When you think of Tex Mex, often these enchiladas are the first dish that comes to mind, but who knew that one dish could really evolve into a cuisine, and this cuisine happens to have one of the most unique origins.
It started with the Chili Queens of San Antonio in the late 1800's. Mexican Families would set up tables and chairs, along with a large kettle or olla of their chile con carne. They would serve it up in Military Plaza, Alamo Plaza, and later Market Square. The recipes for the chili varied from family to family, as matriarchal recipes dictated how each family prepared the dish. One thing was for sure, and that was the method of cooking this stew is rooted in Mexican technique, toasting and frying the chiles making sure to get it just right and not to scald the chile paste.
The Chili Queens were the young women of each family who acted as a sales person for their family's stand, their witty banter and charming looks earned them a reputation of being enchanting by the soldiers, politicians, and citizens who came and patronized their business.
A unique aspect to this food evolution, is that not too long before the Chili Queens graced downtown, Texas gained it's independence from Mexico, and many of these families found themselves on the other side of the border. As time went on, palates began to change and the Texas contribution to the dish found the Chili Queens ladling their gravy over tamales and enchiladas and topping with cheddar cheese. The classic Tex Mex enchiladas come with an incredible story and legacy, here is my rendition of the classic.
*this amount is four 6-8 generous servings of Chili as a stew and for 8-10 servings for enchiladas. Often times when I make this recipe, I freeze half of it and save for another day, since it is a lot of work, it's nice to do it once.
*Definitely use sharp cheddar or aged cheddar it makes a world of difference.
* Find tortillas that look a little dry in the package, if you see a package of corn tortillas with steam in the package, they will fall apart too easily when you fry them.
Ancho Chile Puree
4 wt oz Ancho Chiles
2 Guajillo Chiles
3/4 c Water
lightly toast the chiles so that they puff up in a dry saute pan or cast iron pan. In a separate pot, boil water, place the chiles in a bowl and pour the hot water over chiles and keep them submerged for 30 min, until soft. Once soft, remove the stems and seeds and place in a blender with 3/4c of fresh water. Blend until very smooth, add more water if necessary, the consistency should be like a ketchup.
For the Gravy
1 tsp canola oil or neutral flavored oil
1 cup of diced white onion
2 garlic cloves chopped finely
2.5 lbs of coarsely ground beef, I use 80/20, ground beef chuck for chili1 T Salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp lard, can sub for vegetable oil or avocado oil, just be sure it has a high smoke point
1 can of beef broth
1 cup of water + 1/2 cup of Maseca
1 Tbsp Beef Bouillon(not necessary but adds a depth of flavor, you can just add additional salt)
For the Enchiladas
1 cup of canola, vegetable or neutral flavored oil
5 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Diced White onions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large saute pan, cook the onions and garlic in approx 1 tsp of vegetable or neutral flavored oil until translucent.
3. Add the meat and the salt, cumin, chile powder, and Mexican oregano, stir over medium heat until the meat is cooked through, and set to the side.
4. In a large dutch oven or deep cooking vessel, add the lard until it is almost to a smoke point. Add the chile puree and immediately whisk until the puree deepens in color and thickens slightly. Add the can of beef broth and the cooked meat to the sauce and bring up to a simmer, stirring often over low heat, so the chile doesn't burn to the bottom of the dish.
5. In the blender that you made the chile puree in, add the 1 cup of water with the half cup of maseca, and the beef bouillon, blend until combined. Add the liquid to the simmering stew mixture. Let it simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
6. In a large saute pan, add the 1 cup of neutral oil over medium heat, slowly add a few tortillas a time for 5 seconds then flip it over for another five seconds. Move quickly, and stack the tortillas on a plate and reserve until enchilada assembly.
7. Roll each tortilla with about a 1/3 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, place in a casserole dish, seam side down.
8. Ladle the gravy over the casserole dish full of enchiladas and sprinkle a little bit of cheddar cheese on top. place in the oven for about 10 minutes, until cheese is all the way melted.
9. Serve with your choice of garnishes, diced white onion, jalapeños, avocado or whatever you like.