In our line of work, you hear about food constantly. New food, old food, good food, bad food - then there’s legendary food. I had heard rumors of Cindie’s enchiladas. I had listened to meticulous descriptions of how to build them, how they taste, how they make you feel. “I’ll have to make those sometime, have you ever tasted them before?” Miss Cindie’s harmless chatting pecked at my curiosity. For almost two years I had to listen to how wonderful these enchiladas are. For almost two years she never made them. There was a process, apparently, a painstakingly long process, by which no shortcuts could yield the same enchiladas. Through a perfect storm of timing, ingredients and my promise to labor through and document their preparation, Cindie agreed to a Saturday to show me the light. I felt like Galahad, worthy of the Holy Grail.
I soon found out these enchiladas didn’t start with Cindie, but came into her life at a party around 1980. Once she tasted them, Cindie learned and perfected the recipe, serving them countless times in the last 30 years.
First you’ll need:
3 lbs. chicken breast (boneless, skinless)
half a big yellow onion
2 stalks celery
a handful of thyme (or whatever simmering herb you have around)
Put it all in a pot, cover with water, bring it to a boil, then simmer for 45-50 minutes, until the meat is falling apart. Take the chicken out, but save the simmering broth for later.
Once it’s cool enough to handle, finely shred the chicken, lightly salt, toss and set aside.
For the sauce you’ll need:
2 lbs. tomatillos (canned is fine if you can’t find fresh)
6 anaheim chilies
the other half of your onion from above
4 cloves garlic
4 bunches of cilantro
2 bunches of flat-leaf parsley
a very patient friend
1 1/2 cups chicken simmering liquid, strained
Start the sauce by preparing its ingredients: Remove all husks and stems from the tomatillos and drop them into boiling water. Let boil until they are just softened and turn from bright green to olive green. Set aside.
Roast the anaheim chilies over a burner until their skins are charred and popping. Throw the hot chilies into a plastic zip bag, or wrap completely in multiple layers of damp paper towels - after they’ve cooled, remove the stems, skins and seeds of the chilies under cool running water. The charred skin should slide right off. Set aside.
Chop the half onion into chunks, set aside. Peel the garlic, set aside.
Thoroughly rinse the bunches of parsley and cilantro. Here’s where your patient friend comes in. For this sauce to be “just right” - it cannot have the stems from these herbs. The tiny, delicate stems at the tops? Sure, no problem. Anything below the delicate stems at the tops? NOT OKAY! Grab your patient friend and start de-stemming!
In the past, Cindie has tried throwing all the stems in, removing half the stems, even removing most of the stems; nothing tastes the same. This is where Cindie’s genius showed. Had it all been part of her plan? To build the enchiladas to a legendary status so I’d volunteer to be herb de-stemmer? I may never know.
Take everything you’ve set aside: the tomatillos, roasted anaheims, onions, garlic, picked parsley and cilantro and puree in a blender or food processor with the strained chicken broth. You may need to do this in batches. Pour into a pot over low heat while you prepare the tortillas. Add salt to taste.
For the tortillas:
36 white corn tortillas
1 lb. unsalted butter
Using a small saute pan, melt two tablespoons of butter and place one tortilla at a time into the hot butter. It should be a somewhat shallow fry, turning the tortilla over once, just to cook them enough so they don’t fall apart when rolling. It’s okay if the edges get a little crispy, just don’t put too much color on these. Any that do get away from you should be eaten immediately.
As each one finishes, stack them directly on each other as you prepare the rest. Make sure to keep adding butter as necessary. If there is any butter left after preparing all the tortillas, add it to the green sauce and stir to combine.
The last element to the enchiladas you’ll need before assembly is the cheese. You cannot skip shredding it yourself. It will not taste the same. We used a shredding blade in a food processor to hasten the process. You can use a course grater, but no matter what you use, shred it yourself from a solid block of Monterey jack.
Gather the prepared chicken, sauce, cheese, tortillas, three cans of sliced olives, two pints of cream, a bunch of chopped green onions, and a few buttered casserole pans - you don’t want them packed too tightly, but they should be somewhat snug, using their neighboring enchiladas to help keep them rolled up.
One tortilla at a time, place some cheese, chicken and sliced olives across the middle. Roll forward, encasing the filling, and place in the buttered pan, seam-side down to keep it closed. Continue until your pans are filled up.
Pour cream between and around your naked enchiladas...
Pour the green sauce over the bed of enchiladas.
Top sauce with more jack cheese and finish with a generous sprinkling of green onion.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from oven when the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, and let it cool for 10 minutes.
If you do not let these cool before serving, someone will burn their mouth, yet be unable to stop eating the deliciousness of the legendary enchiladas. We know this from experience. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This was the only photo of the finished product.
Once they’d cooled enough to serve and eat, that’s just what we did. And forgot to get a picture. This is what was left of our first pan out of the oven.
Cindie’s last words as we sat down to eat: “We can make these again when we trick someone else into de-stemming the herbs.” Good luck and enjoy!!
From Plate to Page is comprised of a group of four incredibly talented, diverse women who teach food photography and food writing workshops. They picked Denise's brain on how she got started in the food styling world, and why she still loves being a part of it.
many years, few people knew that food stylists existed... until TV Food
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