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 Picante!

My garden is at its zenith.  This summer has provided a rare, but welcomed, balance of sunshine, heat  and rain.  I haven’t watered the garden in over two months and I haven’t used any pesticides or fertilizer.  Nature has been kind to me, this season!

This week’s harvest provided four gallons of tomatoes and lots of different varieties of peppers.  That means it’s time to make salsa!   This recipe will make 4 quarts of salsa and, now that I have made it, I wish I would have doubled or tripled the batch.  This is not a quick process…be prepared to spend a more than a couple of hours prepping the vegetables and cooking sauces.  The end result is definitely worth the work.  I plan on giving one or two quarts away to friends and keeping the others for my family.  I don’t know why I even bother canning the stuff, since my family and I can gobble down a quart in a day or two.  But, I will try to hide a quart and bring it out as a surprise, long after summer has gone. 

Aside from the optional habanero and tabasco chiles, I consider this to be a basic salsa.  The proportions listed in the recipe should produce a “medium” heat salsa.  If you want to tweak this recipe, I suggest roasting or smoking one or more of the items.  For example, you could put the jalapeños on the grill and smoke with some mesquite wood, or you could char the onion and tomato over hot coals, or wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes.  Any of these things will add a new, distinct profile to your salsa. 

I stared at the habaneros and tabascos for a long time and finally decided to pass on them.  I would love to include them but I believe the end result would have been too spicy for some folks.  I will dice them and sauté them in a little tomato sauce and add it to my private reserve!

For this recipe, I made the tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes.  If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, canned tomato sauce will work just fine. 

Ingredients:

1 gallon diced tomatoes

2 cups diced onion

2 cups diced bell pepper

1 ½ cups diced jalapeño

Juice of 2 limes

1 head of garlic (about ¼ cup) minced garlic

3 habanero chiles (optional)

8 tabasco chiles peppers (optional)

½ gallon tomato sauce

2 cups vegetable stock (reduced to sauce)

Directions:

See my previous post to make the vegetable stock reduction: https://toothpicktales.com/2019/08/11/a-conversation-on-conservation-and-consideration/

Heat the tomato sauce in a large uncovered pot on the stove.  If you are using the vegetable stock, add it now.  Simmer at low heat while vegetables are prepared.

Chop vegetables into small pieces.  Tomatoes should be about ½” pieces and the onions and chiles should be cut into ¼” pieces.  Strain the juice from the tomatoes and set aside. 

Add all ingredients to the sauce.  Cook uncovered for one hour.  Turn the heat off and add the lime juice and stir to incorporate. 

I have to confess, I did not cook the salsa long enough and I forgot to add the lime juice when I made this.  Within a day after canning, juice started creeping out of the jars.  When I unscrewed the ring the lid popped off, from the pressure inside.  I dumped the salsa back into a pot and cooked it at a low boil for 30 minutes and then added the lime juice.  I have canned it again and I hope that does the trick.  If not, I will come clean and relay the sordid details!

Sanitize canning jars.  I use a bleach and water solution.  The bleach to water ratio should be 2 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water.

Lay empty canning jars, lids and rings in the kitchen sink, after plugging the drain.  Fill the sink with 3 gallons of boiling water.  Add 6 teaspoons of liquid bleach.  Remove the jars after two minutes and allow them to air dry. 

Fill the jars with salsa and leave about ½” air space at the top.  Cover the jar with the lid and secure by gently tightening the ring with your fingertips. 

Immerse the jars in boiling water and pull them out after 15 minutes and allow them to cool on a cooling rack. 

Cucumber Salsa

The summer heat has taken a slight break in my neck of the woods and I couldn’t be happier. It’s actually been cool enough for me to sit and relax on the patio during the last few evenings and listen to the hypnotic drone of the cicadas and watch the fireflies flickering through the trees. This is the sort of weather that begs for margaritas with chips and salsa. When it’s hot outside, I like to prepare this salsa. It starts out slightly spicy and finishes with a cool, refreshing bite.

Ingredients:
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1⁄2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp dried dill weed
1⁄2 tsp salt

Directions:
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for about one hour. Serve with sturdy, salty tortilla chips and margaritas!