Chimichangas have been a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine for longer than I can remember. They’re really just glorified, fried burritos, but ‘chimichanga’ sounds mysterious and exotic!
For me, chimichangas are a kitschy comfort food and they can be made with all sorts of fillings and toppings. This recipe showcases the colors of the Mexican flag, red, green and white and it will make 6 large chicken chimichangas.
Ingredients for braising the chicken:
4 large chicken breasts
2 cups chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Ingredients for chimichangas:
6 large burrito sized tortillas
About 2 cups of cooking oil
1 cup green sauce: (see the recipe here…)
1 cup red sauce: see the recipe here… (see the recipe here…)
1 ½ cup white cheese sauce (see the recipe below)
The 4 chicken breasts that I used were enormous. I’ve seen turkey breasts that were smaller than these monsters! I forgot to check the weight on the package but I am sure that it was at least 5 lbs. I sliced them down the middle, separating the tenderloin from the breast.
Directions for preparing the chicken:
Add all ingredients, except the chicken to a 4 quart pot. Cook at medium heat and stir to combine. Add the chicken and braise for 5 minutes, turning chicken over occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow it to cool. Strain the stock from the pot and reserve for later. The stock is perfect for making Mexican rice, or anything else that calls for chicken stock.
After the chicken has cooled a little, shred with forks and seal in a plastic bag until needed.
Fill a skillet (I used cast iron) with about 2 inches of cooking oil and set the heat to medium.
Lay a large tortilla on a clean work surface. Put about 1 cup of the shredded chicken on the bottom third of the tortilla. Fold the sides over and roll the tortilla from the bottom to the top. Secure with a toothpick. – Yes, my stalwart kitchen friend, the toothpick.
Once the oil is hot, carefully lay a chimichanga in the pan. After about a minute, turn the chimichanga over with tongs. Keep turning the chimichanga until it is golden brown. Remove chimichangas to a warm area while the other ones cook. You should be able to cook two chimichangas at a time without crowding in the skillet.
Remove toothpicks from the chimichanga. Please don’t forget this VERY important step. Your guests will thank you. Actually, they may never know you used a toothpick but they will surely know you used one when they swallow it!
And now…the white cheese sauce, or as I like to call it, my weekly confession…
I was a fool to think that I could whip up a white cheese sauce without a roux. What was I thinking?! Well, I’ll tell you what I was thinking. The meal was nearly ready to eat and all that remained was a simple cheese sauce. I didn’t want to make a big production out of it and I knew that I could just heat some milk and slowly introduce cubes of white cheddar and stir until everything became creamy. But, I over heated the milk and once that happened, there was no going back. The sauce separated. In an act of desperation, I continued stirring the sauce. The result was a big wad of string cheese sitting in milky water.
I pulled the pan off the stove and stared at the disaster. Starting over was out of the question. I didn’t have more cheese and I would have rather admitted defeat than go back to the store to get more cheese so, I decided to attempt to revive the existing mess. I laid the ball of cheese on a cutting board and cut it into small cubes. Then, I prepared a roux. I added a healthy splash of chicken stock and slowly added some of the milky liquid and little bits of the cheese, alternately, all the while keeping the heat very low. I mixed for about 10 minutes and turned the heat off. The resulting sauce turned out pretty good. It had some clumps of cheese in it but it tasted good. I was lucky.
Think of a roux as a safety net. Sauces are tricky business and peril awaits at every turn. Too much heat or adding components too quickly can lead to a broken sauce. If you’re a thrill seeker and like to live your life on the edge, go ahead, skip the roux, but don’t say I didn’t warn you as you’re crying over your beloved, broken sauce! I won’t go into the science behind sauces and roux because whenever I hear about emulsifiers and viscosity I grow weary and all I hear is, “blah, blah, blah, emulsifier…”
Just remember that good sauces start with a roux and good cooks aren’t thrill-seeking trapeze artists. A safety net, such as a roux, is not the same thing as training wheels on a bicycle.
Smother the chimichanga with cheese sauce. Cover one end of the chimichanga with red sauce and the other end with the green sauce. Add a big dollop of sour cream in the center.
Serve with Mexican rice and refried beans.