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Apr 7, 2007 08:28 AM

How to roll a taqueria-style burrito?

Okay, none of this "leave one side open" stuff for me. I'm looking for video or a spankingly good series of illustrations on how to roll the San-Francisco-style-tight-tube burrito. I know how to roll one sloppily at home, but I need some kind of pictorial to get that snug lil' burro.
I want the one that doesn't unravel after the foil comes off, if you know what I mean. In fact, it has enough structure to stand tall without foil, if the fillings aren't too jucy.

Anyone have a good link for this? (I've spent way too much time searching for one, and the signal to noise ratio is really high now that everyone has to say "that's just how I roll" on their blogs.) I've been considering ordering five burritos in a row just to get the counterperson to show me how it's done.

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  1. I'm not sure there is a pictorial anywhere on the process. In lieu of ordering a whole bunch of burritos, go watch someone using a mat to make sushi rolls, the basic process is the same. Or use these suggestions --

    1) Don't overfill the burrito. Too much filling and it's too hard to roll
    2) Drain things like beans and guisados
    3) Make sure the tortilla is warm and pliable. Nuking will do both, but the tortilla also becomes too brittle too fast and will end up cracking. If you've got a big skillet large enough to accommodate your tortilla use it over low heat, turning often as it softens. Many taquerias (especially those in SF) use a Lincoln steamer which injects steam into the tortilla as it heats it, which adds extra pliability. This is harder to do at home, though you can approximate it by *lightly* brushing the tortilla with water and wrapping it in foil to heat. Making the tortilla pliable enough is a big key.
    4) Make sure filling is as evenly distributed across the face of the burrito, and it should be just slightly off center.
    5) Fold shorter side over the filling so that it is totally covered. Using your hand, press the tortilla firmly back against the filling, all the way across the length of the filling so the the log is compact and snug. You can tuck the edge of the tortilla under the filling to make the process easier.
    6) Roll a small half roll away from you to firmly secure the flap of the tortilla with which you covered the filling.
    7) Flip ends of tortilla over the top of the developing burrito, pull snuggly and press onto the top of the burrito
    8) Continue rolling and with each half roll, pull the tortilla in snug against the filling
    Eat, or wrap in foil and heat on a griddle top or in the oven.

    * The biggest mistake people make in rolling burritos is to use a tortilla that is too small - msot taquerias use a 14" - 16" tortilla - and putting too much filling in, making it virtually impossible to roll neatly.

    * The tortilla needs to be warm and very pliable.

    * If you watch a burrito being rolled, the filling will be laid out and rolled horizontally. Watch what they do with their hands as they roll. They are rolling and pulling the tortilla back against the filling as they roll, which is the same technique that is used in making sushi rolls.

    You don't need a video, just practice :-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: DiningDiva

      I love to roll my own sushi, so I am familiar with that feel/technique. You are right, though, about the tortilla size problem. I tend to make my own tortillas and I'm limited by the size of my cast iron cooking surface. I guess I will have to go buy some giant tortillas if I want to practice (sigh). My homemade tortillas would have to be filled with 1/4 cup of stuff to really mimic the proportions.
      And I know that chow user Dommy! has much hatred for the ever-present steamer in SF taquerias, but I guess that's one way to save the grill area from being too crowded. I suppose that I could directly grill the store-bought wrappers (after rolling) to get the toasty texture that I love in my own tortillas.
      Any particular brands of giant tortillas that I should look for?

    2. If you're anywhere near Mountain View, CA, head in to La Bamba at dinner time and watch how they do it. Their technique seems to have changed a little over time (they used to heat the burritos on the grill more after wrapping, but I haven't seen them do that in a while) but at least some of their line guys have a special technique that "bunches up" the excess tortilla at the bottom end, giving them incredible structural integrity. As mentioned, most of the secret is to use a really huge tortilla, but they also seem to put the filling a little off-center to guarantee excess material at the bottom end to work with. I believe they tuck over the left and right sides first, so that the filling doesn't start to spread as you begin to roll up from the bottom. (This is unlike sushi technique, where no sides are involved.)

      1. His burrito fixings look nasty, but he shows how to roll it at the end.