Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Best Chicken Enchiladas

For over 5 years I’ve been trying to make really good homemade enchiladas. I’ve failed every time until this last week. Well, I didn’t really fail…they were just never that great. You know? These ones though, are delicious. They take a little bit of love to make but sometimes the best things take a little time. 

It was a necessity to learn to make them because we have a favorite Mexican joint in the Cities that just moved closer to our house. It’s dangerous…because their enchiladas are really good. And probably not as great for our waist lines. But that’s okay, because this past week I made some that I think trump anything from El Loro. Best part, you can make half now and freeze the others for leftovers…that’s what I did! Leave it to me to wait 5 years to finally follow a recipe EXACTLY…these are delicious and we don’t even necessarily like red sauce enchiladas with corn tortillas. But we’re converts now.

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Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce
recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated Best Make Ahead Cookbook (worth owning if you ask me!)

Sauce and Filling:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced
3 tablespoons chili powder 
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips (I used leftover breast meat)
2 cans tomato sauce (8 ounces each)

1/3 Cup water
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 can (4 ounces) pickled jalapeños , drained and chopped (about 1/4 cup) 
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , grated (2 1/2 cups)
10 corn tortillas (six-inch)


Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 300 degrees. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until coated with spices, about 30 seconds. (I just added my precooked & shredded chicken breast meat  here. I probably had around 1 1/2- 2 Cups worth)

Add tomato sauce and water. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and flavors have melded, about 8 minutes.

Pour mixture through medium-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing on chicken and onions to extract as much sauce as possible; set sauce aside.

Transfer chicken mixture to large plate; let cool until you can handle it, shred, then combine with cilantro, jalapenos, and cheese in medium bowl and set aside. (Again, I didn’t need to shred but did need to let cool.)

Spray both sides of the tortillas with vegetable oil spray. Place 5 onto a baking sheet. Bake until soft and pliable, 2-4 minutes. Repeat with other 5. Place one tortilla on a flat surface and add a 1/4-1/3 Cup of filling down the middle. Fold the sides of the tortilla over the filling to overlap and place the filled tortilla seam side down onto a 9x13 baking dish. Repeat and continue with the remaining tortillas until filling is used up. (If you want to make half now and freeze the other half, fill 2 8x8 pans. Each 8x8 pan will feed 2)

Pour the strained sauce over the enchiladas and then sprinkle the cheese down the middle of the enchiladas. (If making two 8x8’s then place half of sauce and cheese in separate freezable containers)

To Cook Right Away: Change the oven temperature to 350 degrees, add sauce and cheese, cover the dish with foil and bake until sauce and cheese are bubbling, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Uncover and serve immediately!

If cooking the frozen pan: Unwrap the dish, spray the tops with vegetable foil spray and bake uncovered in a 400 degree oven until warmed through and lightly toasted on top, 10-15 min. Pour the THAWED sauce over the enchiladas, sprinkle with thawed cheese, cover with aluminum foil and back until sauce and cheese are bubbling, approximately 15-10 min.

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