Classic Chicken Enchiladas
Update: I re-made Chicken Enchiladas last week (October 2008) and with the aid of my new camera ended up with MUCH better pictures. So I decided to swap them out. Enchiladas are still hard to photograph, but if you’re looking at this post for the first time, I promise you these pictures are much more appealing than those that originally appeared.
Monday night I made perhaps the best enchiladas I’ve ever made. I have to credit Dmitri for this. Every time I’ve made enchiladas before, I couldn’t figure out how to roll them without breaking the tortillas, so I went for a layered, lasagna style of enchiladas. Tasty, certainly, but I was never completely taken in and filled with the love that I suspected enchiladas were supposed to instill in one’s soul. Until now.
Dmitri’s trick involves dipping each tortilla, briefly, into hot oil. Just the slightest oily kiss renders frigid corn tortillas pliable and loving. Er. Sorry for the dip into sordid prose, but it was kind of a revelation for me. I had my suspicions when I saw him doing it, and even when I started working the process myself. But these really were the best enchiladas I’ve ever made.
Of course, it could also have to do with the fact that I finally figured out how to spice my shredded chicken properly. And that I put a nice sized bit of lard in my beans, and really let them cook, slowly, over low heat, until they were really thick and creamy. And that I didn’t overdo it with the cheese, but instead allowed everything to come together in some kind of happy enchilada harmony. Whatever it was, it made me so happy, I could easily have eaten the whole pan myself. Which would have been a very, very bad idea.
I was preparing myself for a seriously lengthy process, but was surprised that it all went much more smoothly and quickly than I expected. Don’t get me wrong: Good enchiladas are no 30 minute meal. They do take time, and dirty up lots of dishes, but all told, I spent about 40 minutes prepping everything and 35 minutes or so cooking the enchiladas, and the whole process was lacking that quality that normally goes into my complicated cooking projects: chaos. Yet more happy enchilada harmony. I love it when my kitchen and I get along so well.
The sad thing about enchiladas are their lack of photogenic qualities. Don’t let that gooey looking yellow mess up there mislead you [still gooey, but less yellow, with new updated photos]. That was a bowl of loveliness. And here’s how it came to be.
Classic Chicken Enchiladas
- 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 T. corn oil (or canola or vegetable, or even olive, if you feel it)
- 1/2 a medium white onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- salt and pepper
- 1 (or maybe 2) T. lard
- 1 15-ounce can of black beans (or pinto beans), with the liquid
- another 1/4 c. vegetable oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 19-ounce cans of red enchilada sauce
- 1 bag of pre-shredded Mexican style cheese (alright, this might seem like a cop out, but trust me, the blend of cheeses is absolutely perfect)
The first step thing to do is prepare the chicken mixture. I had one large boneless, skinless chicken breast, probably about eight ounces. I was worried it wouldn’t be enough, but it was perfect. You don’t need as much as you probably think you do. Put the chicken breast in a sauce pan, cover it with water, and set it on the stove over high heat. Once the water is boiling, you can lower the heat a little, but make sure the water continues to boil. Poach the chicken for probably about seven or eight minutes, until its cooked through. Then remove it to a cutting board and let it cool off.
While its cooling, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Once its nice and hot, add the onions. Stir them around a bit, and then let them sit, over medium heat, until they are soft and barely translucent. While they’re cooking, you can shred the chicken. I usually just use two forks, one to hold the chicken in place and the other to pull off shreds. You can leave some big chunks, if you want. [In the new, updated enchiladas of 2008, I added a can of green chiles instead of the onions. I also used McCormick’s Taco Seasoning packet, but we don’t need to talk about that.]
Once the onions are cooked, add the cayenne, paprika, chili powder, and cumin to the skillet and stir it all around a bit. Add some salt and pepper, too, for good measure. Then add the shredded chicken and about two tablespoons of water. The water is key, as I discovered: It loosens up the spices and helps them to evenly coat the chicken. Yeah, baby. Let it all cook together for about two or three more minutes, then remove the whole mixture to a bowl and set it aside.
Now you can use the same skillet to make beans. No need for washing, it’ll give a nice little kick to the beans, right? Melt the lard in the skillet over medium heat, and once it’s completely melted, dump the whole can of beans and bean juices in there. It’ll splatter a little, so watch out. Stir it all up well, then use a potato masher to start mashing away. Once you’ve mashed up to a consistency you like, lower the heat a smidge, so the beans are just bubbling a little, and let it all cook down for about 15 minutes. This is a good time to wash up whatever you’ve dirtied, right? Right. Just stir the beans every now and then and scrape up whatever seems to be sticking to the bottom. Once they’re nice and hot and creamy, add a little salt and pepper to taste, and set them aside.
Now it’s time to give the tortillas a hot oil bath. Heat about a quarter of a cup of vegetable oil in a skillet. Once its hot, use some tongs to dip each tortilla into the oil. You want to give them about five seconds, and then flip them over and give the other side about ten. This was the optimal time I found for soft tortillas without excess of oiliness. Don’t worry if they seem really oily, because it will just increase their crispiness in the oven or something. Put each tortilla on a paper towel-covered plate to drain until you’ve finished the whole stack. Then turn your oven on to 350F to preheat.
Now it’s time for assembly. Get the cheese and the beans and the chicken and the tortillas into one big workspace. Take out a baking dish, and pour about half of one can of enchilada sauce in a thin layer on the bottom.
Then start rolling up the enchiladas. Put about a tablespoon of cheese and a big pinch of chicken and a dollop of beans in the center of a tortilla.
Roll it up, and place it seam-side down in your baking dish. This is a really, really messy process. I had to wash my hands, like, seven times in the midst of it because I was getting too sticky for proper rolling. But just keep rolling until you’re out of everything, except don’t forget to save about 3/4 of a cup of cheese for the top.
Once you’ve placed all those pretty rolled up tortilla bundles into the dish, pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the whole shebang, and then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on that. Bake it all for about 35 minutes and you’ve got a happy enchilada or twelve. Yeehaw!