Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

October 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall



Having spent my first seven years in California, I was introduced to Mexican food early in my life. Trips back to California, to the American Southwest, and to Mexico have refined my taste of Mexican cuisine, which is truly more sophisticated and complex than many people realize. As with any sophisticated cuisine, some dishes are more complex than others, and this enchilada sauce is one of those, but I've broken it into simpler components for ease in creating this delicious dish. I've followed it with a much easier recipe, traditional Guacamole. Serve them together with some white rice, and you have the red, green and white of the Mexican flag!

Try these recipes to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated on November 1, when the veil between the world is said to be thinnest (as with the Celtic Samhain). It is a holiday when ancestors and family are remembered. Your family and friends will remember you when you make these two delicacies for them!


All of the flavors of these enchiladas harmonize into an exciting whole. Admittedly, this is one of my most time-intensive recipes, but it's worth the investment (a friend who once lived in Mexico said that these enchiladas were the second-best Mexican food he had ever eaten … I have no intention of competing with someone's abuelita for the top position!). This is also one of my rare recipes that requires a blender (it's better than a food processor, although a food processor can be used, as can a large mortar and pestle for a truly labor-intensive process). Give the enchiladas a try using the chicken as specified, or any of the variations suggested at the end (or just make the sauce and use it for the yummy applications below). One complete recipe will provide about 4 hearty servings, 6 small servings, or 12 appetizer portions.

For the sauce:

For the chicken:

For the enchiladas:

Cook the chicken: Place the chicken in a large (10") saucepan with the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt, plus about 2 c water (to cover the chicken about half way). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes, covered, turning once or twice. To test doneness, pierce the thickest part of chicken with a sharp fork or knife; if the juices run clear, the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken to a dish, allow it to cool enough to handle, and removed all skin, bones and cartilage. Shred the chicken meat with your hands, and toss with about ½ c of the poaching liquid (NOTE: this poaching liquid can be refrigerated for a couple of days, or frozen for several months to use as a flavorful stock). The shredded chicken can be covered and refrigerated overnight at this point (the poaching liquid will cool to a gelatinous consistency; gentle heating will return the liquidity).

Make the sauce: Toast the dried chiles (whole) in a dry skillet or on a griddle/comal over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds per side, then turning and toasting them for 30 more seconds (the chiles will darken slightly, become more aromatic, and noticeably soften, so be sure to toast long enough for all three of these things to happen). Remove the chiles from the skillet and allow them to cool enough to handle. Tear the chiles open, and remove the stem and as many seeds and ribs as desired (the ribs have excessive heat, plus both the seeds and ribs have a slightly excessive bitter quality). Tear the chiles into pieces, place in a bowl, and add enough hot tap water to cover, about 1 cup (you can choose to boil some water for this, but I figure, "Why bother?"; it is less bother to place the chiles and their covering liquid into the microwave for about 30 seconds). Allow the chiles to rehydrate in the hot water for about 30 minutes.

To complete the sauce, take the chile pieces from the soaking water and place them into the blender canister; reserving the water. Add the garlic, and blend until smooth, scraping the sides of the canister if necessary to finely chop all of the garlic. Add the onion chunks, tomato sauce, oregano and ½ t salt, and blend until smooth. Taste the mixture to determine if more salt is necessary, whether the mixture is too thick (it should be quite loose; add a couple tablespoons of the chile soaking liquid if needed), and whether the sauce is too bitter (if bitter, add sugar ½ t at a time, blending and tasting until the flavor is balanced). When the blending is complete, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl, using a spoon or rubber spatula to press the sauce through, leaving the skin fragments and any seeds in the sieve so that they can be discarded after the outer surface of the sieve is scraped to get the last remnants of sauce; straining is important to avoid gastric distress. At this point, the sauce can be refrigerated overnight, or frozen up to a year.

Assemble the enchiladas: Heat an 8" skillet over medium high heat, add 1T of the fat and swirl until skillet bottom is covered, and continue heating until curls of steam rise. Add the sauce, and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn off heat, and continue stirring to avoid burning and to help cool the sauce so that it can be handled. Gently heat the shredded chicken if it has been refrigerated, or use at room temperature. Meanwhile, cook the tortillas by first separating them (they tend to stick together in the package), then re-stacking them. Wrap the entire stack in paper towels or a tea towel, place them in a bowl or a pie plate (for easy handling of the hot tortillas) and heat them in a microwave for about 1 minute (or in a steamer over boiling water for about 10 minutes; you can also lightly fry each one, but microwaving and steaming are much easier).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On the stovetop or on a work surface, arrange the chicken, cooled sauce, warm tortillas and cheese around an 8"x13" baking dish that has been greased with the remaining 1T of fat. Take one tortilla, dip into the sauce until one side is covered, then turn and dredge until the second side is covered with sauce, allow excess sauce to drip back into the skillet (you may want to scrape a bit of the sauce off the tortilla as well. Place the sauce-covered tortilla into the baking dish, spoon 1/12th of the chicken (about 2 T) into a line across the diameter of the tortilla, top with 1 T of cheese, and roll up, placing the rolled enchilada (edges down) at one end of the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining 11 tortillas, placing each rolled enchilada tightly next to the preceding one (depending on the exact shape of your baking dish, you may need to place the last one or two enchiladas perpendicular to the others, along the edge of the baking dish). All of the chicken will be used. Evenly scatter the remaining cheese on top of all of the enchiladas. Bake the enchiladas for about 20 minutes, just until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately with beans (see http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMar03.html for guidance), rice and a romaine salad dressed with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper (and certainly some guacamole on the side; see recipe below).

Leftover enchiladas can be wrapped and frozen, though the tortillas will tend to flake during reheating.


Any type of pre-cooked meat, poultry or fish can be used for these enchiladas. Whether the meat, poultry or fish has been pan-seared, grilled, roasted, barbequed, poached, fried, smoked or prepared otherwise, you can de-bone (if needed) and use the flesh in these enchiladas. You can even use small cubes of tofu in them, or leftover vegetables (steamed, roasted, fried, whatever)! The final flavor profile will be slightly different from the original recipe above, but flexibility is my goal in designing recipes, and your experimentation may create an even more satisfying flavor profile! You can also add some of the following ingredients, some being traditional, some being more contemporary: olives (green or black, pitted); capers; raisins; nopales (cactus strips, fresh or brined); pickled onions; fresh or pickled jalapenos; frijoles refritos (refried beans, also found at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMar03.html ); crema (substitute sour cream if unavailable), or use your imagination!


The [remaining] sauce can be used in breakfast burritos, or for chilaquiles, or even as a simple dip for tortilla chips. You can also use the sauce to barbeque your favorite meat or vegetables. It is so flexible, so delicious!


Every abuelita in Mexico has her own version of guacamole. My Irish mother had her own version. Here is mine (with a few variations, of course!).

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, starting with 2 T lime juice. Mix with a fork, using it to gently break up and smash the avocado, leaving it in small chunks. Serve immediately, or chilled, with tortilla chips.


Mexican Flag Guacamole: Prepare as above, but add ½ c finely diced fresh tomato and an additional ½ t salt. The name comes from the colors of this mixture: Green (avocado, chiles), White (onion, garlic) and Red (tomato).

Yule Guacamole: this version is inspired by Diana Kennedy, noted authority on Mexican cuisine, who reports that during the winter holiday season, pomegranate seeds are added to guacamole. To make my version of her recipe, add ½ c pomegranate seeds (about ½ of a pomegranate) to any version of Guacamole.

Tropical Guacamole: To any version of Guacamole, add ½ finely chopped fruit of your choice (mangoes, papayas, bananas, red or green apples [leave the red skin on!], red or green grapes (halved, with seeds removed), apricots, peaches, pears or plums.

Nutty Guacamole: A nice textural (and flavor) quality involves the addition of ½ c chopped (ideally toasted) nuts of your choice (cashews, pepitas, sunflower seeds, peanuts, Brazil nuts or your personal favorite) to any version of Guacamole.

Cilantro Guacamole: To any version of Guacamole, add 2-4 T chopped or torn fresh cilantro. There is a tradition that cilantro should not be used in tandem with lime juice, but if you like it, do it.


Add any version of guacamole to any other food. It's great on cooked beans (especially black beans; http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMar03.html and http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril03.html ). Use it as an excellent condiment (on top or inside) with Mexican or Southwestern food, such as your favorite enchiladas, burritos, tostadas or tacos. For breakfast or brunch, a dollop of guacamole is terrific on chilaquiles or scrambled eggs, or in a breakfast burrito. I like it on top of poached or pan-seared fish (with an additional squeeze of lime or lemon, please!). It's delicious alongside poached chicken with a summer salad tossed with a nice lime vinaigrette (especially using Romaine lettuce and crumbles of a dry Mexican cheese like cotija or anejo cheese, or use feta or pecorino/parmesan/asiago if you can't find Mexican cheeses). Add a spoonful to a hamburger, or to any other sandwich you are making. Remember, heating guacamole doesn't help it, but don't let that worry you as you experiment with your own applications.

Now you have the guidelines for a real fiesta to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or any other occasion that needs celebrating (say, next Tuesday, for example). Let me know how these recipes worked for your personal celebrations at 7 773.508.9208 or email me. Hasta la vista, mi amigos y amigas!