Recipe and photo updated June 8, 2014
Ninety-five percent of the time when we have enchiladas, it is my mom’s (amazingly good, incredibly awesome) cheese enchiladas. Once in a while however, she’ll make chicken enchiladas. With chicken enchiladas she often uses a red chili sauce which is spicier than the green chiles of the cheese enchiladas. Sometimes she uses canned enchiladas sauce, sometimes she makes it from scratch. Sometimes she coats the tortillas in sauce before cooking them, sometimes she doesn’t. Every time she cooks it is an improvisation, so it can be difficult to pin her down on any one method or another. I’ve presented here her basic methods, with the variations.
Mom’s Chicken Enchiladas Recipe
- Olive oil, canola oil, or rice bran oil
- 12 corn tortillas (thick and sturdy)
- 2 14-ounce cans of red chile enchilada sauce, or 3 cups homemade enchilada sauce*
- 2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded or chopped**
- 2 cups grated cheese (about 1/3 lb)
- 1 medium red onion, chopped, soaked in a mixture of half seasoned rice vinegar and half water
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Thinly sliced iceberg lettuce seasoned with salt and vinegar, no oil
- Sour cream
- Sliced avocados or guacamole
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 5 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tbsp of corn starch mixed in with 3 Tbsp of water to form a slurry
** If you don't already have cooked chicken meat, you can poach 1 pound of raw boneless, skinless chicken (preferably thighs) in 2 quarts of water with 1 Tbsp of salt. Put chicken in cold salted water, turn on heat, let come to a simmer, simmer for one minute, turn off heat, let sit in residual heat for 10 minutes. Remove from pot, let cool, shred or chop.
1 Prepare the enchilada sauce (if making homemade, otherwise use canned and skip to the next step). Heat the oil in a sauce pan on medium high heat. Stir in the chili powder and cayenne. Let cook only for half a minute (if longer the chili will burn), and add the water and tomato paste. Whisk until smooth. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and corn starch slurry. Let come to a simmer and remove from heat. Taste for heat. If you want it spicier, add more chili powder or cayenne. Note that the tortillas and chicken will absorb some of the heat, so allow for that and let it be a little bit spicier than what you want in the finished dish.
2 Mix in 1/4 cup of the sauce with the cooked chicken. Set aside.
3 Prepare the tortillas. Traditionally, one would dip the tortillas in some sauce and then lightly fry them in a little oil, and then roll them up. It's a great way to infuse the tortillas with the chili sauce, but it's really messy and many tortillas are not sturdy enough to handle this treatment without falling apart.
So, instead, we soften the corn tortillas first, and then dip them in the sauce before rolling them. To soften them, and give them a little flavor from browning, I'll show you my mother's method for cooking the tortillas without using a lot of fat.
Heat a tablespoon of oil (a high smoke point oil is preferred such as peanut oil, canola oil, or rice bran oil) in a small saucepan to coat the pan. Place a tortilla in the skillet and heat for a few seconds, until the tortilla begin to show some air bubbles. Use a metal spatula to flip to the other side for a few more seconds. Then add another tortilla on top of the first to soak up some of the excess oil. Flip them both together and add yet another tortilla. Keep adding them wherever there seems to be some excess oil. The idea is to heat the tortillas and soften them with the minimum amount of oil. As the tortillas become soft and heated, remove them to a paper towel to soak up even more excess oil. When you find you need more oil in the pan, add it.
4 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Assemble the enchiladas. Use an 9x13-inch pyrex baking dish. One by one, dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce and place in the baking dish. Place 2-3 tablespoons of chopped chicken in each tortilla. Sprinkle with a little cheese. Roll up the tortilla. Place in the baking dish and repeat until all dozen of your tortillas are neatly placed in rows in the casserole dish. Cover the tortillas rolls with the remaining sauce.
Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Note that I recall often eating these chicken enchiladas with very little cheese on them. (My mom, bless her soul, has no recollection of the chicken enchiladas without the sprinkled cheese. But she's in her 70s and sometimes doesn't remember these things. Or she remembers later and doesn't remember that she ever forgot them in the first place. But heck, I'm in my 40s and my memory isn't what it used to be either.)
5 Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
Use a metal spatula to serve.
Serve with thinly sliced iceberg lettuce that has been seasoned with vinegar and salt (no oil), chopped red onions that have soaked for at least half an hour in vinegar and water, guacamole or avocado slices, and sour cream. Garnish with cilantro.
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