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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chicken Enchiladas, My Revamped Recipe

I love making chicken enchiladas. Oh, they usually take the better portion of the day, and are a bit messy, and balancing the ingredients in the chili sauce, I've learned, is a try and try again system of failures and advancements, failures and advancements. But it's the aromas that fill my house when I'm making them that I enjoy the most.

I remember when I was in nursing school, learning that the sense of smell is most closely tied to our memory of all the senses. I believe it. Every time I cook Mexican food, specifically, enchiladas, I have those rare, fond childhood memories of being a little girl in my mother's kitchen, surrounded by Aunties and sometimes an uncle or two who were in town for a visit, my Grandma Nieves, and usually a cousin or two, or eight. If I close my eyes and block out the sounds of reality TV coming from my own living room, I can hear the mariachi bands playing from the old cassette tapes, I can hear the sounds of my mom and my aunts singing along and I can see Mom lifting her apron to dance. Cooking, in that kitchen, with those women, was a treat, a joy, and a learning experience. Each had their own way, each differing from the other. But when combined, their culinary wisdom created some of the most extraordinary gastronomical experiences of my life. They imparted a touch of their culinary wisdom into my developing and influential young mind, and for that, I owe a debt of gratitude. Each time I cook, be it Thai, Mexican, Italian, or purely southern-comfort foods, I draw on those early years. I use those experiences to help me be the woman I am today, not just in the kitchen, but in my life in general.  I remember to laugh, when there needs to be laughter, I remember to dance, and to enjoy my work. I compromise, and try to be a team player, even when I full heartedly believe that my way is the best way, because you know what? I always believe that my way is the best way, even when it isn't.
Enough about my neurosis, moving on...
Here's how I spend a day cooking and reminiscing:

Chicken Enchiladas

First things first, you gotta have your meat just right. *snickers, chuckles, and snorts* Ah! I crack me up.
OK, Start by adding your cut of choice to a covered dish (I'm a leg girl, I like boneless, skinless thighs), smother the chicken with seasonings, I like to use a sprinkling of red chili powder, fresh minced garlic, cilantro, oregano, ground cumin, tarragon and that little packet of heaven, Goya Sazon with Azafran. Let this chill in the 'fridge for for a least a few hours. The longer is sits, the more the chicken will absorb the flavors, so usually, first thing in the morning of the day that I'll be making this dish, I do this, just after starting my coffee. After a few (six or so) hours, it looks like this:

Don't worry, that red is just from the tarragon, chili and the Goya. It looks like a bloody mess, but it's not really. 
*alternate method- prepare your meat the night before, and then let that puppy chill in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 350, pour about half a can of beer over the meat, I like to use Modelo Negro, and throw that bad boy into the oven. The beer adds a depth of flavor that I really like, but you can also simply braise in some hearty chicken stock. I use a casserole dish, lightly greased and covered. Let that baby braise for about an hour and a half, or until it is falling apart tender.

Depending on how long it marinated, how big the pieces are, how many times you opened the oven to experience that fantastic blast of yumminess wafting into your nostrils…Just sayin’, cooking times may vary a bit.  Poke at it with a fork every now and again. It’ll eventually get to the falling apart stage. This is right where you want it.

When it is tender, but not quite falling apart, I chop up and add sweet yellow onion, green pepper, jalapeno, and more garlic. You can almost never have too much garlic. That’s why we have antacids!

When a fork is easily shredding your meat, it’s time to add a few pinches of chili powder, and some more cumin and oregano, and then stir, stir, stir...until you have this:


Sometimes, I add olives, black or green, or both. Sometimes I leave this as is. This time, I left as is. Now, chop some more onion, jalapeno, and garlic, since the others have flavored your chicken, but evaporated into the meat, sweat them in olive oil, and add to this mix, then set aside to cool a bit.

With the chicken mixture ready, you can begin making the enchilada sauce.
I start with oil, I like extra virgin olive oil. I don't really measure, but I guess it's about 1/4 cup? Not much more than that. I like to use a medium sized sauce pan. Heat the oil then add a few pinches of flour, and stir, stir, stir. Pretend you're making a gravy, or a roux if you will.  Add some red chili powder. For this dish, I used about 1/4 cup of chili powder. Stir, stir, stir! Don't let it burn. Now I add tomato puree, a little at a time, to incorporate it well. Then add about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of chicken broth and cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Let this boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer. Stir to smooth, add more stock if it becomes too thick.

While this is simmering, I like to sweat yet more onion , garlic and jalapeno. When the onions are translucent, add to this sauce. Taste your sauce along the way, if you want it hotter, add some crushed red pepper, or more jalapeno, unseeded. I take the seeds out, I am married to a Gringa, after all.

Spoon some of this sauce into a casserole dish, just enough to cover the bottom, but first, fish out that bay leaf and properly dispose of it; It's done its job, and believe me, no one wants to bite into it. Blech!

Now, you can begin to assemble.

Take your yellow corn tortillas, (not flour, NEVER FLOUR!) and either heat in the microwave, covered with a damp cloth for about 45 seconds or you can heat in a pan for a few seconds each side, you’ll see it puff up a bit, that’s what you’re aiming for.
Dip a tortilla in the chili sauce

Add a spoonful of chicken to the tortilla, then a sprinkle of cheese, I like to use Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar. Roll tortilla, and lay seam side down in prepared casserole dish.

Continue until you've filled up the dish. Then spoon some chili sauce over them. MMMM...just look at these

Now top these beauties with more shredded cheese and, if you like, some olives and onion. 

Cover with foil and Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake another  10 min to toast  tops. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh chopped green onion, and look at what you've made!

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