The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 12, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Cooking Time: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Brian Lutz @ 9:03 pm

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write here for quite a while now, but haven’t really found the opportunity to do so until now.  I’ve dabbled with food blogging on this site a few times with my recent food truck project and a scattered recipe or two (in fact the chili recipe I posted on this site way back in March of 2008 has been viewed nearly 6,000 times since I posted it, and I presume that at least one or two of those people might have actually tried making it at some point,) and I’ve meant to do more of it, but the main problem I have with recipe blogging is that I just don’t have a whole lot of interesting recipes to work with, and even though I find myself the principal homemaker in my household of one, sometimes it can be hard to find the time and/or the motivation to do as much cooking as I would like to.  As a result of a general lack of time during the rest of the week, most of the “big” cooking that I do tends to happen on Sunday afternoons.  Even then, it’s rare that I will end up doing something as elaborate as this.

Even though chicken enchiladas are one of my favorite dishes to make and eat, I tend to make them only rarely.  This is partially because this is one of the more labor-intensive dishes in my repertoire, and partially because the ingredient I consider to be the most vital (the Hatch green chiles from New Mexico) are so hard to come by around here.  Although me and my family have now lived here in Washington for longer than we ever lived in New Mexico where I grew up, the green chile is one of the few things we all miss about living there.  Fortunately, in recent years a number of local stores have begun to carry Hatch chiles when they are in season (roughly mid August through September,) and the Whole Foods Market in Bellevue even roasts the chiles on site, having set up a proper chile roaster in front of the store like you find in front of many stores in New Mexico during chile season. 

In addition to stockpiling some chiles for future use during their relatively short window of availability, I decided to use this opportunity to make my green chile chicken enchiladas as well, and document the process as I go along.  To be honest, I can’t really take a whole lot of credit for this one as my sister is really the one who came up with the basic recipe, but I have made a few changes here and there, mostly in the procedure.  That little disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to get cooking.  You’ll find the recipe after the jump.

Ingredients:

  • Roasted green chile, approximately 1 pound peeled and chopped
  • Roasted chicken, approximately 1 1/2 pounds
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 onion (probably optional, I have it here mostly for texture)
  • Sour Cream, about 1/2 cup
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded (How much you use is up to you; if you wanted something more “authentic” you could use a Mexican cheese like Cotija, but I’m just a tad gringo these days so I’ll stick with the cheddar)
  • Corn Tortillas (plan on using about 30-35 of these, depending on the size of your pan)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • (Not shown) Cooking oil, about 1/3-1/2 cup
  • (Optional, but recommended)  1 can of green chile enchilada sauce

Hardware:

  • A large saute pan with lid
  • A large Pyrex baking dish (The recipe makes enough to easily fill this and have plenty of extra, so I keep a smaller Pyrex dish on hand for the overflow)
  • An electric griddle
  • A silicone brush (or whatever other brush you happen to have handy)
  • A 400 degree oven

Step 0:  Prepare the chicken.

Basically, you need about a pound and a half of cooked and shredded chicken, although how you get there is up to you.  In this case, I “cheated” a little bit by starting with a grocery store rotisserie chicken to save some time, but sometimes I will also do this by taking some boneless chicken breasts or chicken thighs, braising them in water with salt, pepper and various other herbs and spices added to cook them (after which I reserve the liquid to use later on.)  Because I used the whole chicken, I also had bones available to make stock.  In addition to having the stock to use in the recipe, you’ll most likely end up with a decent quantity of excess stock as well.

Step 1:  Make a roux.

If you’re not familiar with the process of making a roux, basically you take 1/4 cup of butter (clarified butter if you can get it,) melt it in the pan over medium heat, and then add an equal amount of flour and let the flour cook in the butter until it darkens, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning (which happens far more often than I’d like to admit with this.)  Although this is intended primarily to act as a thickening agent for the sauce, it does also add flavor as well (basically, the darker the roux is the more flavor it will add, but as it gets darker it also loses thickening power.) 

Step 2: Add the chicken and the stock.

Given the fact that the roux will be quite hot (they don’t call the stuff “cajun napalm” for nothing,) you’ll want to use some caution here as there will almost certainly be some sizzling and hot steam as the broth goes into the pan.  Once you’ve added the stock, you’ll want to do some stirring to make sure that you don’t end up with little clumps of the flour in the roux.

Step 3: Add the chile, onions and sour cream.

There’s no real tricks here, just add the stuff to the pan and stir to combine.  I only ended up using about half of the onion since it ended up being larger than I expected it to be.  As I said above, I would consider the onion to be optional anyway, so this part is pretty much up to you.  If you’re looking for a bit thicker sauce and a bit more flavor you can use more sour cream (sometimes I’ll use as much as a cup) but in this case after adding half a cup I felt like I had enough (I don’t  think there’s any “healthy” way to make this stuff, but I’d prefer not to use too much fat if I don’t need to.)  One thing I will note here is that the chile comes in different heat levels, but even the “hot” chile still tops out at somewhere a bit below typical Jalapeños on the Scoville Scale.  If I do need to boost the heat level a bit (as is sometimes necessary when you can only get mild peppers) I’ll generally use a bit of cayenne pepper, which adds heat with minimal effect on the flavor.  I should also note that the temperature on the stove is still at medium when I’m doing this.

Step 4: Reduce heat to low and simmer.

Once all the added ingredients have come up to temperature, and the liquid is at a rolling boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer.  I generally give this at least an hour, but in some cases I’ll go for as much as two hours.   I also find that even the low setting on my stove’s biggest burner is hotter than I’d like for simmering, so at this point I moved it over to the smaller burner set to low (about a 2 on a 1-10 scale) and let it simmer there. 

 

Step 5:  Prepare the tortillas.

You’ll want to wait until the simmering is just about done to start this process.  Again, there are a number of different ways you could do this, and as long as you’re not burning the kitchen down in the process there isn’t a “wrong” way to do it.  The goal here is to make the tortillas soft and pliable for rolling, and hopefully add a bit of flavor in the process.  The most common way to do this seems to be to fry lightly in some oil, but I find this tends to be messier than it’s worth.  From one of the food snob foodie boards I read occasionally I picked up the technique of using a brush to “baste” both sides of the tortillas in a small amount of oil and fry them on some sort of flat surface to get the same effect with a lot less oil and a lot less mess.  Naturally you’ll use a lot less oil this way, but at the same time you want to make sure you don’t use too little.  Generally I look for just enough of a coating to give the tortillas a bit of a wet shine over the whole surface.

In the past I’ve used my trusty cast iron skillet to handle this part, but I’ve found that even with only 2 tortillas in it at a time it gets rather crowded and ends up taking a long time to make all the tortillas you need, so this time around I decided to give my electric griddle a try, and found that it worked quite well, and is a lot easier to maintain a controlled temperature on.  Normally I use canola oil for this, but when I went to check my food pantry the oil was a year past the expiration date and didn’t smell so great, so I used non-virgin olive oil instead.  This griddle tops out at 350 degrees, which is nowhere near the oil’s smoke point, but I kept it around 300 to be on the safe side. 

1-2 minutes on each side of the tortilla should be plenty to give it some color and flavor without turning it into a half-hearted tostada shell.  Naturally, you’ll want to have a good pair of tongs on hand to deal with these.  Oh, and while you’re doing this, you’ll probably also want to turn on the oven to 400 degrees.  And although you shouldn’t need to “dry” oil off the tortillas when you prepare them this way, I generally put them on a paper plate when I take them off the griddle to allow it to absorb any excess oil that they might pick up.  Most of the small amount of oil will end up being absorbed by the tortillas themselves anyway.

Step 6: Roll the enchiladas.

This part should be pretty self-explanatory.  Basically, you put a small scoop of the filling into the tortilla, roll it and arrange it in the pan.  I have a certain spaghetti strainer I picked up at Ikea many years ago that happens to be just about the perfect size for this, and is also by far the best one I’ve found for its intended purpose (which naturally means that Ikea discontinued it about five minutes after I left the store with my purchase and replaced it with a more stylish looking but functionally inferior model.)  On occasion I’ll also put a little bit of shredded cheese inside each enchilada as well, but I omitted that part this time around, mostly because I was too lazy to grate extra cheese to do this.  At this point, a sort of assembly line forms as prepared tortillas come off the griddle and new ones go on.  Generally I let the tortillas cool just a little bit before I fill and roll them.  This also allows some time to get the next batch of tortillas started on the griddle, and by the time that’s done the tortillas will usually have cooled to a slightly less finger-burning temperature.  Oh, and you’ll probably also want to kill the heat to the pan of filling when you start this process as well; the stuff can also burn you if you’re not careful.

Exactly how many rolled enchiladas you can get into the pan will vary depending on the size of your dish and how tightly you pack them in, but this one generally fits 16-18 depending on how you arrange them.  Incidentally, you could go for an entirely different approach at this point and make stacked enchiladas (a popular style in New Mexico) by alternating layers of tortillas, filling, sauce and cheese within the dish.  Or if you have oven-safe plates you could even just make stacked enchiladas directly on the plate, top them with whatever sauce and cheese you want and put them under the broiler for a few minutes to melt and brown the cheese.  It’s not uncommon to find these served with a fried egg on top, but I’m not a big egg fan myself so I’ll pass on that.

Step 7:  Add toppings and bake.

Once all of the enchiladas have been rolled and placed in the pan, a layer of enchilada sauce and cheese goes on top, after which it goes into the oven.  Since everything should still be fairly hot at this point you shouldn’t need too long, mostly you’re melting and browning the cheese at this point  15-20 minutes should be plenty in most cases, but I tend to go a little bit longer since I like the tortillas a bit crispy at the edges.  Also if you’re not ready to eat just yet you could also cover the baking dish and put it into the fridge until needed.  If you do this, you’ll naturally want to let it cook longer in the oven, probably 45 minutes or so.

At this point there’s a pretty good chance you’ll still have a decent amount of the filling left over, which in this case I used to make another small pan of enchiladas to save for later.  Another alternative I haven’t tried yet, but which would seem to be feasible for this would be to add more of the chicken stock and turn it into a soup.  After all, you’re pretty much making a really thick  green chile chicken soup in the first place, so all you’d need to do to make a soup out of this would be to make it a bit thinner.

Step 8:  Dig in.

If you’ve been following along and gone through the whole process, you should end up with something that looks like this.  It looks mighty tasty, but then again I suspect that you could make just about anything look really tasty by putting a layer of cheese on top of it and baking it in the oven for 20 minutes.  Naturally, being done with the cooking and ready to eat is the best part, and after all the work it takes to get here, you’ll be ready to dig in, but you’ll probably want to let it cool down just a little bit before you serve it up.  This is the type of dish where there isn’t anything really all that complicated involved in making it (well OK, the roux is a bit tricky, but that’s just par for the course for that stuff) but there are several steps in the process that are fairly involved, particularly dealing with the tortillas.  It is for that reason that I don’t make these all that often, but when I do make them I’m reminded of why I do.  This is easily among my top 10 favorite dishes to make, and among my top 10 favorite dishes to eat.  In spite of this, I do still have to put my parent’s burritos, another labor-intensive rarity that I haven’t ever quite worked up the nerve to try making on my own, just a little bit higher on the list.  Maybe someday I’ll have to give those a shot…

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