When the cast and crew of the movie Giant came to Marfa, Texas in 1955, they traded Los Angeles glitz for an arid, desolate landscape. “[Marfa] is located somewhere south and west of El Paso in a region of the damned…It was a hot, lifeless, boring place,” wrote Mercedes McCambridge, who co-starred in the film with James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor.
I learned more about making of the film from Recipes4Rebels, a blog celebrating recipes from James Dean and his contemporaries. The blog’s Cowboy Day Cookalong for the National Day of the Cowboy on July 23 sounded too fun to resist, especially because my daughter spent several months researching Marfa as an example of the changing American frontier. One of the town’s most influential residents, Donald Judd, lived there from 1972 to 1994, creating large-scale public art projects and attracting an audience from around the world.
Before Judd’s arrival, Marfa made an authentic-looking backdrop for Giant, a western about a rich rancher. While filming, James Dean grew fond of the local food. He frequently went to the Old Borunda Café for the house specialty, Enchiladas Montadas. These enchiladas came with two surprisingly commercial sides: Fritos corn chips (which did not start out as junk food when they were created in 1932) and white bread. Old Borunda stayed in business from 1910 to 1987, and its enchiladas – corn tortillas stacked instead of wrapped around a filling, with a fried egg topping – helped define the restaurant. A dish with fiery red sauce and an unconventional presentation appealed to Dean, the embodiment of rebelliousness whose car crash tragically ended his life just before Giant was released. This recipe comes from Recipes4Rebels; I added a few notes.
Old Borunda Café’s Enchiladas Montadas
For the red chile sauce: [see note]
12 dried red chiles [such as Pasilla, New Mexico, Ancho, Guajillo, or Mulato], seeded and stemmed
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano [or regular oregano if you can’t find Mexican]
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the enchiladas:
3 tablespoons hot vegetable oil for dipping the tortillas
12 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped onions [I used scallions]
To make the sauce:
- Fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and add the chiles. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Place the chiles, onion, garlic and 3 cups of water in a blender and blend until well pureed, approximately 5 minutes on high. Strain the puree, extracting as much of the pulp as possible. Discard the remaining skin.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the flour with the oil to make a blond roux. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the strained puree, salt, pepper and oregano to the roux, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Set aside.
Note: The flavor won’t be as authentic, but you can substitute canned Mexican red chile sauce [look for it at a well-stocked supermarket] for the homemade version.
To make the enchiladas:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Heat the oil in a small skillet over high heat for 3 minutes. Using tongs, place a tortilla in hot oil for 30 seconds or until soft and lightly browned. Place on an absorbent paper towel and allow to cool before handling.
- Ladle a thin layer of sauce into a baking dish large enough to hold 4 tortilla stacks (or 4 individual stacks each in its own pie plate). Place 4 tortillas in the dish and ladle some more sauce over each. Sprinkle with cheese and chopped onions, add another tortilla and repeat. Top with a 3rd tortilla and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and onions.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts. While the enchiladas are baking, fry the eggs “sunny side up.” Place each stack on a plate and divide the remaining sauce among the plates. Serve immediately with a “sunny side up” egg on top.