Mexican Flag Chimichangas

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

Shredded chicken

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.

Beloved, Broken Sauce – Rejuvenated!

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.

Salsa Roja

This red sauce works well with lots of Mexican dishes. It’s rich, smooth and mild. It should provide a nice counterbalance to the chunky,spicy green sauce.

Since the grill is still hot, I am going to put a char on the tomatoes. This can be done in the oven at 400° but, like I said, my grill is ready and waiting and, since it’s summertime, I don’t want to heat the house up if I can avoid it.

This recipe calls for chiles en adobo, which are smoked, dried jalapeños (chipotles) that are packed in a sort of barbecue sauce, called adobo.  I prefer to buy chiles in adobo in little 8 oz cans.  One can carry me through several recipes and they last a long time, in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

6 dried guajillo chiles

6 small to medium tomatoes

1 Tbs olive oil

½ onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup water

1 chipotle jalapeño in adobo sauce

1 tsp adobo sauce

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon salt

A pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cut the ends off of the chiles and slice them lengthwise.  Remove and discard the seeds and fibers.  Chop the chiles a little and set them aside. 

Roast the tomatoes on a hot grill.  When the tomatoes start to char, remove them. 

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil on very low heat.  Once the onions have softened, add the water, chipotle jalapeño, adobo sauce, guajillo chiles, oregano, salt and black pepper.  Cover and simmer for a few minutes.  Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the pan.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then turn the heat off.  Leave the sauce alone for 10 more minutes, which should be long enough for the chiles to soften. 

Pour the contents into a blender and puree.  Strain the solids and discard.  You may need to scrape the strainer with a flexible spatula.  Pour the sauce into a jar and allow it to cool.  Refrigerate until needed.

Salsa Verde

I like all kinds of food, but I turn to Mexican cuisine more often than not.  Mexican cuisine can be simple or complex.  As a home cook, I often head down the simple path…tacos, enchiladas, fajitas…   But, there are times that I want to go “all out” and make something special. 

Salsa verde is one of those special things that I can’t resist.  It is an essential component in my Mexican Flag Chimichangas, which I will share with you soon.   

The salsa verde that I am making is comprised mainly of tomatillos and serrano chiles.  There are many types of Mexican green salsas but this particular one is common to many dishes.  The thing that I find funny about making salsa verde is that it can be prepared simply and quickly, or it can be a time consuming project.  I have chosen the time consuming variation, because I am poco loco, which is to say, a little bit crazy. 

First, let’s get something straight.  Tomatillos are not green tomatoes.  Although the tomatillo is in the same family as tomatoes, they are not the same thing.  Tomatillos can be found in grocery stores all over the U.S., due to an ever-growing population of Latinos.  And to that, I say gracias!  You can buy salsa verde in a jar, but homemade salsa verde is mas sabroso (tastier.)

Smoking tomatillos on the grill makes it even better!  So, lets grill some tomatillos.

This recipe will yield about one quart of salsa. 

Ingredients:

12 tomatillos

5 serrano chiles

1 Tbs coarse salt

1 Tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

Peel the stems and husks off of the tomatillos and pull the stems off of the serranos.  Slice the tomatillos in half (along the equator, if you know what I mean).  Toss the tomatillos, serranos and garlic cloves in a bowl with the coarse salt and olive oil.  Set aside.

Directions for grilling:

Wrap the grate with heavy duty aluminum foil, covering about ¾ of the grill.  Cut slits in the foil to facilitate air flow.  You can skip this if you feel lucky but, I know from past experience that little things, like peppers and garlic, can find a way to slip through grating before you know it!

Heat charcoal briquettes and place them in the grill.  Lay a piece of piece of wood on top of the coals.  I used mesquite wood but hickory or oak is fine.  It’s all about your flavor preference.

Place the foil-covered grate on the grill and then place the tomatillos, serranos and garlic on the grate.  Close the lid of the grill and wait several minutes.   Open the grill and inspect the everything.  Once the bottoms have blackened, pull them off. 

Purée

Drop the smoked tomatillos, chiles, garlic, the teaspoon of salt and the tablespoon of sugar in a blender.  Add the diced onion, cilantro and a splash of water.  Purée for several seconds.  That’s it.  You have made salsa verde!  Store in a mason jar and allow to cool before refrigerating.  The salsa will last about a week.  If you want to extend the life of your salsa add about 2 Tbs vinegar.