Enchiladas Tacuba Style
In the latter part of my six-grade year our class, along with all the other sixth grade elementary schools in the city, took a field trip to a local junior high school to attend a theatrical production. Prior to that the only theatre I had been subjected to was the four years of summer camp where, among other things, we practiced a play to perform at the annual end of summer show. In fact each elementary school in town had the same summer program and each would come up with a short play to perform with the help of the camp counselors provided by the city’s parks and recreation department. The end of summer show was pretty much like what you see in every kid's "summer camp" movie and if you have kids you'll know what I'm talking about when I say some of the kids were trees and others were rocks. I attended the summer camp program several years in a row. One year I was Captain Hook in the heavily-edited version of Peter Pan. In the years after that I was the Master of Ceremonies for the show. I actually had the best time as the M.C. despite how much I liked playing Captain Hook in that first year. As M.C. my main job was to introduce each school in turn and what act they would be performing. I even had a little monologue at the beginning of the show. The script was written for me on 3 x 5 cards and all I had to do was read them when the time came. Knowing I could not read the cards and look out at the audience at the same time however, I opted to memorize the cards so I wouldn’t have to constantly look down while onstage. I was also petrified I was going to drop them or read them out of order, or lose my place and re-read or skip some section of the card.
There was plenty of time ahead of the show to memorize the cards and I did pretty well. I would stand in my room at home and recite them word (almost) for word while staring at the dresser. Of course on the day of the show, when I stood backstage, all of a sudden I found myself with little to no memory of what those cards said at all. So while I waited for my cue to go on I would read and re-read the next few cards trying to put them back in my brain before I made my entrance. When I got onstage I could usually remember the name of the school and the title of what they were performing pretty easily, so that part went on without a hitch. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, I would intone, “our next act is all the way from Monroe school (perhaps I would add a sweeping hand gesture here as if Monroe school wasn’t just over the hill a little less than a mile away) and they will be performing a timeless classic”… (Here I would pause for dramatic effect) “Cinderella”. At the end of the act I would stroll back onstage, step up to the microphone, remind the audience of the schools name and usually add some sort of acclamation. “That was Monroe School, performing Cinderella, what a wonderful job, wasn’t that great? A number of times I would add in things like the main actors names or the director or some other piece of pertinent information that I had read from my cards just moments before, but many times, I would forget those parts and just keep saying what a wonderful act it was, until the applause died down.
Between the acts as the crew hurriedly reset the stage, I had a different handful of cue cards (that I never memorized) which had some patter and/or some very bad riddles written on them. Some of the cards had statistics on them like how many kids participated in the summer program this year, or how many schools were represented in the show that night. Others had things like, who the sponsors were, or who the staff wished to thank. The idea was that I would read these few cards, get a round of applause for some sponsor or the Parks and Rec Department for allowing us to use the rec center, and by the time I was done the stage would have been reset and the next group of actors would be ready. When the cards ran out and the crew still needed time to set up, or the actors needed more time I would get the stretch signal from of the camp counselors and I would have to improvise something. The first few times, when I got the stretch signal (which was almost between every act) panic would set in. I can remember looking out over the audience scanning each person for inspiration as if I would magically find words to say in their faces or look down at the cards as if new words would have somehow appeared. Somehow, I always muddled though, which I attribute to my inability to stay quiet for any length of time. When the crew finally got everything together I would get the go-ahead signal and I would stop whatever I was saying mid-sentence and announce: "without further ado, here's our next act..." After the intro I would jet offstage and grab the nearest chair letting all the pent up panic out in heaps of heavy breathing and shaking, then quickly grab the next set of cards and try to memorize what was on them.
By the last year I was a much more comfortable with the whole process and ad-libbing between the acts almost became second nature. I actually got pretty good at the whole thing. I really think I would be a terrific talk and/or variety show host. But then everyone thinks that. Right?
Anyway, back to the sixth grade field trip. I remember being loaded onto the bus and making the trip over to the junior high school campus that I would be attending the next year. When we arrived we were shuffled, single file, towards the theatre along with countless other kids from the other schools. I remember the trek from the parking lot along the narrow walkway in front of the school and up two or three steps into a small atrium outside of the theatre. As we were ushered through the doors I couldn't help but be impressed. Unlike the elementary school auditorium this place didn’t have to double as the cafeteria and was lushly carpeted, with cushioned seats covered in deep red, velvety fabric. Kids filled row after row of seats, and there was definitely an excitement in the air. We filed in through the massive double doors and lead just a short distance to our seats, which were located in the very back left corner. In fact I was seated in the next to last seat in the last row, on the very far side. At the time I didn’t mind sitting in the back, but now I definitely need to sit in the very center seat of a row in the movie theatre, or I’m just not comfortable. I always wonder if that stemmed from this first theatre experience. On that day I figured out that if I let the seat flip up, into its unoccupied position, I could precariously balance on the edge and see above the people in front of me a bit better. I sat that way for most of the show. The play was called “The Tiger in Traction” and I remember three things about it. One, the show took place in a hospital room that was many stories high, (20 at least!); Two, at one point in the show one of the characters (I think the tiger) leaps from a window even after being specifically warned about how far down it was, at which time I gasped in horror (much to the "amusement" of the people around me) but just a few minutes later was pushed back into the room in a wheelchair completely bandaged up, her leg in a cast. It was at that time that I breathed a huge sigh of relief that she was indeed still alive.
The third thing I remember was at the end of the show as the entire cast took their bows, I turned to my friend who sat in the very corner seat and while applauding as loudly as I could, I yelled “I’m going to do that next year”! I had to be a part of this magic. I had to learn how to jump from a 20 story building and come back in bandages less than a minute later... I had to figure out how to make a hospital building and how to look through it’s windows and see sky... I had to know how it could be nighttime outside that hospital window, when it was clearly only 11:00 AM when we arrived... And I just knew I wanted to be funny like those people on stage, getting people to laugh and applaud.
So if you’ve been following along you’ll likely remember that I started at this elementary school by joining the orchestra, but was waylaid by a perforated eardrum. Then I joined the glee club and even had a solo in the Christmas concert, but now, everything had become crystal clear. It wasn’t about orchestra, it wasn’t about singing, it was about performing in general, being up on the stage and making people laugh… yes, performing was my destiny. Or was it? Stay tuned... but for now let’s talk about these fantastic enchiladas.
For a very long time I made enchiladas by buying a can of red enchilada sauce from the supermarket and following whatever recipe was written on the back. One day I discovered this man named Rick Bayless. If you know him... great, if not you can Google him later. Suffice it to say after watching him make a red enchilada sauce I never went back to the canned stuff again. When I first saw him make these enchiladas I said, "no way, I will never make these". I could not imagine how mixing chicken stock and milk together then blending it with spinach and poblano peppers could possibly be any good. After watching the show a few more times though I decided to try it, especially, since I liked his red enchiladas so much. Boy, I could not have been more surprised by how good they were. I should have known really, I mean, come on it was Rick Bayless! Oh, and Rick, you know to stop by if you’re ever in the neighborhood, right? It would be an honor to have you teach me more stuff. These enchiladas were originally shown on his program Mexico: One Plate at a Time, but now it can be found featured in various blogs, Pinterest, and of course his own web site RickBayless.com.
What's fantastic about these enchiladas is that it's really all about the sauce. It's basically a béchamel sauce with Poblanos and spinach in it. That means that you can make almost any type of enchilada you like. I have made these vegetarian by filling my tortillas with a combination of spinach, black beans, corn and cheese among other things (and substituting vegetable stock for the chicken stock) and I have made them using shredded beef and cheese as well as making them as written with just shredded chicken. Each one is as good as the next. Enchiladas definitely lend themselves to personalization and that, as you should know, is a huge plus in my book. I am going to pass on the recipe as Mr. B wrote it all those many years ago, and as always share a few of my insights along the way. The first of which is this. Your going to need about three cups of cooked chicken to make these and I always hate when I start a recipe and it calls for a precooked item and I have to put everything on hold while I cook that item. So right up front you actually have two choices: you can buy a precooked rotisserie chicken from your supermarket or simply bake, grill or use leftover already cooked chicken. About three cooked chicken breasts will usually suffice. The second thing is that I often add other things to my Enchiladas besides the chicken. A little grated cheese maybe, some black beans, perhaps a little corn, whatever I think might taste good. So while the recipe below is made with just chicken feel free to adjust it to your liking. You will also need a 13 x 9 inch backing dish or you can use smaller individual (9-inch or so) baking/serving dishes whichever you like, so have those ready.
Here is where we begin...
2 fresh poblano chiles
1 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped spinach leaves
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken
12 corn tortillas
vegetable oil (for brushing)
1 cup Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, quesadilla, or similar) or Monterey Jack.
2 – 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish – optional
First make the sauce.
Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame or by placing on a baking sheet and putting it about 4 inches below a very hot broiler (I have a gas grill that can get very hot, so I use that). Turn the peppers often until the skins have blackened and blistered all over. Getting them nice and black will take about 5 or 6 minutes if you use an open flame depending on the heat output and about 10 minutes or so under the broiler.
When the peppers are good and black all over, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them hang out there for about 15 minutes until they are cool enough to handle.
Take each pepper and rub off the blackened skin and also tear open the pepper and remove the stem and seeds. Some small bits of charred skin may remain on the pepper and that’s ok.
* Rick says to quickly rinse the peppers of stray seeds and bits of skin but I find that unnecessary. Simply pass the pepper between your fingers to remove any stray seeds.
Now, roughly chop the peppers and put them in a blender.
Add the spinach to the blender as well, and set that aside for now.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and chicken broth and set over medium-low heat to get it warm.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the garlic to the butter and cook it just until you can start to smell it, about 30 seconds to a minute.
Next, add the flour to the pot and stir the mixture for 1 minute. This will cook the flour a bit which is good, just be sure to stir it constantly for the minute so it won’t burn.
Now, increase the heat to medium-high and slowly pour in the warm milk and broth mixture whisking constantly until it is fully incorporated and the sauce starts to boil. It will also start getting thick during this time.
When it boils, reduce the heat to medium and simmer it for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour half of the hot sauce into the blender with the chiles and spinach.
Blend it until it’s smooth with the lid vented (if your blender has such a feature). If the center of your lid is removable take that out and drape a kitchen towel over the blender jar to avoid splashes.
Pour the blended mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining sauce.
Add the salt and whisk to combine everything into a nice uniform light green sauce. You can adjust the seasoning to your own taste here.
Now to make these enchiladas…
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees with a rack in the center position.
Use about 1 cup of the sauce to spread over the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish (if you are using smaller individual baking dishes just divide 1 cup of sauce evenly between them).
Place the chicken in a bowl and stir in 1 cup of the sauce until it is nicely coated.
Note: if you decide to add additional items to your enchiladas, such as black beans, shredded cheese, corn, olives, etc. mix those into the chicken here and add just a splash more sauce to bring it all together.
Put half of the tortillas onto a baking sheet in a single layer and just lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil.
Top each tortilla with another one and again lightly brush or spray those with oil as well.
Put the pan in the oven just to get the tortillas warm and soft, about 2 - 3 minutes. Were not baking them here per se, just getting them a little pliable so they will roll easier.
When they are warmed through remove them from the oven, stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep them warm while you are filling them.
Working quickly so that the tortillas stay warm and remain pliable, roll a portion of the chicken up in each tortilla, then line them up next to each other, seam side down in the prepared baking dish(es).
Evenly distribute the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and then sprinkle with the cheese.
You will bake these for about 20 minutes until the enchiladas are heated through and the cheese has started to brown in spots.
When they come out of the oven and you are ready to eat, garnish with the cilantro (if you’re using) and serve them up.
I usually serve this with Spanish rice on the side or maybe some good Cuban black beans, and there is usually some good chips and salsa to eat as well… and a tres leches cake… with ice cream… Yeah, ice cream and cake that sounds good… Maybe a nice Mexican vanilla ice cream drizzled with a little caramel sauce… or pie… pie might be nice… yeah, I think a piece of apple pie would be really nice with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce… wait… wait… wait… sorry, I am getting carried away and totally off topic. Though truth be told, now I really want some cake and ice cream. Anyway, you can serve them with anything you like or eat them on their own with a little sour cream and guacamole.