My friend Eliah taught me how to make enchiladas. Her recipe utilized canned enchilada sauce . She recommended El Pato. The enchiladas were awesome even with the canned sauce. (Not everything has to be homemade.) It wasn’t until culinary school when my friend Phil said, “enchilada sauce is basically tomato sauce and chile powder” that I a light bulb went on inside my head. I can make my own enchilada sauce. If you read the label of the sauce, you will see that the ingredients are basically tomato sauce, chile powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin and a few other spices.
I set out to make my own sauce using toasted dried chiles. The first batch turned out better than any canned sauce I have ever tasted. Over the years I have refined the “recipe.” I use the broth from poaching the shredded chicken to intensify the flavor and the last time I made it, I decided to add a little bit of Mexican chocolate. I love the flavor of chiles and chocolate. This sauce took on a more mole characteristic but I would never dream of calling it mole sauce because mole is much more involved.
I realize that the tomato-based red enchilada sauce is the Americanized version and that authentic sauce is made with just chiles and thickened with a roux but I can’t help it. I like the tomato-based sauce.
Chicken Enchiladas in Red Chile Sauce
For shredded chicken filling
5 chicken breasts
4 cups water
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
½ medium onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
ancho chile, ground
For enchilada sauce
6-8 dried red chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 tablespoons oil
½ onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cups of reserved chicken broth
2 15-ounce cans of tomato sauce or puree
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ Ibarra Mexican chocolate tablet
1 can sliced black olives
1. Combine all ingredients from set A and poach chicken until cooked. Transfer chicken breasts to a bowl and refrigerate. Reduce broth to about 2 cups.
2. Toast dried red chiles in oven or cast iron skillet. Set aside.
3. Heat a large sauté pan, add oil and then add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent and then add cumin and toast until fragrant. Add toasted chiles and then add about 1 ½ cups reduced chicken broth and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Make sure chiles are submerged. You may need to weigh it down.
4. After the chiles have been simmering about 15 minutes, add Mexican oregano, sugar and Mexican chocolate. Simmer about 5 minutes more until chocolate is melted. Let sit and allow to cool a while.
5. Shred and season chicken with ingredients set B.
Use really a high quality ground chile. I get mine from a local spice shop here in Denver.
6. Puree in blender until smooth. Return sauce to pan and adjust seasoning and consistency. (Add more broth if too thick or simmer a while longer if too thin.)
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
8. In a medium skillet, heat about a teaspoon of oil and fry each tortilla and fill with chicken and cheese. Roll each enchilada and place in baking dish. Repeat until all enchiladas are filled. Top with sauce, cheese and sliced black olives.
9. Bake in preheated oven about 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Out of all the readily available Mexican chocolates, I prefer the Ibarra brand. I cannot stand the Abuelita brand made by Nestle. If you can get your hands on the real stuff...use it to make Mexican hot chocolate. The Ibarra brand works fine for this recipe. A friend once brought me an assortment of the real stuff from Mexico. I used it for hot chocolate.
I used New Mexico chiles this time. I prefer anchos but in Denver, New Mexico chiles are a lot easier to find than any other type of chile. I didn't want to drive to the hispanic store so I used what I had. The popular brand is from a Colorado chile company. They label these chiles as Chile de Ristra. It is a little misleading since a ristra refers to the hanging chile arrangement. Many different types of chiles (and even garlic) are arranged this way to dry. New Mexico chiles are a popular chile used for ristras in the New Mexico/Colorado region.