Chilaquiles, for those of you less familiar with authentic Mexican cuisine, are a classic south-of-the-border leftovers meal. They are also extremely delicious, especially to many of us from north-of-the-border. The entertaining result of these two qualities is that one simple dish encapsulates everything that is new and exciting to Americans about exploring a new cuisine, and everything that is commonplace and mundane to Mexicans (who are already pretty familiar with Mexican cuisine).
Almost every American I’ve met (myself included) who has run across chilaquiles has had the off-putting and socially confusing experience of gobbling down extra helpings of chilaquiles amidst the amused and patronizing stares of their Mexican hosts. It’s not that they don’t like chilaquiles, it’s just similar to an American seeing someone going nuts over something like grilled cheese or pancakes. Yeah they’re nice, but… seriously?
It makes sense why they’re leftovers, though. Chilaquiles are really just fried tortillas simmered in salsa. Mexican food tends to include a lot of – you guessed it – tortillas and salsa, and neither one of them keeps well for long. Throwing your leftovers in a pot and hoping it all works out may not seem like a very creative solution (all you shepherd’s pie lovers have no right to judge anyway, for the record), but like many authentic Mexican creations, it works out great. It’s a simple concept that results in a complex and rewarding meal; the subtle texture of the tortilla chips is a vehicle for the richness and nuance of smooth and well-balanced salsa. It’s warm, filling, and extremely versatile as a dish.
I’ll give you this recipe under the pretense that you’ll be making it as leftovers (just to appease my Mexican readers), but don’t be ashamed if you end up making this on purpose as a main dish. I will say that this is a genuinely effective way to get rid of old tortillas that you made; they start to get stale and stiff even within a few hours of making them, and you’ll be glad for ways to repurpose them. If you want to make or buy fresh tortillas just for this dish, I’d recommend leaving them out on the counter for a few hours or overnight so they can dry out. They fry better that way.
I’m using my favorite salsa, salsa verde, for this recipe, but feel free to improvise if you have something else you’d like to try.
12 stale corn tortillas, or however many you have lying around
2-3 cups salsa verde, or salsa of your choice
sour cream, Mexican crema or a mild white cheese, to garnish
oil for frying
Heat a dutch oven or deep fryer with oil 3-4 inches deep to 350-375°F. Cut your stale tortillas into quarters.
When the oil has reached its temperature, fry the tortilla wedges in batches until golden and crispy. Remove and drain on a rack or paper towel to absorb some of the grease. Incidentally, you can do this step a few days before you make the chilaquiles if you want. The reason you fry the tortillas is so they hold together when cooked in the sauce– otherwise they’d just fall apart into mush.
In a wide pot, deep pan, or wok, heat your salsa gently to simmering. If you’re as smart as Rachel and me, you may have ridiculous amounts of salsa in your freezer from the summer (as seen below)… just sayin’. Add water if needed to give it a broth-like consistency.
Add your tortilla chips to the salsa and allow them to become totally submerged and coated in the sauce. Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Don’t cook the life out of them, just give them enough time to soften slightly and get comfortable in the salsa.
Remove from heat and serve garnished with a light drizzle of crema or some grated cheese. This works surprisingly well with breakfast, or with something like refried beans on the side for dinner. You can also improvise quite a bit (I may do other versions in the future) by changing up the salsa or adding vegetables or meat to the mix. I think you’ll really enjoy this version of chilaquiles though, even if it is just leftovers.
Tell me what you think! Also, sign up for the emails if you’d like to get updates and my deep thoughts on simple living.