Monday, September 12, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas: From Sandra Gutierrez's Southern-Latino Table to mine

A few years ago, I spent a tortured afternoon trying to dazzle my husband by making a linzer torte for his birthday. My optimism dimmed as the dough got increasingly messy and melty, and I was downright angry by the time I gave up on creating its classic lattice lid. While he dutifully ate it, I decided that day that there are some things that just aren't worth making at home. At least by me in my home.

Things that fall in this category often aren't terribly complex, but I don't lose sleep over investing my trust, my dollars and the ease of not messing my kitchen to those who have a demonstrated knack for making things I like to have brought to me on a plate I don't have to wash.

Chicken enchiladas used to fall into this category. I never imagined them to be especially difficult to prepare -- and now that I've done it, I can vouch that it's really pretty simple. Perhaps I was intimidated by all that cheese -- which, really, isn't that much per enchilada. It could have been any number of excuses, but they're all blown now that I made and we all thoroughly enjoyed Sandra Gutierrez's Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce from her new book, The New Southern-Latino Table (University of North Carolina Press).

I was fortunate to be among a group of bloggers invited to preview and write about her new book as part of the “Southern-Latino Dinner Party.” While I made dinner, others made appetizers and desserts. You can find all of the special event recipes – today, next Monday and Sept. 26 – at and

The ingredients for these tasty enchiladas are easy to gather and the recipe is simple to follow. My only quibble is that, when a recipe starts by telling me to preheat my oven, I think it's reasonable to assume that dinner is soon to follow. In fact, long after the oven was cranked and ready, I was still simmering tomatillos and hadn't rolled a single chicken-filled tortilla.

In the interest of time, I opted for a few shortcuts, such as zapping the tomatillo sauce with my immersion blender instead of waiting for it to cool and pouring it into a standard blender. Next time I'll even make this ahead. I also used a reliably tasty roasted chicken from my neighborhood market, which yielded the needed six cups of shredded chicken.

Regrettably, I did make one tweak that I would recommend against. We're weenies when it comes to chiles, but the otherwise mild flavors of this dish can stand up to the four serranos and one jalapeno Sandra includes. We cut back and the result, while delicious, lacked zip. Be bold and trust her list.

While you're at it, have a few extra tortillas on hand, too. I measured my filling to make sure it made a dozen enchiladas but actually would up with three bonus rolls. I baked them in a small dish with sauce and cheese, then popped them in the freezer to enjoy another day.

We barely made it through the full batch before I retrieved the frozen ones. Trust me, you won't be able to resist them, either.

I made another of Sandra's recipes, Green Mango Salad with Pepitas, to serve with the enchiladas but unfortunately cannot quote the recipe. It's an even tastier version of what she made when I first met her at a class last summer and blogged about it here. If the enchiladas did not provide sufficient temptation to get her book, this beautiful salad should seal the deal.

Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
From The New Southern-Latino Table by Sandra Gutierrez

The tender chicken in this casserole is wrapped in delicate corn tortillas and baked under a bubbly and vibrant sauce flavored with cilantro and chiles. Monterey Jack cheese blankets the enchiladas, adding a mellow counterpoint to the spicy chiles. A perfect main dish for a party, it's served with a variety of colorful, refreshing garnishes. The recipe is easy to multiply, freezes beautifully so you can prepare it ahead of time, and, once baked, keeps warm for a good while, making it an ideal addition to any buffet table. A favorite of children and adults alike, this is one of the most requested recipes by my cooking students.

20 tomatillos, husks removed
2 cups chopped white onion
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 cup water
4 serrano chiles, seeded and roughly chopped (leave seeds for more heat)
1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped (leave seeds for more heat)
2 cups chopped cilantro (leaves and tender stems), packed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 warm corn tortillas
6 cups cooked and shredded chicken (dark and white meat)
2 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Garnishes (optional)
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup seeded and finely chopped plum tomatoes
3/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped serrano chiles (with seeds)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 13x9x2 baking dish. In a large Dutch oven, combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, water, chiles, and jalapeños; bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatillos have popped, about 15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Working in batches, transfer the tomatillo mixture and cilantro to a blender (or food processor) and blend until smooth; season sauce with salt and pepper. Return the sauce to the pan and simmer, uncovered, until it has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup of the tomatillo sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Working with 1 tortilla at a time, dip the tortillas into the warm sauce in the pan. Place 1/2 cup of the chicken on the tortillas, roll them up, and place them seam side down, snuggly together, in the baking dish. Cover with the remaining tomatillo sauce; sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted. Serve hot, with garnishes.

Yield: 6 servings

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