I’m ashamed, sometimes, to admit the truth of my personal history with the enchilada. There are two chapters in that story, neither is particularly impressive for culinary authenticity, and I’m not sure which came first: One chapter is set in a Taco Bell; the other, in Velveeta.
If you’re an eater of a certain age who dabbled in fast food in the errant days of youth, you may recall an entrée called the Enchirito. I remember it because I ate it. A lot. Served in an oval cardboard bowl, it was a corn tortilla folded around beans, ground beef, a sprinkle of onion, then smothered in red sauce, and capped with dollop of sour cream and a sliced black olive. And it was heaven. I’m not sure what it was about this particular assemblage that set my little taste buds a-tingle, but I craved it. And it was a treat, too, because this was back in the day when Taco Bell was a pricey proposition – long before the dollar menu was a twinkle in some CEO’s eye.
The second chapter happened at home when Mom and Aunt Ellner discovered large flour tortillas that they could stuff
with ground beef and fat slabs of processed cheese. You could roll those babies up early in the day and just leave them to hang out and chill until the extended family finally made it to the party. A quick dollop of sauce and a few minutes in a hot oven, and insto-presto, there was a delicious and exotic feast for everyone. And ooey, gooey sorta cheesy they were – which is to say, delightful, and, therefore, a big hit at family hoedowns.
But my family wasn’t unique in that regard; enchiladas have long been popular in the average American home. In fact, the first printed mention of an enchilada in the states showed up in a church cookbook from the Heartland itself. The “Centennial Buckeye Cookbook” was first published in 1876 by the good ladies of the First Congregational Church of Marysville, Ohio to help raise money for a parsonage.
And that recipe (contributed by the honorable Anson Safford, Governer of Arizona) like Aunt Ellner’s recipe, and Taco Bell’s too, was true to the concept of the enchilada as formulated by the Aztecs. An authentic enchilada isn’t difficult to achieve as the essential element is that there is a tortilla in a chile sauce.
Sadly, Aunt Ellner got the tortilla wrong – authenticity demands corn – but we’ll cut her some slack ‘cause we like her and her cooking, too. Besides, I imagine that you can use whatever tortilla suits you without upsetting anybody – especially after the first bite. And it’s unlikely that the ole Aztecs loaded up their tortilla with bright yellow, melty cheese, but I dunno -I never asked them.
What remains really right and important about the enchilada is that it’s easy to assemble ahead of time, it’s delicious and, if you’re a sharing kind of person, it’s pretty impressive, if simple party fare, too.
That’s especially true of the Tomato Head’s super simple and mighty tasty version. If you’re up early – you can catch Mahasti making the treat live on WBIR’s weekend today – if not well, we’ll put a link right here so you can check whenever you’re ready to cook.
Tomato Head’s Chicken Enchilada
For the Chicken:
1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
1/3 cup Oil
½ large Onion, largely diced
8 cups of Water
1 Tbl Salt
To Assemble the Enchiladas:
2 -8 oz packages Frontera Enchilada Sauce
8 – Corn or small Flour Tortillas
½ lb Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Heat the oil, in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chicken breast, water and salt. Increase heat to high, when water starts to boil, reduce heat to low and allow chicken to simmer for 20 minutes until done.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the chicken from the broth; let the chicken cool until it is cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken by pulling it apart. Set aside.
Pour 1/3 of the packet of enchilada sauce into the bottom of an 8 X 11 baking dish. Arrange 3 or 4 corn tortillas on your work surface. Place approximately ¼ – 1/3 cup chicken on each tortilla followed by ¼ cup of shredded cheese. Roll the tortillas up to form cylinders. Place the tortillas seam side down. Repeat the process until all the tortillas have been filled and place in the baking dish.
Pour the remaining sauce over the rolled tortillas, making sure they are covered entirely. Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top of the sauce. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes – or until the cheese melts and the sauce is starting to bubble.
Remove the dish from the oven. Serve with Sour Cream, cilantro and chopped onion.