Nestled a day’s driving distance south of Mexico City hails the city of Puebla. It’s a charming city filled with historic buildings, colonial architecture, colorful pottery, and some of the richest and and most diverse culinary history in all of Mexico.
Its gastronomy is legendary as the birthplace of amaranth and one of the first places to begin to cultivate maize. Due to its geography being situated in between the high country of Hidalgo, Coastal Veracruz and the deserts of Oaxaca, its influences and food diversity is vast. It was originally settled by the Spanish but was a hub for international travelers.
I can spend a whole day cruising the streets eating mole dishes, chalupas, and my favorite: the Cemita Poblana.
What is a cemita poblana?
Imagine the most heavenly sesame seed roll lined with buttery and creamy avocados from Mexico, a deep fried breaded milanesa cutlet with a smear of chipotle, thinly sliced onions and the most divine stringy cheese and fresh herb!
The cemita is named for its unique roll and location. The Mexican baking world was forever changed for good with the influence from the French; think brioche hybrid with sesame seeds. Check your local Latin bakery or a substitute might be a sesame Kaiser roll.
The breaded milanesa definitely has European influence, as it’s often seen in German shnitzel or Italian chicken parmesan. It also reminds me of my time in Argentina eating milanesa sandwiches on the streets. I used a thin pork cutlet because pork is king in my world, but a chicken or beef cutlet can also be used. It’s pounded thin, then breaded and fried to make it crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.
How to make cemita poblana
My variation of how to make a cemita poblana uses Pork Panko as the breading component. Pork Panko is ground pork rinds, or chicharrones. I love the added porkiness it provides. I also fry mine in pork Manteca or lard for maximum indulgence. As I love to be outside, I did this on my Masterbuilt gravity smoker in a heavy Dutch oven at 350 degrees.
Queso Oaxaca is similar to mozzarella string cheese. For this sandwich, it’s shredded into airy, thin strips resembling angel hair and lines the cemita roll. I could eat this cheese all day every day! It’s tart, salty and the texture is so pleasing as it partially melts on the hot milanesa, but it also cools and provides that much needed cheese flavor.
Avocados make everything better and in a cemita they are no exception. And let me tell you, don’t go skimpy on the avo! It’s the key to this cemita as there is no mayo or dressing.
The spice of life comes from chiles! Chipotles are amazing as they offer smokiness, heat, and natural sweetness. Chipotles are smoked jalapeños that get a treatment in a smoker that magically transforms them and unleashes a plethora of distinct flavors. A quick spread of them helps amplify this cemita to another level. I always use the chipotles packed in adobo sauce; it’s so luscious and perfect for this cemita.
The most distinct feature of a cemita is papalo. Papalo is a plant that grows in the heat of southern Mexico; imagine if cilantro, arugula, and rue had a child. Its leaves are scalloped like a butterfly, and its name is derived from Nahuatl, meaning that very thing. It’s also known as Bolivian cilantro.
It was a challenge to find the papalo and I had to drive all across town in search of it. I finally found a food truck that sold Pueblan-style food and was lucky to buy some. Let me tell you, a little goes a long way, but it’s the defining flavor of this regional classic. If you cant find it use a combination of cilantro and arugula.
Give this recipe for cemita poblana a whirl—you may feel like your walking the streets of Puebla!
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 3 cups Pork Panko bread crumbs (regular bread crumbs can be used)
- 4 pork cutlets pounded thin (beef or chicken can be used as well)
- Salt to taste
- Ground pepper to taste
- ½ cup melted Manteca or high heat frying oil
- 4 cemita rolls (substitutes are Kaiser sandwich rolls with sesame seeds or brioche with sesame seeds)
- 2 large Hass avocados sliced.
- 1 lb. shredded Oaxaca cheese. (I buy mine at local Latin market then shred it myself)
- 1 small white onion sliced thin
- 12 pápalo leaves (Bolivian cilantro). This may be hard to find. A combination of cilantro and arugula (a few leaves of each) would work, too.
- 4 chipotle peppers sliced thin
- Pound out cutlets to a quarter inch thickness by placing them in between two sheets of wax paper. Your butcher may be able to do this while also tenderizing it.
- Place the beaten eggs and Pork Panko in two separate shallow dishes. I like to use pie tins.
- Dip cutlets in eggs first, then panko, and set aside.
- Heat oil in heavy bottom skillet to get oil or Manteca to about 350 degrees. Fry the cutlets flipping them once. This should take about 4 minutes per side.
- Drain cutlets on cooling rack
- Cut cemitas in half and lightly toast.
- Lay thin layer of sliced chipotle
- Thin slices of onion
- Shredded Oaxaca cheese. This should be a substantial amount like a quarter pound.
- Lay the milanesa on top.
- Half an avocado sliced per sandwich.
- A few leaves of pápalo torn on top.
- Your favorite salsa or hot sauce like Valentina or Tamazula
- Enjoy with a cold drink!
Check out more of Uncle Chico’s recipes!