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Eating In: Chicken Enchilada Suiza, or the Tomatillo Cometh

By Kevin Grzyb in Food on Jan 24, 2006 7:15PM

CES-1_JAN_2006.gifThis recipe was adopted from the first season of Rick Bayless’ PBS cooking/Mexican culture show Mexico: One Plate at a Time. We saw this episode and had to try this recipe it was everything we had been hoping for in make at home Mexican cuisine; authentic, modestly complicated, but not restrictively so, and decadent (and we do love decadent).

CES-2_JAN_2006.gifThe decadent part comes in the form of the “suiza”; meaning Swiss style, or in the vernacular: make the sauce creamy and cover in cheesy goodness. People seem to either love or hate Bayless. Foodies are amazed by his restaurants, but seem hit or miss on the PBS show. We like the respectful combination of identifying the food in its cultural relevance to the Mexican state of its origin and then the straightforward interpretation of the recipe to the American kitchen with ingredients that are commonly available with little more effort than finding a Mexican grocer.

CES-3_JAN_2006.gifAlthough this recipe does hark back to the over Americanized (bastardized), covered in cheese and sour cream, faux Mexican fare served up by disgruntled suburban wait staff at ChiChi’s, which it can be if you take the easy way out; meaning prepackaged shredded cheddar or Monterey jack and sour cream. But it can be so much richer and deeper in complexity if you take the time to get real Mexican style crema and Chihuahua cheese. But those are accents for one of the most underrated of Mexican vegetables, the tomatillo. You can hear in Bayless’ voice each time he uses these addictively tangy, sour little gems in a recipe on the show, he has an affinity for them. We do too.

To start you need chicken, shredded chicken is the best form, so slow roasting or boiling are good methods to prepare the chicken meat.

The sauce has a roasted tomatillo base, so firstly get the tomatillos and remove the papery husks. They are slightly sticky to the touch, so rinse them under warm water and blot dry on a paper towel. Place in a large bowl with the chili peppers (seranos, we use about five or six, but we like it kind of spicy and the cream and cheese cut the heat, any peppers will work, you can even roast poblanos to get the pepper flavor, without much heat) and toss lightly with olive oil. Roast the tomatillos and peppers under a broiler until they are blackened on all sides. Some may collapse, you’ll know what this means when you see it. CES-6_JAN_2006.gifTransfer to a blender (of food processor) and pulse until pureed. Next is where it gets a little complicated. Pour the pureed tomatillo/pepper mix into a sauce pan through a strainer or sieve. Push the puree around in the strainer with the back of a spoon until all that is left is seeds and bits of skin, discard those. Usually we’ve already sautéed some onion and garlic in the sauce pan that we add the puree into. Now, this is the start of the long, slow process, over medium/slow heat reduce the tomatillo puree by half or more stirring regularly. CES-7_JAN_2006.gif
Then add chicken broth, or stock, we’ve used boiled chicken for this recipe and use the leftover water, which is basically broth. You want to not quite double the amount of puree that you have left after reducing. Then you let the sauce reduce again. Now is when we add the herbs, finely chopped epazote is awesome in this preparation. The Mexican grocery we stop by on the way home from work has fresh epazote a couple of days a week. If you can’t find epazote a combination of cilantro and oregano will work. Look for a consistency vaguely reminiscent of a tomato sauce for pasta. When you reach the consistency your looking for, turn off the heat.

Next start your tortillas, again a Mexican market will have fresh made tortillas that are cheap and tasty, or if you’re really up for it make your own. If you use store bought, get a clean dish/kitchen towel, drizzle a few tablespoons of water on it and wrap the pile of tortillas. Then microwave for two minutes and let sit for ten minutes, this will steam the tortillas and keep them from splitting when you roll the enchiladas.

Finishing the sauce, add crema or sour cream, about a half cup, and stir in. We season (salt and pepper) at this point, if you use canned broth or stock, you may not need salt. We then toss a few spoonfuls of sauce into the chicken to keep it moist while cooking.

Take chicken and roll in tortilla, place into a casserole pan, line then up until the pan is full. Pour the sauce over the CES-9_JAN_2006.giftop and spread evenly, cover with Chihuahua cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through and cheese is melted. Then place under broiler to brown up the cheese.

Serve with a salad and beer, after and appetizer of fresh made guacamole and chips.
We have made this dish a few dozen times over the past few yearsCES-10_JAN_2006.gif, almost once a month, it seems. It is one of those dishes that gets served to people that we want to cook for, really put on a good show, but keep it casual and serve up dinner family style. There have been many variances and changes to the process and methodology. We’ve done it with a single reduction for speed, without roasting the tomatillos, CES-11_JAN_2006.gif with a mix of tomatillos and tomatoes, once or twice we didthe entire process on the grill - even the reductions as the chicken slow roasted on the spit, and it has always been great. Everyone we’ve served it to has come back for second, even a friends wife who is so thin, she doesn’t look like she eats, she scarfed it down. We ran into our uncle, in his pj’s, fork in hand, digging into the CES-12_JAN_2006.gifleftover in the casserole pan, illuminated by the refrigerator light at 2:00 in the morning when we got up to change a diaper on a visit. It’s that addictively good.

At one point I ran into Chef Bayless at a cooking event and talked to him for a minute. I told him I had to admit; I took this dish from his show and have basically called it my own recipe CES-13_JAN_2006.giffor the past few years. He smiled and erupted, “Good, you should, that’s what it’s about….” and laughed about my uncle in his pajamas.