When I was young, my nana Gloria used to make us this really awesome soup that had torrejas. Torrejas were these fried patties made with milk-soaked bread and shredded beef. Gosh. I don’t know how she made them or what she put in them, but they were delicious. They were soft and doughy, yet they had a thin layer of crisp on the outside since they were deep-fried.
Well, I am here to tell you that my torrejas were nothing like nana Gloria’s. However, I am not ashamed of the way they turned out. Or how I prepared them.
I am willing to share them with you, because they were good in their own right. Think of it as an experiment gone wrong but right. Does that make sense?
Sopa de torrejas was one of the few soups I ate willingly. This was the kind of soup that did not need to be pureed in order for me to consume it. No sir-ee. This was a legit soup in my eyes.
I went to the store in search for some beef to make the torrejas. I was at a loss because I didn’t know which cut of beef to use. I thought, Maybe I get a flank steak because it is soft. Then I thought, Maybe I get some sort of roast, because it can be shredded. Then, I looked at the prices for beef and opted to buy some pork. That solved my dilemma fairly quickly.
When I got home, I started thinking about the torrejas. I soaked some whole wheat bread in skim milk, because that’s what I had in my pantry and fridge. I am pretty sure nana Gloria used white bread, but I thought this variation could work. I knew I needed eggs and of course the cooked pork meat. As I was making the torrejas, I realized they were too wet… and I had ran out of bread. So I did something that would be sacrilegious in Ecuadorian cooking.
I used panko. Yup. As in Japanese panko bread crumbs.
I am not sorry. The torrejas stayed together. I am a problem solver, after all.
And although I did not end up with torrejas like my nana’s, these bread and pork patties were superb. The soup itself was very tasty. So maybe I can say that the soup is more of a traditional Ecuadorian soup, while the torrejas have some Ecuadorian-Japanese fusion flare. How does that sound?
By the way, if any of you have a true Ecuadorian torrejas recipe, send it over my way. In the meantime, I will continue to crack the code.
Begin by preparing a refrito, by heating some oil in a dutch oven, with some onions, parsley and tomatoes.
Add the chopped pork meat,
And the pork neck bones. Stir to combine with the refrito.
Season the meat with some salt,
Ground black pepper,
And ground cumin. Your house is going to smell gloriously. You’re welcome.
Mix thoroughly to coat all the pieces of pork with the refrito and the seasonings.
Pour six cups of tap water into the dutch oven. Bring it to a boil.
Upon boiling, remove the meat and the bones from the broth. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to simmer. Place the pork meat and bones on a chopping board.
To the broth, add diced potatoes, and the additional cup of water. Bring this broth back to a boil, and then lower to medium heat and continue to simmer until the potatoes are done, but not falling apart. Lower the heat to low to keep the soup warm.
In the meantime, remove any meat that may be left on the neck bones. I was able to rescue some! Set aside, because this will be for our torrejas.
Preparing the torrejas
Soak some cubed, wheat bread in some milk.
Mix thoroughly and let it rest so it can soak as much milk possible to make it soft and mushy.
While the bread soaks, prepare another refrito – this time with green onions, yellow onions and tomatoes.
Sautee until the onions are translucent and the tomatoes are cooked down.
To this refrito, add the pork meat and mix to combine. Season to taste with salt, ground black pepper and ground cumin. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk a couple of eggs, and add the soaked bread, with as much of the excess milk squeezed from the bread.
To this mixture, add the pork meat and stir to combine.
Now, here’s where the experimentation began. Prior to this step, my torrejas mixture was soggy as all get out. It made a big ol’ mess while frying. I mean – I couldn’t even manage to form a patty in my hands without ending with 3/4 of the mixture on my hands and in between my fingers…
So, I added 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs. I always suggest starting with a little bit, and build upon it.
The goal is to achieve a mixture that sticks together to form a patty, but wet enough to be moist for eating. I achieved this consistency upon adding another 1/4 cup. Let your hands be your guide!
Heat some vegetable oil – about 1 tbsp – on high heat, and place the patties in the skillet to fry. How big the patties, you ask? About the size of the palm of your hand. How thick? About 1/4 inch thick – it speeds up the cooking process too!
Fry for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remember to not overcrowd the pan. I usually do four at a time, so I can flip them easily.
To serve, place a couple of torrejas at the bottom of the bowl, and then ladle the soup over the torrejas. Garnish with some cilantro and you’re done! Enjoy this Ecuadorian/Japanese soup! Ha!
- 1 lb. pork neck bones
- 1 lb. cubed pork meat (loin, boneless chops work great)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tomato, peeled and diced
- 1 tbsp diced yellow onion
- 1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 6-7 cups water
- 5 slices of bread, cubed
- 1/4 cup milk (skim, whole, etc. is fine)
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 small red tomato, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- Finely chopped pork meat (from above)
- Salt, ground black pepper and ground cumin to season
- 2 whole eggs
- 1/2-3/4 cups panko bread crumbs
- Vegetable oil for frying
- In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the oil and sautee the garlic, onions, parsley and tomato. Cook in medium heat until the onions are translucent.
- Add the pork neck bones and the chopped pork meat to the mixture. Stir to incorporate and cook to brown the meat.
- Add 6 cups of water to the dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to medium and simmer until the pork is cooked.
- Remove the pork meat and bones from the broth, and place the meat on a chopping board. Set aside.
- Add the diced potatoes to the broth, and the additional cup of water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are cooked (but not falling apart). Reduce the heat to low to keep the soup warm.
- Remove any meat from the neck bones (if possible). Set aside for the torrejas.
- While the soup simmers, soak the bread in the milk until the bread is soft and the milk has been mostly absorbed.
- In a large skillet, prepare another refrito with the onions, cilantro and tomato. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Add the pork meat to the refrito and stir to incorporate all the flavors. Season with salt, ground black pepper and ground cumin to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
- Squeeze the excess milk from the bread - as much as possible - and add it to the egg mixture. Mix to incorporate.
- To this mixture, add the pork meat mixture and stir.
- Begin adding 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs and mix. The goal is to achieve a consistency sticky enough to form patties. Add an additional 1/4 cup if necessary.
- In a large skillet, heat some vegetable oil on high heat.
- Form patties the size of the palm of your hands, and about 1/4 inch in thickness. Place 4 patties at a time in the hot skillet, and fry for a few minutes until golden brown on both sides.
- Place the patties on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
- To serve, place a couple of patties at the bottom of the bowl and ladle some soup over them. Garnish with cilantro leaves.