Smoky Chicken Enchiladas

The smoky flavor of these enchiladas comes from chipotle chiles, smoked jalapeños. In the style of central Mexico I balance the heat of the chiles with the sweetness of raisins and aromatic spices. The result is unlike any Tex-Mex enchilada you may have had. And unlike Mexican chain restaurants that bury everything under mounds of cheap government-subsidized cheese I add just enough cheddar to provide a soft finish to the dish. A word of caution: as I make it this dish is rather spicy. If you prefer less heat you should use fewer chipotles the first time you make it. The list of ingredients and the number of steps may seem daunting but this is really a pretty easy dish to make. And you can save some time by using leftover chicken or turkey instead of poaching chicken thighs.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried marjoram
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 or 4 dried chipotle chiles or canned chipotles en adobo
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes (in the summer I use fresh tomatoes but the rest of the year canned are better)
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese

Method

Rinse and dry the chicken thighs. Heat 1 tsp. of oil in a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. Place the thighs in the pot, skin-side down, and brown for about 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side in the rendered chicken fat. Remove to a plate and pour off the fat and discard (or, if you do traditional Jewish cooking, add to your schmaltz pot).

Return the chicken to the pot along with the onion, garlic, bay leaves, and marjoram. Add enough water to just cover, about 4 or 5 cups. Season with ½ tsp. of salt and pepper to taste. Bring just to a boil then cover and turn the heat to low so that thighs poach in water that is not quite to the boiling point. After 25 minutes check the temperature of the meat in the thickest part of the thighs. It should be at 180°. If it is not, return to the heat for a few more minutes.

When the meat is done remove to a plate. Strain the broth and save for another use. When the chick is cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bones and shred with your fingers. Set aside the shredded meat and discard the skin and bones.

Toast the dried chipotles in a dry cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, turning and flattening often, until softened and a bit charred. Place in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to rehydrate for 30 minutes. (Canned chipotles en adobo need only be removed from the can.)

In the same skillet you used for the chipotles, roast the unpeeled garlic cloves, turning from time to time, until soft and blackened in spots. Allow to cool a bit and peel. Put the garlic, chipotles, and tomatoes into a food processor and chop to a medium puree.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat in the pot you poached the chicken in until it just begins to smoke. Add the puree all at once and stirring constantly cook until it thickens. It is done with the bubbles leave little craters. Taste and adjust salt. Set aside.

Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel and place in a steamer over boiling water. Turn off the heat under the steamer and leave the tortillas until ready to use.

In a large non-stick skillet heat another 1 Tbsp. of oil medium heat and sauté the diced onion until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the shredded chicken then sprinkle with the cinnamon and cloves. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the raisins and ¼ cup of the sauce. Continue to cook, stirring, until well combined and heated through. Add salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a small baking dish. Place a quantity of shredded chicken on a tortilla and roll then set in the baking dish. Repeat until the tortillas and filling are used up. Pour the remaining sauce over the rolled tortillas and spread on the cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

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