Kitchen Witch - Chico's chicken enchiladas

A comfy Mexican classic

Chico was just some guy I had heard about through my friend, Karla. An Aztec dancer living in San Francisco, Chico had blown into Washington for a night, bunking with our mutual friend.

I stopped by to say hello to Karla, and Chico and I met as he was just waking from a nap. After a cup of coffee, he announced, he would begin making dinner. Would I like to stay for enchiladas?

For a few minutes, I held off from accepting the invitation from this friend of a friend whose food I knew nothing about. Before my trepidation could set in, Chico got to work, assembling his mise en place (which he carried on the plane).

Instinctively, I knew this was a rare opportunity to learn from a true-blue home cook, both passionate and excited to show me the enchilada ropes. For years, I had wanted to learn this comfy Mexican classic but had been put off by the flavorless mountain of cheese often found in restaurant versions. I rolled up my sleeves and said, "yes, please."

Within 90 minutes, I learned the anatomy of an enchilada and discovered that, although best done as a team, the dish is straightforward and fairly uncomplicated. Although I may never see him again, I'll always remember Chico for his impassioned cooking lesson, mano a mano, a stranger who quickly became my friend.

Chico's chicken enchiladas

2 chicken breasts and thighs, or 1 whole chicken, cut up

Soft corn tortillas (estimate 2 per person)

Vegetable oil of choice

1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed (Alternatively, 1 13-ounce can tomatillos, drained. Sauce also available commercially in jars.)

1 jalapeƱo, seeded and chopped (use a serrano for less spicy results)

4 scallions, cleaned, green tops only

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime

2/3 cup chicken stock

Salt to taste

1/2 to 1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Sour cream for garnish (optional)

Bring a deep pot of water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt and add chicken parts. Lower heat and cook over medium heat, until meat is cooked all the way through, about 30 minutes. With a pair of tongs, remove chicken from pot and allow to cool. Remove skin. With a fork, pull chicken away from bone and shred into strips. Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring some water to a boil and add tomatillos. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain. Place in a blender or food processor, and add the chilies, scallions, cilantro and lime juice. Pulse and begin to puree. Gradually add stock, until you have a fairly thin consistency. Add salt to taste. Pour into a small saucepan and keep on very low heat to warm.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until well-warmed and add tortillas, one by one, cooking on each side for about 10 seconds. Remove with tongs and allow to drain on paper towels. Preheat oven to 350.

Lay tortillas on a flat surface, one at a time. Place just enough chicken to cover center of tortilla from left to right. Add two tablespoons enchilada sauce, followed by a small amount of cheese. Beginning at end closest to you, roll tortilla and tighten slightly as you near the middle. Place seam side down into a baking dish. When all tortillas are rolled and fit snugly into dish, pour sauce over entire surface and finish off with remaining cheese.

Place dish into oven and bake for 10 minutes. Serve piping hot. Makes six servings.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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