A few weeks ago, I tried to make some enchiladas the way I thought my mother, Claudia, had made them. While this was not one of the recipes that I took down when I left home, I had watched her make them several times. While my enchiladas looked good in the pan, they were hard to serve without them completely falling apart.
I remember my mother dipping the tortillas in the sauce before adding the filling, but that left them slippery and hard to roll. The questions were: What was I doing wrong? It came down to the tortillas, how I applied the sauce, and how much if it I was using.
My first mistake was in using my preferred tortillas from Chavez Supermarket. These are low additive, authentic tortillas, but that leaves them less than shelf-stable. After a day or two they become hard and brittle—not ideal attributes for rolling into an enchilada. Shelf-stable and supple Mission tortillas were easier to work with in this case.
This time I also changed how I applied the enchilada sauce. I added some of the sauce to the chicken mix, but for the outside I rolled up the tortillas dry, before brushing on the sauce on after moving the enchiladas to the pan. Finally, I did not slop on lots of the sauce while they were in the pan—like I did last time—that made the tortillas soggy.
One final change was to move the cheese to the outside of the enchilada. Last time, I used queso fresco. While it was melt-y and good during the first meal, when I reheated the leftovers it turned hard and plastic-like. Queso fresco may be authentic, but I prefer my Tillamook medium cheddar.
This was a weekday meal, so I did not want to take the time to make a special spice blend. However, in the last few weeks I had made dishes that left me with one tablespoon each of chili powder and taco spice. This dish is a good time to use up leftovers, but since anyone else is unlikely to have these blends on hand, you may use your favorite chili powder blend.
Karl’s Chicken Enchiladas
2 Tbs. corn oil, separate uses
½ medium yellow onion, sliced finely pole to pole
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 Anaheim chili, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. red enchilada sauce
1 can refried beans (16 oz.)
9-10 corn tortillas
¾ cup Tillamook medium sharp cheddar, shredded
1. Chop the chicken breast into small pieces.
Tip: You do not want it to become minced chicken. but you also do not want any pieces much over half an inch.
2. Sprinkle the chili powders over the meat and mix it in until each piece is coated with the spice.
3. Cover and marinate for at least 15 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat.
5. Sauté the onions with the salt, until soft, about 5 minutes.
6. Add the chilies to the ban and continue cooking until the peppers are soft, another 4-5 minutes.
7. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the middle until fragrant, about one minute.
8. Mix the garlic into the vegetables and then transfer them to a bowl.
9. Without cleaning the pan, add more oil to the pan.
10. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken to the pan in a single layer.
11. Let the chicken fry, undisturbed for 2½-3 minutes.
Tip: You are going for the Maillard reaction flavor.
12. When the first side is well browned, flip the chicken pieces over and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
Tip: It is not vital at this point for all of the chicken to be cooked through, it will be baked again.
13. Return the vegetables to the pan and add 2-3 tablespoons of the enchilada sauce.
14. Use the sauce to deglaze the pan and toss to coat everything with the sauce.
15. Remove the pan from the heat and let the contents cool enough to handle.
16. Put the refried beans in a microwave safe bowl—with a lid—and heat the beans for one minute.
Tip: You are not trying to make the beans hot, just warm enough to spread easily.
Note: Are you old enough to remember the days when every #8 can was a full 16 ounces—not 15 or 14.5 or even 13 ounces?
17. Pam an 8½ x 12 inch rectangular casserole and spread 2 tablespoons of the enchilada sauce over the bottom.
18. Lay one dry tortilla on a plate and spread a 1½ inch wide line of refried beans.
Tip: For both the beans and chicken mixture you want split the ingredients evenly between all of the tortillas you plan to use.
19. Lay some of the chicken mixture over the beans.
20. Roll the tortilla into a tight cylinder and lay it open edge side down.
21. Brush the top and sides of the roll with the enchilada sauce and slide the enchilada against the side of the casserole.
Tip: You want the enchilada completely coated with the sauce, but not so much that it makes the tortillas soggy.
22. Continue filling, rolling, and brushing the enchiladas until the casserole is filled.
Note: With my casserole I was able to fit seven enchiladas along the long axis and two on the side.
23. Pre-heat the oven to 350º F.
24. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes.
25. Spread the cheese over the top of the enchiladas and continue baking for another 10 minutes.
Note: My wife did not want cheese on her enchiladas so I covered them 50/50 with the cheese.
26. Let the enchiladas cool slightly before serving.