Project Enchilada

chicken enchiladas plated

Back in late January, before I launched this site, I made a vegetarian version of enchiladas which my friend meriko asked me to write up. I was hoping to be able to do so sooner, but things happened and I wasn’t able to get to it right away. When I planned our meals for this week, I decided that, since Mike and I both had today off and we wouldn’t have to rush through dinner, I would make enchiladas for meriko. Well, not specifically *for* her, since she’s in San Francisco and we’re here, but I will say I was thinking of her as I was cooking, and I hope that we can make enchiladas together some day. Anyway, this is for her – call it my (virtual) dinner with meriko.

When brought right down to basics, enchiladas are basically just corn tortillas coated in a chile sauce (en-chilada). The simplest versions I have seen are tortillas dipped in the chile, folded over and served with a grating of Mexican cheese on top, but most people are probably more familiar with the gooey, cheese-laden version. I like to use cheese on and/or in my enchiladas, but I try to go for a balance of flavors, so that the filling, the sauce, the tortillas and the cheese are all present and nothing is overpowering.

The enchiladas I made last night were stuffed with chicken, but once you’ve got the basic technique down, you can stuff them with a variety of cheeses, vegetables, potato, beef or pork… anything you’d like. You can also vary the chile sauce – in the summer months, when we are grilling often, I like making a version using roasted tomatillos and poblano peppers.

This is a dish where mise en place is key – once you’ve started frying the tortillas and coating them in the sauce, you have to work quickly, so it’s important to have everything you need ready.

The Stuffing
If you have leftover cooked chicken, this is a good way to use it up. If you don’t, poach some chicken thighs in a bit of stock until they are cooked through, tear the meat into shreds with a couple of forks, then allow them to cook until all of the liquid has cooked away – as my Grandma would say “boil it dry.” If your chicken is too wet your enchiladas will be too mushy. About 2 cups of cooked chicken should be enough to stuff 8 enchiladas.

chicken and tortillas

The Sauce
To make a basic tomato-chile sauce, I sauteed a few peeled and smashed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil just until fragrant, then I added one large can of fire-roasted tomatoes with their juice. I put in one large chipotle pepper with some of the adobo sauce it was packed in, then added my dry spices: about a tablespoon each of dried oregano, Mike’s homemade chile powder, ground cumin, and chipotle powder, plus a pinch of salt. I then covered the pan and allowed it to cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, turned off the heat, and pureed it with my immersion blender until relatively smooth.

enchilada sauce 1

enchilada sauce 2

This makes more sauce than you will need. Set the sauce aside until you’re ready to dip the tortillas into it, then you can place the rest into a container and refrigerate or freeze it for future use.

At this point, your chicken and sauce are ready, so go ahead and preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and lightly grease a baking dish so you can place your enchiladas directly into it as you finish stuffing and rolling them.

The Fry-and-Dip
This step is crucial – if you skip it, your tortillas will be too brittle and will likely crack when you try to roll them. Just layering sauce on top won’t work – you’ll end up with a mushy, soupy mess.

Warm a shallow layer of oil or lard in a skillet. Place your tortillas one at a time into the hot oil, allowing them to cook about 20 seconds per side, until they are soft and pliable (having asbestos fingertips is helpful, but if you don’t you will want to use silicone-edged tongs and be gentle so you don’t tear the tortillas).

Remove the softened tortillas from the hot oil, allowing the excess to drip back into the pan, then place them directly into the chile sauce, dipping them in to lightly coat both sides, and again allowing the excess to drip back into the pan.

fry and dip

Move the chile-coated tortilla to the baking dish and lay it flat. Add some of your shredded chicken, roll it up tightly, then lay it in the dish seam-side down. Repeat until you have stuffed all of your tortillas.

stuffed enchiladas

Spoon a little bit more of the sauce over the top, then add a bit of grated cheese – I used Evans Farmhouse Creamery Historic Chenango Jack.

enchiladas pre-bake

Place the enchiladas into your preheated oven and let them bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove and serve with a drizzle of sour cream or Mexican crema.

enchiladas post bake

Wine Pairing: We drank Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, which was a nice match for the smoky and spicy notes in this dish.

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