Recently, I found a local store that has open boxes of dried chiles you can buy by the pound, and it has brought new excitement and joy into my life. I honestly don’t really know very much about how to use dried chiles, but they’re not always easy to find, especially in much variety. Lots of stores will sell little overpriced bags of ancho, guajillo, and de arbol chiles, which I still recommend getting if that’s all you have. But finding this random store with huge boxes of pasillas and chipotles in addition to the normal cast of characters makes me feel like I’ve found some secret treasure.
The problem, like I said, is that I’m not always super talented (yet!) at bringing out the full personality and potential of these little guys, and so far most of my chile improvisations have been confused and lackluster in the end. So for the moment, I look to recipes and experts to help me pull it off, and let me tell you, chiles are great. If you’re not cooking with chiles for any reason, I encourage you to try them out. They’re not just spicy– many are mild, fruity, complex, and add so much to your food. Get on it.
When I cook anything Mexican right now, I look to Rick Bayless as my guide. If you don’t know him, he’s basically a Julia Child for Mexican cooking. He’s thorough and laid back in explaining origins of foods, how to use unfamiliar ingredients, and ways to improvise and substitute without compromising the flavor and authenticity of a dish. I have one of his books (and probably will get more of them in the future), and it might well be the best cookbook I own.
This recipe was modified from one in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen cookbook. It is delicious– if you’re not used to chile sauces as a flavor base, don’t be scared off. This is mildly spicy, rich, clean, and tasty. You’ll enjoy it.
Red enchilada sauce
3 ancho chiles
3 guajillo chiles
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp salt
pinch cumin, freshly ground if possible
1/8 tsp cloves
pinch black pepper
2 tb cider vinegar
Red Chile Chicken Enchiladas
1 1/2 pounds cooked, shredded chicken
1 cup red enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheese
Split the chiles and remove the stem and seeds. You can scrape out the brownish ribs if you want, since that is where most of the “heat” comes from. Neither anchos nor guajillos are very spicy though, so I don’t bother much with that unless someone hates any spiciness in their food.
Toast the chiles by briefly pressing them with a spatula into a medium-hot pan. Soak in a small bowl of warm water for 30 minutes until fairly soft and rehydrated, then discard the water.
Meanwhile, take the garlic cloves and place them directly on to your burner coil at low to medium heat. Allow them to roast and toast and blacken in spots, rotating to get cooked on all sides. If you have a gas range or don’t feel good about toasting right on the burner, feel free to improvise some other dry roasting technique.
Blend the chiles, garlic, chicken stock, salt and spices until they’re a smooth, rusty red puree. Strain through a medium mesh screen of some sort. You should have a thick-ish paste like the one I have pictured below.
Add the vinegar and enough water to make the paste more of a sauce-like consistency (but still not runny).
Bring a wide pan or griddle to medium-high heat. Take each tortilla and coat it on both sides in the enchilada sauce (this is what enchilada actually means… you’re “en-chile-ing” the tortillas as part of the cooking process). Coat the pan with a little oil and briefly sautee each tortilla on both sides.
Mix the shredded chicken with enough sauce to make it delicious and most of the cheese. Wrap some chicken (a few tablespoons) in each tortilla and arrange on a pan with the edges tucked under so they don’t come apart.
Sprinkle the enchiladas with cheese and bake at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts and browns somewhat.
Serve with onions, cilantro, and sauce or salsa of your choice as garnishes.
What do you think? Are chiles worth a spot in your arsenal? What’s your favorite recipe using chiles?