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 chiles are the key here. They have a rich, complex flavor that makes them the default chili in red enchilada sauces. (What is an Ancho?)
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. (More info on how to reconstitute dried chilis.)
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?
Ancho Chicken Enchiladas
- 4 ancho dried chilis
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 cups stock
- 3 cups shredded chicken (2 boneless breasts or rotisserie chicken)
- 1/2 cup Jack cheese
- 8-10 corn tortillas
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
- freshly ground black pepper
- cotija cheese (optional)
- cilantro (optional)
- Crema (optional)
- Wipe off any dusty crevasses on the Anchos, then de-stem and de-seed them. Roast them in the oven at 400F for 1-2 minutes. Cover the Ancho pieces with hot tap water and let reconstitute for 20-30 minutes
- Roast 2 tomatoes in the oven at 400F. They'll be mostly roasted by the time the Anchos are done reconstituting.
- 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 over medium heat along with the 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves. Cook until lightly browned.
- Drain the Ancho 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 and discard the leftover seeds and skin.
- Saute the strained sauce in a dollop of oil over medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some freshly cracked black pepper. Let simmer for 30-45 minutes or until it reduces down to a thick, velvety consistency.
- You can use rotisserie chicken for the enchiladas, or now you can start poaching 2 chicken breasts. Simply cover 2 chicken breasts with cold tap water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. I typically salt the poaching water and for this batch I added pepper, onion, and cilantro to the pot. Once the chicken is cooked, set aside to cool and then shred it using two forks.
- Warm the tortillas in the oven for 1-2 minutes or nuke them in the microwave for 60 seconds.
- To build the enchiladas, start by adding 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 them seam side down 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 the enchiladas for 10-15 minutes in a 400F oven.
- Serve immediately. Optional garnishes include Cotija cheese, cilantro, and Crema.
I’ve also been using this enchilada sauce to make some fiery Mexican Shredded Beef.