Picture an abuela hunched over a fire in the rural heartland of Mexico, stirring a sauce inside a clay pot. She moves slow, but efficient, like she has all the time in the world.
She’s got something she wants to tell you:
Esto es facil. No mas salsa de enchiladas de la lata, esta bien? (This is easy. No more enchilada sauce from the can, OK?)
And it’s true. It is easy. And the flavor of homemade enchilada sauce is so rich it’ll convert you over for life.
Ancho Chicken Enchiladas Recipe and Instructions
Ancho chilis are the key here. They have a rich, complex flavor that makes them the default chili in red enchilada sauces.
Try to buy the ones that are pliable, like big raisins. If they are brittle their flavor will have diminished a bit.
Flash roasting the chilis will activate some dormant flavors. Pressing them onto a hot skillet for a few seconds works well, but lately I’ve just been putting them in the oven for 1-2 minutes.
Once they are warm and fragrant, cover them in a bowl with the hottest tap water you’ve got. If they float to the surface you can use a plate or small bowl to keep them submerged.
Let these reconstitute for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how hungry you are 🙂
While all this reconstituting and roasting is going on, saute a roughly chopped onion and 2 garlic cloves in a dollop of oil. Before adding the onion to the skillet, set aside a couple tablespoons to be used for the inner mixture of the enchiladas.
I used a yellow onion, but white is OK. And don’t worry about chopping too fine because all of this is going in the blender.
Drain the chilis and add to a blender along with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and 2 cups of stock. I use chicken stock, but veggie will work here too.
Note: there are some traditional versions of this recipe that use only anchos and no tomatoes. To some, including me, those variations have an earthy flavor that comes in second place compared to the version we are making here. The sweetness of the tomatoes and cooked onion counters some of the subtle bitterness of the ancho peppers. To me, that is the perfect combo, but you can always omit the tomatoes if you prefer the isolated flavor of the anchos.
Blend until smooth.
Strain the blended sauce through a fine mesh sieve. You might have to push down on the sauce once the sieve gets a bit clogged. You’ll end up with about 1/2 cup worth of seeds and skin that can be discarded.
Add a big dollop of oil to a saucepan (I used a tablespoon of lard) and once heated you can add the strained sauce.
Add 1 teaspoon of oregano (use Mexican oregano if you have it), 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, and generous dashes of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Mix well and let the sauce simmer for 30-45 minutes. It’ll eventually reduce down to a thicker, velvety consistency.
OK, you’ve got choices on the innards of the enchiladas. Shredded rotisserie chicken works great. Or you can poach 2 boneless chicken breasts while the sauce is simmering. That’s what I did and the final product, 8 enchiladas worth, used up about 1.5 chicken breasts.
Heat up the tortillas to make them easier to roll. I usually put them in the oven for 30-60 seconds.
Add a few tablespoons of the sauce to a plate. Dredge a tortilla in the sauce and flip over. Fill the tortilla with chicken, cheese and some finely diced onion.
Roll tight and set in a baking dish. (You can add some sauce to the baking dish to prevent sticking.)
Continue rolling the enchiladas but be sure to leave enough sauce leftover to generously coat the tops of them in the baking dish. You can jiggle them a little bit to let some of the sauce fall between them.
Bake for 10-15 minutes at 400F.
Cilantro, cotija cheese, and Mexican Crema are all great options as final touches. I think the sharpness of the Cotija cheese sprinkled on top works well in combination with the melted Jack cheese inside the enchiladas.
Serve immediately and savor the first few bites.
And instead of picturing an abuela hunched over a clay pot in the rural heartland of Mexico, now you can envision this timeless enchilada sauce becoming a staple in your modern day kitchen.
It’s OK if you gobble them up faster than you want to. You can always make another batch because esto facil, no?
- 4 ancho chili peppers
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 cups stock
- chicken (2 boneless breasts or rotisserie chicken)
- 1/2 cup Jack cheese
- 8-10 corn tortillas
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- freshly ground pepper
- oil (or lard)
- cotija cheese (optional)
- cilantro (optional)
- sour cream (optional)
De-stem and de-seed the ancho chilis
Roast in the oven at 400F for 1-2 minutes
Cover the anchos with hot tap water and let reconstitute for 20-30 minutes
Roast 2 tomatoes in the oven at 400F
Roughly chop 1 medium-sized onion. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the onion for the inner mixture of the enchiladas.
Saute the onion in a dollop of oil along with the 2 garlic cloves. Cook until lightly browned.
Drain the chilis
Add the chilis, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and 2 cups of stock to a blender
Blend until smooth
Strain the blender sauce through a fine mesh sieve
Saute the strained sauce in a dollop of oil (I used lard)
Add 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon oregano, and generous dashes of salt and pepper
Let simmer for 30-45 minutes until it reduces to a thick, velvety consistency
You can use rotisserie chicken for the enchiladas, or now you can start poaching 2 chicken breasts. They'll be done in 20 minutes or so (when the insides reach 160F).
Warm the tortillas in the oven
Add a few tablespoons of the enchilada sauce to a plate
Dredge a tortilla in the sauce and flip it over. Fill with chicken, cheese, and finely chopped onion.
Roll tight and set in a baking dish (You can add some sauce to the baking dish to prevent sticking)
Continue rolling the enchiladas but be sure to save enough sauce to cover the tops of them generously in the baking dish
Bake for 10-15 minutes
Optional garnishes are cotija cheese, cilantro, and sour cream
Try to find ancho chilis that are pliable, like big raisins.
Jiggle the baking dish when adding sauce to the tops of the enchiladas, this will allow some of the sauce to seep between them.