Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

Recipe updated October 2015

Chicken enchiladas are easy to make at home—and so fresh and flavorful. Before you head out to your local Mexican cantina, give this recipe a try.

Authentic ranchero sauce is made with dried chiles, often the small chiles de arbol (“tree” chiles), as in this recipe. Small chiles don’t need to be strained through a sieve after grinding them because the thin skins emulsify well in the sauce.

These little chiles are hot but they’re also very savory, and the heat in ranchero sauce is tempered by vegetable broth and tomato paste. For a milder ranchero sauce, simply use milder dried chiles, such as guajillo or New Mexico. You can make the ranchero sauce a day or two ahead and reheat before using.

Queso quesadilla is a mild, soft cheese commonly used in Mexican cooking. Its softness means it melts well in dishes like enchiladas. Queso Chihuahua (cheese from the Mexican state of Chihuahua) is also a great melting cheese and may be found in supermarkets with a good international cheese section.

You may be more familiar with queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese), but this harder cheese is typically used for crumbling on top of dishes, like Greek feta. Queso quesadilla and queso Chihuahua are the ones to use for melting. If you can’t find them, shredded jack or white cheddar will work too.

Note: I found packaged shredded queso quesadilla, so it was ready to go. But in Mexican markets, this cheese is often sold in small wheels. If that’s what you purchase, simply cut off a piece of the wheel and shred on the medium holes of a box shredder.

Queso Quesadilla
Queso Wheel
Serves 4

  • olive oil for oiling dish, plus 2 tbsp
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • 3 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast or thigh meat
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 8 8-inch flour or corn tortillas
  • 1 recipe ranchero sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded queso quesadilla or queso Chihuahua
  • 1/2 tsp crushed, dried oregano
  • steamed white rice and lime wedges, for serving

Filling Ingredients
  1. Preheat the oven to 250° F. Lightly oil a large baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Stack and wrap the tortillas in foil. Warm in the oven 10 minutes, flipping once. (Warming the tortillas makes them more pliable for rolling up.) Keep covered until ready to use.

Stack the tortillas and...
Wrap in a foil pack
  1. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, serrano chiles, tomatoes, and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables soften and the tomatoes break down, 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the chicken and chile powder and cook until hot throughout, 5 minutes. (Tip: To help judge the amount of filling for each tortilla, divide the chicken mixture into quarters, then fill one tortilla with half of a quarter.)

Garlic Mixture Beginning to Cook 
Cooked Chicken Mixture 
Divide the mixture into quarters
  1. Place the ranchero sauce in a 10-inch skillet and warm over low heat. Remove 1 warm tortilla from the foil-pack and dip in the ranchero sauce. Let all excess drip off then transfer to a work surface. (Tip: Use a foil-lined shallow baking pan to avoid a messy countertop.) Spread 1/8 of the chicken mixture across the tortilla, about 1 inch from the bottom.
  2. Roll the bottom edge up over the filling and roll up tightly to the top, tucking in any loose filling as you go. Place seam-side down in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining tortillas, reserving remaining ranchero sauce.
  3. Pour the remaining ranchero sauce over the filled tortillas and scatter cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is melted, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with dried oregano.

Dip in Ranchero Sauce
Ready to Roll 
Rolled Enchilada
Ready for Sauce 
Coated with Sauce 
Ready to Bake 
Baked Enchiladas
To serve, divide the rice among 4 plates and place 1 or 2 enchiladas on top (cut enchiladas in half, if desired). Serve lime wedges alongside.

Chicken Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

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