Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa De Chile Rojo and some Queso Fresco sprinkled on top.
In case you’ve been wondering about the sporadic posts and lack of commenting, I’ve been in Asia for the past month. As much as I love the food of my homeland, eating nothing but Korean and Japanese food for the past thirty days had me itching for a change. Since I’m spending a week at a Napa retreat (a.k.a. my parent’s house), I decided to make the most of the plentiful Mexican supplies while I can. Chicken enchiladas from scratch seemed like a good place to start.
My mom has never been a big fan of the big bold flavours of Mexican food, but my gringo step-father and I grew up surrounded by it, and for me it’s as comforting as a bowl of mac and cheese. Chicken enchiladas are so often a greasy, soggy mess with pasty dried out chicken inside that I’ve given up ordering it in restaurants. When they’re done well though, they’re moist little rolls of flavour that dance around your tongue, putting a smile on your face.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I’m about as Mexican as Taco Bell and these are not your abuela’s chicken enchiladas. But what they lack in authenticity, they make up for in flavour and I’d challenge my sternest critics to give them a try before you knock them.
I won’t lie to you, these chicken enchiladas aren’t a quick weeknight fix and they take a bit of time to make, but find a weekend with about two hours to spare and your tastebuds will thank you for it. This red enchilada sauce starts with a puree of caramelized onions and garlic, with roasted dry chilies, tomato and spices layered on. Together they form a rich symphony of piquant flavours, carefully balancing salt, sweet, tart, bitter and spice.
The sauce envelopes tender chicken that’s been poached in spices which are then rolled in pillowy homemade corn tortillas that soak up the extra sauce that’s poured on top. A brief stint in the oven melds all the flavours and yields a chicken enchilada that will make you swear off jarred and canned sauces forever.
1.5 lbs chicken breasts (or tenders)
2 qts water
2 Tbs salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
for enchilada sauce
5 Ancho chilies
5 Guajillo chilies
1 large onion
3 large cloves garlic
2 Tbs oil
15 oz can tomato sauce (pureed tomatoes)
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp Meican oregano
1/2 C crumbled queso fresco
Wash the chicken breasts and trim any fat, skin or tendon from the meat. Heat the water, salt, cumin, oregano and bay leaf to a boil. Add the chicken and return to a boil. Cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Let it sit for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked all the way through. When it’s done, strain the chicken and shred.
For the enchilada sauce, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the chilies with oil, place on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant (about 7 minutes), be careful not to burn them or they will be bitter. When they’re done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool off enough to touch. Tear the stems off and remove all the seeds. Boil some water. Soak the roasted chilies in boiling water until rehydrated, about 45 minutes.
In a food processor, puree the onions and garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the pureed onion and garlic until reduced down to about 1/4 of the original volume and it’s nice and caramelized. This will take 20-30 minutes, but it’s where a lot of the flavor comes from so it’s worth the wait.
When the chiles are rehydrated, add them to the food processor and blitz until pureed. Add this to the caramelized onions, then add the tomato sauce, water, sugar, salt, cumin and oregano. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the enchilada sauce has thickened and the flavours have had a chance to meld. Pass the sauce through a mesh sieve to remove the chili skins and mix about a 1/3 of the strained sauce with the chicken.
Heat about 1/4″ of oil in a frying pan and fry the tortillas. They should heat through and get soft but be careful not to get them crisp. Drain the on paper towels and pat off any excess oil.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put a couple spoonfuls of chicken into each tortilla and roll. In a 13″ x 9″ casserole dish, lay each enchilada down with the seam side down. Cover with the rest of the sauce and sprinkle the queso fresco on top. Bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.
I serve these chicken enchiladas with black beans and extra tortillas, but they’d also be great with a salad.