When I was in college in San Diego, I had authentic Baja-style Mexican food several times a week. And wherever I lived in California after that, I tried to find the Mexican places that reminded me most of the food I'd come to crave in San Diego. Although I've always enjoyed making Mexican food at home, it was just as easy to go grab carne asada street tacos or a big burrito at the five good restaurants or taco stands nearby. It's California comfort food.
Now that I live 3,700 miles from Baja, this brand of Mexican cuisine is difficult to find. I knew it was time for me to stand in the gap and make Mexican food in my own cocina before my family died of deprivation and depression from lack of the exquisite goodness that is a good plate of enchiladas.
The real money in this recipe is the homemade sauce. If you can make this, you can have it on hand for any recipe that calls for red enchilada sauce – soups, huevos rancheros, wet burritos, chilaquiles or your favorite enchilada recipe. It's so delicious and simple, you won't want to use a canned sauce ever again. You can customize it to suit your tastes by adjusting the spice level. Serve these enchiladas with some sour cream, fresh cilantro and/or avocado slices.
Chicken enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce
To make sauce:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water, plus more as needed for consistency
To make chicken enchiladas:
4 chicken breast halves
14 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded jack cheese
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1. Place a Dutch oven or a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Swirl the canola oil on the bottom of the pan. Add onions, jalapeño and garlic. Cook until fragrant and tender. Stir in chili powder, cumin, sugar and salt. Stir and allow the spices to toast, about 2 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce and water. Simmer 5 minutes.*
2. Place four chicken breast halves in the pot with the tomato mixture and simmer 1 hour, until the chicken shreds easily with a fork and has absorbed all the flavors. Add water as needed to keep the sauce thin and runny.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a 13-by-9-inch pan. Remove pot from heat and transfer chicken to a mixing bowl. Shred the chicken.
4. Transfer cooled enchilada sauce to a blender and whirl until smooth. Put 1/4 cup of the sauce and a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese into the bowl of shredded chicken and stir to combine.
5. Steam the corn tortillas in a tortilla warmer in the microwave, about 2 minutes, until they are hot and pliable. (If you don't have a tortilla warmer, a Ziploc bag works well.) Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the shredded chicken mixture onto the center of a warm tortilla, roll, and place seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat until all the chicken has been used. Pour remaining sauce over the entire pan of enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over top. Sprinkle green onions over the cheese.
6. Bake 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is gooey and melted. Serve enchiladas hot with cilantro and sour cream, if desired. Recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen.
*If you are making the enchilada sauce for a different use: After the mixture has simmered, allow it to cool and then process in a blender until smooth. Cover and store the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Maya Evoy lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.