If you don't have leftover chicken on hand for this recipe, poach a few chicken breasts or thighs using this method.
For the enchiladas:
- Extra virgin olive oil, corn oil, or peanut oil
- 12 corn tortillas (thick and sturdy)
- 2 14-ounce cans red chile enchilada sauce, or 3 cups homemade enchilada sauce
- 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
- 2 cups grated cheese (about 1/3 pound)
For the homemade enchilada sauce (if using):
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 5 tablespoons 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 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed in with 3 tablespoons of water to form a slurry
- 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 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 cornstarch 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 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 Assemble the enchiladas: Preheat the oven to 350°F. One by one, dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce and place in a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish.
Place 2 to 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.
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 80s 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 50s and my memory isn't what it used to be either.)
5 Bake: Place in the oven and bake at 350°F 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.