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In the Kitchen with .. Chilaquiles
updated: Nov 07, 2009, 9:07 AM
By Leah Etling
For those of you who need a little motivation to read through to the end, here's what we're making this week:
For three months this year, I lived and cooked daily meals in a van, which had a two-burner stove, refrigerator, and a microwave. It was much more efficient set-up than a tent, but there was very little room to make a mess with food preparation. And, as I discovered as we traveled the west, most of America doesn't have the same options for eating that we do here in Santa Barbara.
Things we missed: avocadoes, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market, baked goods from a bakery or the home oven, good bread, fresh pasta, locally grown tomatoes, Mexican food, cheese beyond cheddar, organic stuff like spinach and basil, beer that wasn't Bud, and wine that didn't come in a box. We're not food snobs, and our eating is always on a budget, but we sure do like things that taste good.
So when we got back home to Santa Barbara, I got really excited about cooking again. The point of this column is to share that excitement, write about making things that taste good, and hopefully set up a forum where we can all share recipes and suggestions and ideas. That's one of the things I love about Edhat, the sharing and community part that is unavailable anywhere else. So, welcome to my virtual kitchen. Sometimes there are crumbs on the floor, but other than that I keep it clean.
In celebration of this new idea and its SB roots, I decided to ask my friends what dish symbolizes Santa Barbara to them. I cheated and asked them on Facebook (it's amazing how much easier social media has made it for me to do my job).
Here are some of the things they said:
• Chilaquiles. Or anything with avocado that doesn't usually have it, like Avocado Benedict.
• Burrito mojado from Los Arroyos.
• In N Out Burger, with a Wipeout from Longboards for dessert.
• Almost anything from La Super Rica. Handmade tortillas, salsa and pechugas de pollo.
• Tri tip from Cold Spring Tavern, or tacos.
• Ooo... I miss La Super Rica.
And it went on from there.
What could I take from that into the kitchen? Well, anything with avocado is a sentiment I totally agree with (including hamburgers and breakfast foods). I'd never made chilaquiles before. So, I decided to do a non-homemade taste test first.
For that, we wandered over to Steve's on De la Vina for breakfast on Halloween Saturday. Cool place because everyone there is very local and happy and nice to each other. Something about eating on a porch really helps with that. And, the food's good and reasonably priced. Chilaquiles aren't on the menu, but they are a perpetual special. They are huge and spicy and delicious with a lot of egg, just the right amount of cheese, and the perfect tortillas - not soggy but moist, not crispy but slightly crunchy, and not overbearing to the eggs. You can make them with chicken or beef but I don't do meat for breakfast very often. (Except Danish medisterpolse, which I'll surely get to in a future column.) Topped with sour cream and a perfect avocado, I was very happy with the Steve's version of this dish, even though there was so much on my plate I couldn't finish it.
I figured the tortillas were going to be the hard part of this experiment. Traditional chilaquile tortillas are supposed to be old, just about to get stale leftovers, but somehow duplicating that on purpose seemed silly Let's see, to make it taste good, I'll take something fresh and ruin it ... hmm.
When I looked up recipes on the Internet, I found that the experts recommended using stale ones. So, I bought some locally made tortillas and set them out on the counter for 36 hours.
Then I needed some truly authentic ingredients, like red and green chile sauce, crema, and queso fresco. So, I put out a call on Edhat for a recommendation to the best Mexican market. Santa Cruz on Montecito Street got several votes very fast, so that's where I went. They had everything I wanted and the staff was super helpful and friendly. I think they could go toe to toe with Gelson's in a "can we help you find anything" faceoff.
Here's a photo of the ingredients I bought:
I took a recipe from the Internet and adapted it to the sort of chilaquiles I wanted to make. Here's a link to the recipe. I picked this one because it actually used authentic ingredients, including one I'd never heard of, epazote, which they didn't have at Santa Cruz market.
My process was:
1. Cut up the partially stale tortillas and fry them in canola oil. Be sure you don't cut the strips too small. This was a mistake I made. They need to be at least an inch thick.
2. When they are crispy, take them out and use a paper towel to get the excess oil off.
3. Reduce the remaining oil in the pan and add about a cup of chile sauce. (I made green and red versions, so I used two different pans.)
4. Put the tortillas back in the sauce and cook until reduced.
5. In a separate pan, make your eggs. They could be scrambled or fried. I made scrambled but I think next time I'd go for fried.
6. When the sauce has sufficiently saturated the tortillas, add your eggs, cheese (queso fresco, I added a little cheddar and jack too), cilantro, and any other ingredients. I threw in a few pieces of chicken and black beans salvaged from some tortilla soup I'd made the night before. After all, chilaquiles are typically just a big leftover fiesta.
7. Top with sour cream, Mexican crema or crème faiche for the gourmet set.
8. Add avocado.
How'd they turn out? I'd say I hit about a .5. The green ones for some reason were way better than the red. I think that may be because there was too much sauce in the red pan and too few tortillas. But, the green ones were delicious! Very filling. No potatoes needed on the side.
Please share your chilaquiles tips and recipes in the comments section, so I can do a better job next time. Thanks for reading!
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