In addition to my new Recipe Review posts, which focus on my experiences cooking other people’s recipes, I am also going to occasionally write Recipe Remix posts. These will be my own twists on existing recipes and, like today’s post, will also include family recipes that I have tweaked.
Tonight I made my mom’s famous enchiladas – with some key changes. Although my mom’s enchiladas are famous in our family for good reason (they are amazing!), they are a time-consuming, multi-pan, messy endeavor. Which is why we’ve grown up only eating them during the holidays or for other special occasions. This new recipe which I’ve adapted from her original recipe to include several Rick Bayless techniques (and his packaged red sauce) clocks in around an hour start to finish (compared to her original recipe’s 1.5-2 hours), uses one pan for the sauce and one for the enchiladas (and a few prep bowls), and tastes incredibly similar to my mom’s enchiladas. I can now make one of my favorite recipes much more frequently, using less ingredients and taking much less time!
Our recent cookbook club – cooking Rick Bayless this time around – was an insane success. My mom brought his Enchiladas Suizas, which she had also made over the holidays, which are the only green-sauce enchiladas I have ever liked, let alone loved. During the holidays she also made two batches of red sauce enchiladas – one the way she has made them for years, and one batch using Bayless’ Frontera brand red sauce. His red sauce is surprisingly good for stand-alone packaged sauce, but it was missing some of the depth that my mom’s own sauce has.
She also had recently been experimenting with different ways to deal with the corn tortillas. We have always fried them in oil, about 10 seconds or less each side, to make them pliable and add to the flavor. This process takes time and can be messy. In one of the recipes she was following from Bayless, he recommends laying the tortillas out to dry for a bit before frying them – this way they absorb less oil, and that is what she has been doing lately. On a recipe I found online, he instead suggested brushing each side of the tortilla with oil, stacking the tortillas in a plastic bag, and microwaving for 1 minute. This technique saved me a ton of time and energy, but the tortillas were not quite as pliable as I would have liked – next time I might either microwave them a little longer or put the tiniest bit of water in the bag, too, to get more of a steam effect.
Lastly, after having made several Bayless enchilada renditions, Mom surmised she’s been overcooking her own enchiladas. They always stick to the pan a little and can sometimes be tough to cut through on the very bottom/edges. Bayless, for the most part, uses warm ingredients and when he puts his enchiladas in the oven it is essentially just to melt the cheese and meld the flavors a bit more. His cooking time generally falls in the 10-15 minute range, whereas ours was landing 30 min with foil and another 10-15 without for 45 minutes total cooking time. This one seemed sort of no-duh to us after the fact – why did we ever cook them for so long? Hindsight is 20/20, what matters is now we know better.
Here is my recipe remix for a quicker, easier way to make my mom’s famous enchiladas, which are, in my opinion, some of the best you’ll ever eat:
Mom’s Enchiladas REMIX! (for full effect, imagine someone shouting that at the beginning of a JLo song)
Makes approximately 12-14 enchiladas. Serves: 4-6
2 – 8 oz bags Frontera brand Red Enchilada Sauce
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped (I didn’t even use all of this, so maybe try for a smaller onion or just chop even less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole, cooked, store-bought rotisserie chicken (this is my cheat’s way of avoiding having to cook the chicken first, but there’s a fair amount left over if you use this method so plan on having some chicken leftover or else buy 1 lb of raw chicken and cook it yourself)
corn tortillas (I always buy the 30 pack because I know I’ll use them, but I only used 13 here, so you can buy less if your grocery store sells them in smaller quantities)
2 cups (1 small package) shredded monterrey jack cheese (or mexican cheese blend)
1/2 tab mexican chocolate (Abuelita or Ibarra brand, either’s fine – find this in the ‘Hispanic Foods’ section of your supermarket)
oil for the tortillas and a little for the pan
1. I like to chop/dismantle everything first so I’m ready to assemble when the time comes. Leave the chicken sitting out on the counter for 10 minutes or so to cool a little while you ready everything else. Chop your onion and set aside. Mince your garlic cloves and set aside. Pour your shredded cheese out into a bowl and set in the fridge until you need it. Cut your octagonal chocolate tab in half.
2. Fill a small bowl with some oil and use that to brush oil on each side of each tortilla – then stack them, place them inside a microwave-safe plastic bag, and heat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. Set aside. I oiled 18 tortillas because I wasn’t initially sure how many the recipe would make – next time I will probably oil 14 instead, that way I still have an extra or two to cover any mishaps but haven’t wasted a bunch either.
3. Now, “carve” your chicken. What this really amounts to is you just getting in there with your hands and ripping it apart, grabbing every last piece of viable meat you can and setting it aside in a bowl. All I have to say is get ready for some messy hands. If you opted to cook your own chicken first, obviously let it cool before handling it, but then just shred it and set aside in a bowl. If you’ve used a rotisserie chicken as I have, you may want to put about half of what you’ve shredded away at this point – before saucing what you will use for the enchiladas. Or you can just sauce all the chicken before splitting it, and use the rest for tacos or chilaquiles tomorrow.
4. Now that you’ve got all your ingredients prepared, you can make your sauce, which- because we’ve bought our cheat’s packaged sauce – is dead easy. Heat up a pan and about 1-2 tablespoons oil, throw a scant handful of onion in and let cook until nearly translucent, then toss your garlic and stir all this around for 1 minute or so. Pour in both bags of red sauce and let it heat up a little before adding in the 1/2 tab of chocolate – lower the heat a little and stir frequently until the chocolate is melted. It’s okay if there is a little chocolate “grit” leftover, so long as there aren’t huge unmelted chunks wandering around. *Right before I add in the chocolate, I also turn my oven on to preheat at 350 degrees so it’ll be ready by the time I’m ready.
5. Once your sauce is ready, you can assemble your enchiladas. First, ladle some sauce into the pan you’re going to use for your enchiladas, making sure to coat the bottom and up the sides a little if you can. Next, add about a ladle and a half of sauce to the chicken and stir to coat – reserve the rest of the sauce for the top of the enchiladas. Use a plate as a work surface to roll each enchilada. Place the tortilla on the plate, put some chicken on the tortilla (less than you would think), add cheese and onion, then roll into an enchilada. Place the enchilada seam side down in your pre-sauced baking dish. Continue assembling until you run out of room in your baking dish. *I use a 13×9 inch pyrex pan and I can normally fit about 8-9 one way, then 4 (two-deep) going the other way (at the ‘feet’ of the initial row)
6. Now ladle the rest of the sauce over the top of the enchiladas, using the ladle or a separate spoon or spatula to spread the sauce around and then down the sides if possible – you don’t want any naked tortilla showing. Take the rest of the cheese and spread all over the now-sauced enchiladas, making quite a thick cheese layer. Pop the pan in your preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted to your satisfaction, then serve immediately.
Notes: The key changes to my mom’s original recipe were in how I oiled the tortillas (did not fry them), how I made the sauce (doctored a packaged pre-made sauce, whereas she used to doctor a can of straight red chile sauce using about 3 more ingredients than I did), and how long I cooked the enchiladas for (15 as opposed to 45 minutes). Additionally, my mom’s original recipe does not sauce the chicken, but instead has you saucing the tortillas before you roll them – I may still play with this aspect a bit and see if it makes a difference, but I liked the way this turned out, so we’ll see.
P.S. Thanks to my mom for her expertise and suggestions on how to improve her own already amazing recipe!