From scratch Chicken Chilaquiles

Homemade chicken chilaquiles made with dried chilies, freshly poached chicken, and freshly fried corn tortilla chips have tons of flavor and good crunch and will definitely not be confused for enchiladas.

I start work a little later on Fridays. These were often the days that Grandma and I would sit at the dining table and talk and drink coffee together. Sometimes, before I went downstairs, she would yell up that she was making chilaquiles for breakfast and did I want some? Of course I always said yes. Those were special times and I wish now, in hindsight, that I hadn’t taken them for granted.

But isn’t that how life goes? Getting so caught up in the business of conducting our daily lives that we forget to slow down and enjoy the now?

And how human nature is it to look back and think, I should have paid better attention? I should have asked more questions? I should have spent more time doing a, b, c ...?

I realized a few weeks ago that I had to stop with the “I should haves” because that isn’t what my Grandmother would have wanted for any of us.

This realization came as I was trying to come up with a dish to share for a brunch at a friend’s house for a prop swap with fellow bloggers. I had decided to make chilaquiles. I hadn’t had any since the last time Grandma had made me some just a few weeks before she got sick. I had planned on making them with dried chilies the way I used to make them when I lived alone. The morning of the brunch, I was running late and I decided to make them the way Grandma made them for me: using her favorite jarred salsa, of which I had sitting in the refrigerator.

So I made them with the salsa and every bite I took reminded me of my Grandmother.

That method is super simple. After cutting up and frying your tortillas, you simply add your favorite jarred salsa, in my grandmother’s case, it was Pace Picante Sauce. Yes, Pace Picante Sauce. Funny right? She would buy the ginormous double jar variety from Costco. Between the two of us, we’d polish those bottles off in no time. She used it for her chilaquiles and for her chicharones using it in place of making from scratch salsa roja. I am doubtful Grandma always made it this way. She did love her dried chilies. I never asked her. Another regret.

I’m sharing my version of chilaquiles today.

I absolutely love working with dried chilies. You just have to remove the stems, cut them open and remove the seeds. This sauce uses both guajillo and California chilies. The guajillo gives beautiful color and the California has a flavor that reminds me of my parent’s cooking as they use California chili as the base chili for almost all their red sauce needs. I'm throwing in just one little chile de arbol for a bit of heat but feel free to add more for more heat or leave out for no heat.

Rehydrating the chilies is pretty fast, just add to a pot with tomatoes, bring to a boil, then shut off the heat and let them steep while you work on other components of the recipe.

Once cooled, they're added to a blender with the rest of the sauce ingredients and blended until smooth.

Pass the sauce through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the pulp and you've got a wonderfully smooth, tasty sauce that can be used for this recipe or as an enchilada sauce.

I also love cooking the chicken fresh so I can flavor it using complimentary aromatics and have delicious broth to use for the sauce and save for soups or braising liquid later in the week.

As for the chips, I see a lot of people using store-bought corn tortilla chips but please don’t. Take the time to make your own, preferably from tortillas bought at a tortillaria in your neighborhood or local Mexican market but any thick corn tortilla from a chain grocery store will do. Commercial bagged chips are often just too thin and soak up so much of the sauce that the chilaquiles often are mush from the get go.

You want some texture, some crunch and in my experience, only freshly fried homemade tortilla chips really give you the texture that separates chilaquiles from becoming the lazy person’s enchiladas. Yes, I did go there.

Speaking of enchiladas, again, these are not them. So while you’re out shopping for your dried chilies and tortillas, pick up some Mexican cheese like a queso fresco, panela, cotija, or even Oaxacan if you must have that gooey, stringy experience. Please don’t ruin these delicious, homemade chilaquiles with greasy yellow cheese (thank you, Taco Bell for piling your “Mexican” food with this stuff and getting people addicted to it). Try it first with the crumbly fresco and if you still want your yellow cheese, who am I to stop you?

Until next time … xo, ani

Chicken Chilaquiles
If you don’t want to take the time to cook your own chicken breast, by all means, pick up some rotisserie or use left over. However, I like to cook chicken from scratch, especially chicken with the bone, as then I have extra chicken for the week to toss together in a salad, make tacos, or sandwiches with and bonus, delicious homemade broth to use in soups, sauces, braises and to cook grains in. This sauce has just the right amount of heat for me; one that slowly builds up as you eat. However, if you want a spicer sauce, add 3-4 chiles de arbol, stems removed but seeds left in. I call for Mexican oregano. Mexican oregano and regular oregano are different. Oregano used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking is from the lemon verbena family and has a slight lemony flavor profile. Mexican oregano is from the mint family. It’s the oregano I cook most often with but if you can’t find Mexican oregano, feel free to use the one already in your pantry. You can substitute parsley or cilantro if you want a fresh herbaceousness to the sauce.

Makes 4 servings


For the chicken:
1 chicken breast, bone-in
1 stalk celery, halved
1 large carrot, halved
¼ large white or yellow onion
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt)
3 - 4 sprigs mint leaves
Water to cover

For the sauce:
4 dried guajillo chilies
2 dried California chilies
1 chile de arbol
5 Roma tomatoes (about 1 lb)
¼ large white onion
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)

For the chips:
2 ½ cups neutral oil (I used avocado oil)
8 corn tortillas

To assemble:
½ large white or yellow onion, diced
1 4-ounce can of diced green chilies (I love Ortega)

Optional garnishes:
chopped cilantro
queso fresco
avocado slices
chopped onions
Mexican crema or sour cream


Remove skin from chicken breast and trim away any visible fat. Place in a pot with the rest of the ingredients for the chicken and cover the chicken with water by 1 inch. Place on stove and bring to boil, immediately reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Once done, remove the chicken to a plate and allow to cool. Reserve the broth.

While the chicken is cooking, remove stems and seeds from the chilies. Place the chilies and tomatoes in a sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring pot to a boil, then turn off heat, set aside and allow to steep and slowly cool down.

Add the oil to a small deep pot (I use a 3 quart cast iron for my frying needs). Turn heat to medium high to heat oil. Stack 4 tortillas. Cut them in half. Then cut each half in half. And repeat, once more so that you wind up with your tortillas cut into 8 equal triangles. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas. Once oil is hot (about 350 degrees or test the oil by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon in the center, if the oil bubbles and sizzles around the handle, you’re good to go), add a quarter of the tortilla triangles, a handful at a time and immediately swish them around to keep them from sticking. Periodically move the tortillas so they get golden evenly. Once they are golden brown, remove them to a paper towel lined colander. Place a second folded paper towel onto the chips in the colander to act catch the oil of the next batch of chips. Allow the oil to get hot again if it’s cooled down and repeat the process until all chips have been fried and placed on towels to drain. Set aside.

To a blender, add the rehydrated chilies, tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano and salt. Pour in ½  cup of the chicken broth. Blend on high until smooth. Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pass the sauce through, using a spatula or wooden spoon to help push the sauce. Work in batches if needed. Add ¼ cup of broth to the blender jar, swoosh to rinse off any leftover sauce and pour it through the sieve. Discard pulp. Set aside.

Once chicken is cooled enough to touch, shred it into bite-sized pieces using two forks, if needed. Heat two tablespoons of the oil from frying the chips in a frying pan. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent but not browned. Add the diced green chilies, stirring to heat through. Toss in the shredded chicken and stir to combine. Add the chips and pour in the sauce, tossing to cover everything. Remove from heat. Divide chilaquiles between four plates and garnish as desired.

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