There are many foods that are created to use up stale bread. Croutons, obviously, but also panzanella, bread pudding, and of course French toast. In Mexico, stale tortillas are used to make tortilla chips, tortilla soup, and chilaquiles.
Chilaquiles are basically the best nachos ever. Sort of. Think hearty chips, simmered and/or baked in a tomato or tomatillo sauce that’s thickened with sour cream and enriched with chicken stock, and topped with queso fresco, radishes, and cilantro. I started making this dish after Sarah’s favorite lunch spot shut down. Their chilaquiles were better – partly because the chips were fried and partly because the sauce was really, really meaty tasting – but mine are pretty good.
To start, you need some good chips. You can go buy thick tortilla chips (get “homestyle” kind, or a local brand that’s made nearby), or you can bake your own. Just cut a stack of tortillas into sixths, toss with a few tablespoons of oil, and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 475 until crispy, about 15 minutes.
Of course, I used leftover homemade tortillas, but you can use store bought corn tortillas for your chips.
Once you have your chip situation sorted out, you make the sauce. This is a basic tomatillo sauce, but you can use the technique for tomato salsas as well, just add about 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar (tomatillos are really acidic). I like tomatillo sauces for chilaquiles and enchiladas, and tomato-based salsas for dipping (there’s also pico de gallo, which is uncooked).
Then set an oven rack to about 4 inches from the element and broil until everything looks like this:
(note: the jalapenos actually aren’t ready yet; I think that the juices from the tomatillos kept them from browning well. I put them back for a few minutes).
Smart readers will notice that I am combining tomatoes and tomatillos – I did this because tomatillos were expensive and I knew we had some extra ‘maters in the house. The sauce turned out well, but I probably wouldn’t combine them next time.
Anyway, once that’s done, put the whole thing in a blender or food processor (or put it in a bowl and use your immersion blender), throw in a handful of cilantro and a big pinch of salt, and puree. Stir in some sour cream and chicken stock until it tastes rich, salty, spicy, and creamy. It will look something like this:
Is it beautiful food? No. Is it easy to eat? No. But is it delicious? Yes.
serves 2, but easily doubled
- 1 lb. tomatillos
- 1/2 white or red onion
- 1 jalapeno
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 small handful cilantro, stems cut off, plus more chopped cilantro for serving
- 2 T sour cream, plus more for serving
- 1/4 cup chicken stock (or a 1/2 teaspoon of this stuff)
- about 30 thick corn tortilla chips (homemade or store bought)
- 1 cup shredded chicken (optional) [poach a single chicken breast or two thighs, or get one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. Or cook an extra portion if you’re making chicken earlier in the week].
- 1/2 – 1 cup cubed queso fresco or Monterey Jack
- sliced radishes for serving
Set an oven rack to the second-highest slot and preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut the tomatillos in half along the equator and slice the onion into 1/2 inch rings. Lay out the tomatillos, separated onion rings, jalapeno, and garlic cloves on the baking sheet. Broil, watching carefully, until the tomatillos and chile are blistered all over and the onion and garlic are lightly browned and wilty. You might need to take the onion and garlic out first.
Cut the chile in half and set one half aside. Transfer everything but the lone chile half to a food processor or blender and add the cilantro and a heavy pinch of salt. Blend until smooth. Add sour cream and chicken stock and stir, adding additional salt or sour cream as necessary. It should taste rich, chickeny, and spicy. If it needs more chile, add the other half.
Set the oven for 475 degrees.
In a small baking dish, layer the chips, sauce, chicken, and cheese, making sure that the chips get completely soaked in the sauce. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and the top chips are lightly browned. Serve with more sour cream, chopped cilantro, and sliced radishes.