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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 09:21 am

Chico and the enchilada

A rare opportunity to learn from a true-blue home cook

Untitled Document Chico was just some guy I had heard about through my friend Karla. An Aztec dancer     living in San Francisco, Chico had blown into Washington for a night, bunking with our mutual friend. I stopped by to say hello to Karla, and Chico and I met as he was waking from a nap. After a cup of coffee, he announced, he would begin making dinner. Would I like to stay for enchiladas? For a few minutes, I held off from accepting the invitation from this friend of a friend whose food I knew nothing about. Before my trepidation could set in, Chico got to work, assembling his ingredients (which he carried on the plane).
Instinctively I knew that this was a rare opportunity to learn from a true-blue home cook, both passionate and excited to show me the enchilada ropes. For years I had wanted to learn this comfy Mexican classic but had been put off by the flavorless mountain of cheese often found in restaurant versions. I rolled up my sleeves and said, “Yes, please.”
Within 90 minutes, I had learned the anatomy of an enchilada and discovered that although best prepared by a team, the dish is straightforward and fairly uncomplicated. Although I may never see him again, I’ll always remember Chico for his impassioned cooking lesson, mano-a-mano, a stranger who quickly became my friend.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Chico’s Chicken Enchiladas

Two chicken breasts and thighs, or one whole    chicken, cut up Soft corn tortillas (estimate two per person) Vegetable oil of choice 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed     (alternatively, 1 13-ounce can of tomatillos,     drained; sauce is also available commercially     in jars) One jalapeño, seeded and chopped (use a     serrano for less spicy results) Four scallions, cleaned, green tops only 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped Juice of half a lime 2/3 cup chicken stock Salt to taste 1/2 to 1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded Sour cream for garnish (optional)
Bring a deep pot of water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and add chicken parts. Lower heat and cook over medium heat, until meat is cooked all the way through, about 30 minutes. With a pair of tongs, remove chicken from pot and allow it to cool. Remove the skin. With a fork, pull the chicken away from the bone and shred it into strips. Set chicken aside. In a saucepan, bring some water to a boil and add tomatillos. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain. Place in a blender or food processor, then add the chiles, scallions, cilantro, and lime juice. Pulse and begin to puree. Gradually add stock until you have a fairly thin consistency. Add salt to taste. Pour into a small saucepan and keep on very low heat to warm. In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until well-warmed and add tortillas, one by one, cooking on each side for about 10 seconds. Remove the tortillas with tongs and allow them to drain on paper towels. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay tortillas on a flat surface, one at a time. Add just enough chicken to cover the center of the tortilla from left to right. Add two tablespoons of enchilada sauce, followed by a small amount of cheese. Beginning at the end closest to you, roll the tortilla and tighten it slightly as you near the middle. Place tortillas seam side down in a baking dish. When all tortillas are rolled and fit snugly into dish, pour sauce over entire surface and finish off with remaining cheese. Place dish in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Serve piping hot. Makes six servings.
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