There was little in the way of gifts to take home from my Mexican adventure, but Man of the House was happy with a bottle of tequila and some Mexican-inspired food.
Casserole Style Chicken Chilaquiles Recipe
Mexican cooks are ingenious when it comes to creating something wonderful out of leftovers. Chilaquiles, in its many forms, is a dish invented for using up stale tortillas. Fry them and stir them with a bit of last night’s sauce, add some shredded meat or cheese or beans, and you will be rewarded with a breakfast feast (eggs optional.) The photo below is the stir-up kind of chilaquiles from Grand Velas, more typical than the recipe I am offering, However, what is lost in translation is gained in its make-ahead capability, and it has fantastic pot-luck potential.
To make chilaquiles without the requisite leftover tidbits would require more work (frying tortillas, making sauce, and cooking chicken) than you or I would be willing to devote to a weeknight meal. If you have some leftover roast chicken, you can put together this casserole version (a bit like Mexican-style lasagna with tortillas) in about 25 minutes, plus another 35 minutes hands-free time while it bakes in the oven. Even so, you may want to try it on a weekend to allow extra time if you are not familiar with the ingredients.
A big shortcut in this version is the use of unsalted corn tortilla chips. You won’t miss the frying nor will your waistline. So pick your battles: make the sauce from scratch. Once that is done, assemble and bake the chilaquiles. You will use the quirky (to us) Mexican technique of pureeing all the sauce ingredients before cooking, instead of sautéing onions first and layering the flavors in stages. This also makes chopping perfunctory since it all will be mashed up in the end. I often make the chilaquiles in two small baking dishes, and tuck one in the freezer for a future meal. (Freeze before baking, then take from freezer to oven, and bake a bit longer, covered loosely with foil if it browns too fast, at a lower temperature—350 degrees F.)
TOMATILLO SAUCE (makes about 4 cups)
2 to 3 large fresh poblano chiles, depending on the hotness of the chiles (*see note below)
2 pounds tomatillos
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup and set a rack about 4 inches from the broiling element. Heat the broiler.
2. Halve the chiles lengthwise, remove the seeds and place them on the broiler pan with the cut sides down. Broil until the skins start to blister and blacken, 3 to 5 minutes. Put the broiled chiles in a bowl, cover with a plate and let them steam until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel off the skins as well as you can. Don’t try to wash off the stubborn bits-they give the sauce flavor and character. If you must, rinse your hands, not the chiles.
3. Meanwhile, pull the husks off the tomatillos and rinse them in cold water. Quarter them and toss them into a blender jar. Add the onions, garlic, cilantro leaves, salt, chicken broth or water and broiled, peeled chiles. Puree until smooth.
4. Heat the oil in a 2-quart or larger saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers and add the sauce. Simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust the salt. If the sauce is thick, thin it with more water or broth so that is it is the consistency of light cream.
CHILAQUILES CASSEROLE (Serves 6)
About 4 cups Tomatillo Sauce (see above)
3/4 pound UNSALTED, good quality corn tortilla chips
About 2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
8 ounces queso fresco or farmer's cheese, crumbled
1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese, about 3 1/2 ounces
Optional garnishes: (choose several or all): Sliced avocado, sliced radishes, chopped red onion, cilantro sprigs, red onion slices and crème frâiche, or sour cream.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Spread about 1/2 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 9 X 13-inch baking dish. Spread half the tortilla chips over the sauce. Distribute the chicken over the top followed by the farmer’s cheese. Pour slightly less than half of the remaining sauce over the baking dish.
3. Spread the remaining tortilla chips in the baking dish. Cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden and the casserole is heated all the way through. Serve as is or top with a few garnishes.
If you are not familiar with Mexican ingredients:
Tomatillos or tomates verdes are tart, plum-sized green fruits that are not particularly juicy. They are covered with papery husks that must be removed and the fruits should be rinsed to remove the slightly sticky substance on the exterior. Thanks to recent widespread popularity of ethnic foods, they are now fairly easy to find in the produce section of large urban supermarkets. They are also available in cans.
*Chile Poblano is theoretically a mild, green chile, large and angular (on average, about 4 1/2 inches long) with deep, green-black skin. Ripened and dried it becomes chile ancho but for this dish you are concerned with the fresh ones. Taste before you add them to your sauce, as they can be very picante, to say the least. To turn down the heat, use fewer chiles. If you cannot find poblano chiles, substitute long Italian sweet peppers. They will give you some flavor, but no heat.
More like this:
Chilaquiles Recipe from Simply Recipes
Chipotle Chilaquiles from Matt Bites
Chilaquiles from the Masa Assassin
from Dianasaur Dishes
Chipotle Chilaquiles from Rick Bayless via Food and Wine
Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde from Cooking in Mexico