Everyone has dishes that are incredibly comforting, warming, and familiar. For me, these enchiladas are close to the top of that list. They're incredibly creamy, rich, cheesy, gooey, and decadent; bright from the chilies, redolent with flavor from the chicken and sharp cheese, and a bit crispy on the top from a long stretch in the oven. The sour cream sauce is rich without being too heavy. The filling is simple and hearty.
When I was an intern at the farm, I lived alone in an apartment in the college town of the university where I taught. Alone, of course, save my feral cat Giroux, but that's another story. I 'lived'- survived might be a better word- on a tiny stipend from the school, and was extremely busy. In order to make my food and time budgets work, I would spend a few days a month cooking casseroles, large batches of soups or stews, and various freezable dishes, and then I would pack them in individual glass containers and freeze them. Usually I would pick two or three meals, so I could rotate meals between them, and spend a whole weekend in the kitchen jamming on them. These enchiladas were in the rotation at least once a month. The original recipe came from the Pioneer Woman, many moons ago, but they've gone through many incarnations since then.
I would bring them in to work for lunch, and I shared an office with a coworker, so she often was privy to my eating habits. Eventually I would share one or two a month with her, and the rest of the staff constantly brought it up in staff meetings, etc. These enchiladas live on in infamy to this day at the farm. Point being: they are worth the effort. Even if you have to eat them for seven days straight. Whenever the occasion calls for giving a casserole away, this is always what I make. Round 2 would be lasagne, but that's for another day.
You can add as much heat as you like by adding some diced jalapenos or serranos to the filling when you add the green chilies. On days when I have the time/inclination, I'll substitute home-roasted poblanos for the canned chilies, but you can't beat the canned Hatch chilies for convenience. And they are pretty dang tasty, too. The filling can easily be molded to your whim- add some diced bell peppers, roasted peppers of your choice, or even some canned beans. It's all good.
Here's how it's done:
First, you need 2 1/2 cups cooked chicken. I like to poach chicken thighs for this recipe, because they stay really moist and tender, and cook quickly. If you have extra cooked chicken laying around, that will work great too.
Make sure you let the chicken cool all the way, then chop it into bite size pieces. Chopping it keeps it more moist, in my experience, than shredding.
While the chicken is cooling, prep your other filling ingredients. This is a recipe that definitely calls for mise en place, because the cooking is pretty hands on unless you have a helper to stir for you.
Don't be afraid, you only need a cup of sour cream. I have enough sour cream on hand to make three cheesecakes at any given moment.
Saute your onions in a large skillet over medium heat until they soften. Don't let them get brown...I was distracted.
Add the chilies, bell pepper, chicken, and spices.
Let everything cook together for 5-10 minutes, until it's all well married. Taste the filling often, as it has an almost remarkable ability to be bland, and season it thoroughly.
Add the heavy cream, because it's just the right thing to do, and let it cook another few minutes more.
Remove from the heat. Now, if you're like me, you only have one large, high-sided skillet. Which means now it's time to clean the skillet because you need it again. Sorry about that.
Preheat your oven to 350.
Melt the butter in your clean skillet over medium heat. While the butter is melting, measure out your chicken stock, and make sure you have all the other sauce ingredients at the ready.
Once the butter is melted, add the flour.
Now: this is important. Don;t walk away now! The next few minutes are key. As soon as the flour hits the pan, start whisking furiously. Furious whisking! It can go from fine to burned in record time.
At first it will be chunky...
...but it will come together and turn into a strange viscous liquid. You want to cook it until it turns a nutty shade of brown.
Not quite there yet.
There it is!
Congratulations, you've just made a roux. Am I talking to myself? Whatever.
Now, when you add the chicken stock, do so in a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly, to prevent clumps or the sauce from seizing. It should end up looking like this.
Keep whisking steadily for a few more minutes, and the sauce will start to bubble and thicken. After about five minutes, add the green chilies. The sauce should coat the back of your spoon.
Let cook three minutes more, stirring.
Now reduce the heat and add the sour cream.
Stir well to combine.
Then add the sharp cheddar. Heyo. (A few stray bits of pepper jack got in there too. It's okay.)
Stir until all the cheese has melted, then remove from the heat and add the cumin.
Stir well to combine, then taste and season as needed. Usually the cheese provides plenty of salt, so easy on the Pepsi there, Fuller. By the way, if you're ever in need of a fantastic queso recipe, just make this sauce. It is out-of-control good when you dip a chip into it. Or two. Or 100. Not that I would know.
Anyway, now you're ready to assemble!
Put a good amount of filling into the center of your first tortilla, then top with a bit of the pepper jack.
Roll it up and place it seam side down in your 9x13.
Continue this way until you have filled your casserole- usually about eight enchiladas. I used two dishes because I'm a rebel.
If you have filling left over, just drop it right on top.
Now it's time for the magic. Pour the sauce over the lot.
My mouth is watering right now. Honestly.
Now place your dish in your preheated oven and cook for about 30 minutes, or until they are nice and golden brown. You want it bubbly all over and crispy on the edges. Those crispy parts are magic.
Here's the recipe!