My answer to New Mexico’s state question — red or green? — is almost always “Christmas,” which means both. I already have a great recipe for green chile enchiladas, so I thought I’d post up my recipe for enchiladas rojas, or red enchiladas.
So yes, I know that many New Mexicans prefer stacked enchiladas, and they are fantastic. That said, most people outside of NewMex prefer rolled, so I went with these. Also, yes, this is a Desert Southwest recipe, not a Mexican one. Hundreds of variations on enchiladas exist south of the border, and I will get to them, eventually.
Enchiladas rojas are serious comfort food, not unlike lasagna in Italy. Soft, warm, just a touch picoso, they’re also thrifty.
You can make fantastic enchiladas with leftover meat and stale tortillas, and you can make the red enchilada sauce up to a week, or even two weeks, ahead. With the bones of the dish hanging around in your fridge, you can make a batch of red enchiladas easily on a work night.
Any meat works here. I like to use either shredded leftover meat or tender, raw meat cut into small dice. Yes, raw. If you use something like venison loin, or grouse or turkey breasts, they will cook perfectly in the baking process; this avoids overcooking.
If this horrifies you, just cook the meat first. I won’t mind. But know that the breast meat of any bird, or tender red meat, will cook beautifully this way.
When you make your red enchilada sauce, you are looking for reasonably hot, not truly hot, dried chiles. Obviously the various NewMex chiles are good choices, as are California chiles, which are basically dried Anaheims. For Mexican chiles you’d want guajillos for a bright red sauce, or anchos or pasillas for a darker, more brick-red sauce.
If you want the sauce to be muy picante, my advice is actually to add the hot sauce of your choice at the table, rather than to include seriously hot chiles in the red enchilada sauce itself. That lets everyone get the heat they want.
A word on how I soften the tortillas for the enchiladas. I prefer to limit the amount of fat in my enchiladas, so I don’t fry the tortillas in oil first, the way many people do. I find that heating them up on a comal or cast iron frying pan, then letting them steam in a tortilla warmer or somesuch does the trick without the added oil.
If you want to fry your tortillas, just pass them through the hot oil a few seconds to soften.
Once made, your enchiladas rojas will keep in the fridge up to a week, and are excellent reheated for weekday lunches.
Red Chile Enchiladas
Red Chile Sauce
- ½ pound dried red chiles (New Mexican, ancho, guajillo, etc)
- 3 tablespoons lard or cooking oil
- 1 large white onion, cut in quarters
- 4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons oregano, Mexican if possible
- 1 quart stock, preferably homemade
- Salt, smoked salt if you have it
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 pound diced meat
- Salt, smoked salt if you have it
- About 1/2 cup red chile sauce (see above)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 12 ounces shredded Monterey Jack and/or cheddar cheese (5 ounces for the filling, the rest as topping)
- 1 cup minced white onion
- Fifteen 6-inch tortillas
- Prep the chile sauce. Start by taking the stems off and opening the chiles to shake out the seeds. Flatten them as best you can. Heat a cast iron skillet or better yet, a Mexican comal over high heat. When it is blazing hot, toast the chiles. Press them down with a spatula for just a couple seconds: When they blister, flip them and do the other side. Remove to a bowl.
- When all the chiles have been toasted, char the quartered onion and the garlic cloves on the comal or skillet. You want some blackening. The garlic cloves will blacken first, so watch them.
- Now that you have everything smoky and charred, tear the chiles in pieces. Chop the onion. Peel the garlic. Heat the lard or vegetable oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the chiles, onions and garlic and saute for a minute or two. Pour in the stock, add the cumin and oregano and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste and simmer gently until the chiles are soft, about 20 minutes.
- Puree the sauce in a blender. This sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the fridge.
- Make the filling. Cut the meat into pieces about the size of your fingernail. Salt well. Mix with about 1/4 cup of the red chile sauce, the chopped sage as well as about 5 ounces of cheese and the minced white onion.
- Prep the tortillas. Heat the tortillas on a comal or other heavy skillet until they blacken a little. Then put them in a tortilla warmer, or stack on a plate and put a bowl over them. Let them steam a few minutes before building the enchiladas.
- Build the enchiladas. Pour a little red chile sauce into a casserole dish. Dip a tortilla in the red chile sauce briefly and shake off the excess. Fill a tortilla with a little of the filling and roll it up. Place seam-side down on the casserole. Repeat until you’re done. You should get about 15 tortillas.
- Pour more red chile sauce over the enchiladas and top with lots of the shredded cheese. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes and serve.