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Football Food: Did Someone Say Chicken?

Football Food wraps some chicken in a tortilla, douses it with chile sauce, smothers it with cheese, and devours that thing like a half-back pass in the end zone.

Winner, winner - chicken dinner.
Winner, winner - chicken dinner.

This week, we bring you the beautiful thing that is the chicken enchilada. Enchilada literally means "in chile," because you literally dip the tortilla you wrap around the chicken in enchilada sauce - made, of course, from chiles (sometimes red, sometimes green), plus a little salt, vinegar, oil, garlic, and spices.

The chicken enchilada is warm and cheesy and spicy, you make a whole bunch of them at once, and it can and should be consumed in large, sour cream- and guacamole-topped portions alongside things like beans and chips and salsa and (fittingly) rice. It is for this reason a superb football food.

Quickly dispatched by any hungry Irishman or Catholic, streaked with cheese, and filled with shredded chicken just beneath the surface, it is also perhaps particularly suitable to this week in which we play Michigan, an opponent marked by similar features.

We begin by assembling our ingredients. These include:

about 1 lb. of chicken

14-16 corn tortillas

2 10-oz. cans enchilada sauce (red, green, mild, hot - whatever you like; here, I used La Victoria's mild red sauce, which is a bit sweet for me, but good)

2 cups shredded cheese, preferably a Mexican blend or some combination of monterey jack, cheddar, queso quesadilla, and asadero cheeses

Now, these aren't merely chicken enchiladas. The filling incorporates some awesome late-summer vegetables that give it delicious texture and flavor (not to mention healthiness - think of it as the cheese-offset).

1 4-oz. can diced green chiles

1 28-oz. can sliced stewed tomatoes, well-drained

1 medium onion

1 ear of corn

1/2 of a medium zucchini

a little olive oil

salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander

You can certainly use fresh tomatoes, but skin, chop, and simmer them ahead of time with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, and coriander, and even a little onion and bell pepper if you'd like, to keep the enchilada preparation efficient. I like using stewed tomatoes because they're already cooked with onion and pepper and spices, so it saves time. You can also use frozen or canned corn if needed later in the year.

You'll also want to assemble your accoutrements and side dishes. I like these enchiladas with beans (a mix of refried and whole pinto, seasoned with garlic salt and black pepper) and with sweet corn cake. I top the enchiladas themselves with sour cream. Avocado or guacamole too, whenever possible.

First, you've got to prepare your filling. Cook the chicken in whatever manner you'd like (I sauté frozen chicken breasts or tenders in a little olive oil, but you could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken for this). Shred the chicken using two forks. Dice the onion and the zucchini. Shuck the corn and cut it off the cob. Chop the drained stewed tomatoes. Open up the can of green chiles.

Sauté the onions and green chiles in a little olive oil over medium high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the corn and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the zucchini and cook for another minute or two, seasoning with salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. After another 2-3 minutes, stir in the shredded chicken and turn the heat off.

You will have this mighty delicious thing before you now:

Do not eat this yet. Okay, eat a little bit of it. Mmm.

Now you need to start setting up your enchilada-making station. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9"x13" baking dish and pour just a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of it - enough to cover it with a thin layer when you shake it out to the edges.

Pour the rest of your enchilada sauce in a wide, shallow bowl. I like to warm the sauce up in the microwave a bit - this helps keep the tortillas from breaking when you roll them up. If your tortillas are cold, warm them up a bit too (30 or 40 seconds in the microwave should do it). Set your bowl of sauce up next to the baking dish, next to your cheese, next to your tortillas, next to your filling. This is your enchilada-making station, and it's about to get all crazy up in here.

Wash your hands at this point - they're about to be swimming in enchilada sauce. To assemble the enchiladas, take a tortilla in hand and dip it gently into the enchilada sauce. Make sure both sides are coated, but let the extra sauce drip off back into the bowl.

Lay the tortilla in the palm of your hand. Use a cup to scoop some of the filling out of the pan with your other hand and lay it into the middle of the tortilla. Then sprinkle just a little cheese over the filling (you want to save most of the cheese for the top). Close up the tortilla with your enchilada-filling-hand. Hold it closed while you carefully flip it so that the seam is facing down, and place it into the baking dish.

Line them up right next to each other and when you think you've run out of room, keep squishing them in until they squish no more. Then fit some in horizontally along the bottom. You should be able to fit at least 14 or 15 in without too much trouble. Once you've filled your dish, wash your filthy, sticky hands. Then pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the enchiladas.

Sprinkle all of the remaining cheese over the top. Bake the enchiladas at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is all melted and you can see (or hear) tasty little sauce bubbles boiling up the sides of the dish. If you want the cheese to really bubble on top, sick the broiler on those things for another 3 minutes or so.

Once these beauties are out of the oven, the trick is getting them out of the pan. This is actually very difficult, and if you do it well, you will deserve an extra enchilada. I think that the two-spatula method works best - come at your serving from both sides and scoop it up between the spatulas.

Whatever you do, it will taste delicious.

Okay. Back to football!