Authentic Red Chile Enchiladas
Enchiladas. One of my favorite foods in the world has to be these spicy, rich chile-infused little wonders. Not an enchilada fan? I can’t say I’m surprised. Unless you’ve sampled an enchilada dish from an authentic Mexican restaurant, then you likely either ended up with a canned sauce covering the warmed tortillas or worse someone passed along their grandmother’s recipe for baked enchiladas that have been coated in cream of chicken soup. Yikes! Now, there’s nothing wrong with cream of chicken soup but it has no business in an enchilada. You can go ahead and call that a glorified tortilla casserole, but don’t confuse it with true Mexican enchiladas.
Real enchiladas take time and some unfamiliar ingredients to make at home, but they’re not hard—we’re not talking soufflés or anything here!
Here’s the lowdown on making a good enchilada sauce—it’s all about the chiles. I should take a step back here and point out there’s several different kinds of enchilada sauces, from the dark, complex mole to the green tomatillo based varieties. But today, I’m giving you the lowdown on the red chile sauce. The base for the sauce is dried chiles. You can find these in bags at a Mexican grocer or sometimes in the Mexican section of your local store. I know it may be a pain tracking down the chiles—but it’s worth it! The chiles then require some prep work. You need to roast, boil then blend the chile skins to make the spicy enchilada sauce. I often do large batches of sauce and freeze the extras in Ziploc baggies so they’re easy to pop out and use when I get a hankering for something spicy.
After you’ve perfected your sauce (and I promise, I’ll do other versions in the future), you’re ready to assemble your enchiladas. Most recipes call for baking the enchiladas in the oven. There’s no need. In Mexico, the corn tortillas are flash fried and then dipped into the sauce then reheated on the plate. You can do the same at home. If you’re not keen on frying, you can toast the corn tortillas, but they’ll be soggier (the oil keeps the tortillas from becoming saturated in sauce).
If you review the recipe and it sounds a little overwhelming, here are a couple suggestions: Go ahead and buy canned enchilada sauce at the grocery store. El Pato is the best alternative to homemade. Or, head to a decent Mexican restaurant and order a dish of red chile enchiladas. Maybe after downing a plate of savory, spicy enchiladas, you’ll want to make your own at home.
As with most sauce recipes, this one is pretty forgiving. If you want to toss in a little bit more of one ingredient—go ahead. And if you run out of something, no worries (well, except the chiles). I’ve noted the optional ingredients throughout.
Red Chili Sauce Ingredients:
10 dried ancho chiles (or you can use a combination of chiles)
2 garlic cloves, minced (or ¼ to ½ tablespoon garlic powder)
1 1/2 cup chicken broth (or water)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
3 tomatoes (or one 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained)
¼ cup chopped onion
Optional: one fresh Serrano chili (seeded and diced—add 1 or 2 if you want the sauce HOT); ¼ cup minced cilantro
18 corn tortillas
1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
2 cups mozzarella or Monterrey Jack cheese
Oil for frying
(1)Prep the dried chiles. On a medium-high heat skillet, toast the chiles until the skins start to look softer and slightly cooked (around 4 minutes, rotating the chile as it heats). Immediately place the chiles into a large bowl of hot water. Prepare the other sauce ingredients while the chiles soften.
(2)In a blender, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, chicken broth, cumin, and optional ingredients.
(3)Remove the chiles from the water. Carefully cut around the tops of the chiles and remove as much of the seeds as possible. Add the chile skins to the other blended ingredients. Blend again. (The sauce should be slightly thick and smooth, not chunky. You may need to add more water or chicken broth.)
(4)At this point, you can either cook the enchilada sauce in a crockpot or you can cook it on the stovetop. I often triple this recipe and then put it in the crockpot to cook the sauce then once it’s cooled I store small Ziploc baggies of the sauce in the freezer for months of use.
(5)To prepare the sauce for immediate use, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Bring the oil to medium-high heat and then add the sauce. WARNING: The sauce may splatter and it stains—so wear your apron!
(6)Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes before preparing the rest of the meal.
(7)Enchilada assembly! In a small saucepan, bring about 1 cup vegetable oil to medium high heat (a piece of bread should immediately begin to sizzle and rise to the top when you place it in the oil). As an alternative to frying, you can toast the tortillas on a hot cooking surface and then keep them warm by covering them with a kitchen towel.
(8)Assemble your enchilada making station: Have 2 bowls ready—1 with shredded chicken and the other with shredded cheese. Have 1 “messy plate” where you’ll assemble the enchiladas and then drag them onto the serving plates.
(9)Get your long-handled tongs ready! Place 1 tortilla into the hot oil. Let the tortilla cook just until it starts to barely harden. Immediately submerge the hot tortilla into the red sauce then back onto your messy plate. Put about 1 ½ tablespoons chicken and 1 tablespoon cheese into each tortilla. I prepare one person’s serving of enchiladas at a time. In other words, I’ll prepare 1, 2, then 3 tortillas together on my messy plate, then gently push them onto a serving plate. Three enchiladas make for 1 adult serving; kids usually eat 2.
(10)Once all the serving plates are assembled. Reheat each individual dish for about 45 seconds in the microwave. Top with an extra scoop of sauce, cheese and then sour cream. The make the enchiladas look extra special, I scoop the sour cream into a Ziploc bag, then cut a small hole in one corner. Then I top the enchiladas with swirls of sour cream. Yummy!