movements, all of the logistics that contributed to the existence of this edible material?

As if that 40-oz. plastic bag of Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips were a crystal ball of some kind, a vision occurred to me. This vision wasn’t ethereal in nature, though; it was more like one of those window decals in primary colors on the outside of a Taco Bell. In fact, that’s almost exactly what this vision was like: an image of a Crunchwrap Supreme. I’ve never had one of those, but I appreciate the principle. What do you give a bunch of hungry people who can’t decide between a soft taco and a hard-shelled one? Well, you literally roll the two up together and give them both in one handy package. As a child, I loved the bologna and mustard sandwiches with Ruffles potato chips in them that my mom made us, so I’m attributing my Bag Bottom Burrito idea to this texture variation sandwich concept, with perhaps a shade of influence borrowed from that oversized sticker picture on everyone’s favorite Mexican-inspired fast food chain.

Bag Bottom Burritos


1 packet taco seasoning (or make your own)
1 lb ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork), browned, drained, and prepared according to instructions on seasoning packet
Grated cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, asadero, etc.)
Refried beans (or black beans or similar)
Avocado or guacamole
Whatever tortilla chip remnants remain in the bag after whoever ate the last big chip put the bag back in the pantry
Medium-sized flour tortillas
And literally whatever else you like in a burrito or on a taco! Shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes, salsa, black olives, sour cream, green chiles, jalapeños, cilantro, onions, etc.

Directions: Step 1: Add meat, cheese and beans to the tabula rasa of a flour tortilla but don’t fold it up yet! Heat in the microwave until very warm and cheese is mostly melted. Step 2: Add avocado slices (or guacamole) and a generous dump of tortilla chip crumb, roll it up, and serve it quickly, before the chips have a chance to take on moisture and lose their crunch! What’s great about this is that the salt in the crumbs seasons the other ingredients, and who doesn’t like an ample dose of sodium in south-of-the-border fare? Step 3: Gaze upon the beautifully empty bag and revel in everything it represents, including all of the energy you’ve harnessed, honored, and fed to your family, starting with the spring sun that shone on corn fields.

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