Chilaquiles

Once the idea to make chilaquiles comes into my head, it goes beyond craving. It becomes some sort of moral imperative. My life will be better if I eat a big plate of these immediately. It just will.

If you are unfamiliar with chilaquiles, then let me explain. Chilaquiles are corn tortilla wedges cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and usually topped with eggs and cheese. They can also be served as a breakfast side dish along with eggs, potatoes and toast (which is how I was introduced to them).

Chilaquiles is a very simple dish with a lot of steps, but the various steps are worth it for this final product. However, there are times where you need chilaquiles now. NOW. And the more involved steps can wait for another time. So, I present this recipe with some variations so you can ramp up the preparation as time, energy and craving allow. If you have time to make the full on version, oh mama get ready for some good eating.

There are three basic components to chilaquiles: the sauce, the tortillas, the eggs.

THE SAUCE

GOOD – Grab a 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes, two chiles (from a can of chiles in arbol sauce), a small white onion, and a heaping teaspoon of crushed garlic (from a jar of crushed garlic). Coarsely chop the onion and put everything in a blender. Puree until smooth.

BETTER (my standard sauce preparation) –  Grab a 15 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, two chiles (from a can of chiles in arbol sauce), a jalapeno, a small white onion, two to four cloves of fresh garlic (depending on their size), and vegetable oil. Separate the whole peeled tomatoes from the sauce. Put the tomatoes in the blender with ½ cup of the sauce from the can and the two chiles. Puree until smooth and set aside. Finely chop the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute. Add the mixture to the blender and blend with the tomato puree. Add the puree back into the saucepan with a glug of oil and cook for five minutes or so, until sauce has nicely thickened. Then take off the heat and add a pinch of salt. (Taste for sweetness. If the sauce is not sweet enough, you can add up to a tablespoon of honey or agave to your taste. I rarely do this, but it depends on the quality of the canned tomatoes.) Set aside.

NOTE: I have a dream that one day I will make this sauce with slow roasted heirloom tomatoes and garlic confit, and I suspect that when I do, I will not find that the fancy heirloom sauce has anything on the canned tomato version and it will have all been a complete waste of time. But I will probably still do it. For reasons.

THE TORTILLAS

GOOD – Buy a bag of good quality tortilla chips.

BETTER – Buy a bag of corn tortillas and cut each tortilla into quarters. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Lay a few paper towels on a plate next to the stove. In batches of four of five, lightly fry the tortilla wedges until they have just colored a little and gotten slightly crispy. You do not want to fry them to crunchy tortilla chip consistency. You want them to remain pliable so they will soak up the sauce. When finishing frying, pile on plate to drain.

NOTE: I never make these with tortilla chips. Even when I take every shortcut with the sauce, I always take the time to fry the tortillas. It is so much better. But I do have a friend who felt it important to tell me once that for her pouring a jar of salsa into a bag of tortilla chips basically got the job done. To each her own.

LAYERING OF SAUCE AND TORTILLAS

Turn your broiler on to high. Layer your chips (store bought or homemade) into a shallow baking dish or pie plate (I prefer a pie plate), pouring sauce over each layer. Once all the chips are in the plate, pour any remaining sauce over the whole thing. Sprinkle grated cojita cheese over the top and stick under the broiler on high heat for about five minutes, but watch it carefully, you don’t want anything to blacken or burn. (Unless you do, I’m not here to tell you how to eat.) Once the cheese has melted and browned, remove the pan from the oven and turn off the broiler. Let the dish cool for a minute.

THE EGGS

While the layers are in the oven, make your eggs.

GOOD – Using the same skillet that was used to fry the chips, fry two eggs (or more if making for more people), flipping them halfway through cooking, and set aside.

BETTER – Using a clean skillet, heat the skillet over high heat for one minute. Add a glug of olive oil and let it heat until it just begins to smoke, another 30 seconds. Add your egg, reduce the heat to medium-high, and step back. Everything will sputter and spit. (This egg preparation is not listed under better because it is more time consuming to cook. It is because it is more time consuming to clean up afterwards.) After 30 seconds, spoon some of the oil from the sides over the white of the egg. Egg white should bubble and cook. After another 30 second, remove from the heat. Shimmy a thin metal spatula under the egg and set the egg aside. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with second egg. (Yes, the egg never gets flipped and gets super crispy on one side and just set on the other.)

NOTE: I have a completely wonderful little six inch cast iron pan that is the exact perfect size for frying a single egg. It is amazing and I use it for all kinds of cooking and prep work. I highly recommend getting one, especially for single folks. It also makes a perfect one person frittata. Commercial over.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

After the dish has cooled, use a spatula to help slide the contents of the pie plate on to a regular plate. Top the pile of saucy chips with the two eggs along with a few dollops of sour cream and some chopped cilantro. Promptly devour everything on plate.

NOTE: If you are sharing this dish (which I rarely do but, again, to each her own), you can use the spatula to portion out the saucy chips onto separate plates and top each with their own fried egg.

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