Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Sure Neil, We'll Dance the Pachanga" Chimichangas

Chimichangas, done well, are an exercise in texture and flavor. The crispy-to-soft ratio of the tortilla's outer and inner self, the flavor dance of spice and sauce and savory fillings and cheeses, the presentation - whether hidden under ladles of cheesy saucy goodness or left bare and simply toastgolden. It all adds up to one of my favorite treats.

Last night, T was deep in his beer bread and tofu with tomato sauce and I had a taste for some Tex-Mex. ("This is my cooking space, this is your cooking space.") This is often the case with hunger and I. Tex-Mex, Mexcian, Cal-Mex - we have been friends for so long, they are the guest I can have over pretty easily that I don't have to dress up for.

Making chimichangas, like many dishes, can be broken down into just a few decisions about ingredients and processes. We have an outside, an inside, and a cooking method decision. My version last night may have been slightly Semi-Homemade, but it was lovely. It's worth mentioning that these are pretty cheap to make. You won't lose your wallet getting your changa on and, if you are making them with a group, you might just have the time of your life.

"Sure Neil, We'll Dance the Pacahnga" Chimichangas (makes 2ish)


2T vegetable oil or canola
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Onions - 2 small or one large, cut in slices and cut in 1/2 or diced
red pepper (1) julienned or chopped
about 6 oz. Chicken breast cut in strips and grilled (or bought that way)
about 3/4 a cup of your favorite salsa (yes, you can make this yourself)*
Soy sauce (mini-dash)
juice of one juicy lime or two or three of those stony rough ones
dash of black pepper
dash of chili powder
mini-dash of salt


Delicious flour tortillas that feel more of flour than plastic or sheen
4-6 oz. grated mozarella, jalapeno jack or cheddar cheese (optional)
1/4 -1.2 cup salsa

Pre-heat your oven to 450.

In a medium-sized pan heat oil to warm and throw in garlic. Let it start to break down. As the smell becomes more enjoyable and delicious, add the onions. Onions should begin breaking down and head towards being transluscent.

Transluscent might be a bit too soft, so after a minute or so, add the lime juice, soy sauce and spices. The sweetness of the onions plays well with the citrus tang of the lime and the soy sauce brings it all down to earth a bit while hitting the flavors with some salt. Think of it as waking up the onions and dressing them for the evening.

After another minute or so, add the peppers and let them start to cook down. Again, the goal is for them to break down enough to start sharing their flavors with the others. Once they get going, add the chicken.

We want the chicken to take in the onion/lime/bit-of-soy and pepper flavors. Give that several minutes. Make sure it is cooking through.

At this point last night, I actually added some water to the pan. Probably 2 TBSP. It just needed some more moisture to get the flavors moving.

Add your salsa and mix thoroughly. Depending on the liquid content of the salsa this part can take anywhere from 2 to 5 or more minutes. The goal here is to steam out enough of the liquid to make sure the chimichanga is not a soggy mess. Cook the filling mixture until most running juices have thickened.

Now it does not need to be a desicated mass of dryness, but if it's trickling more than a bit, you might run into problems later. But no worries, the worst that would happen is a slightly wet changa. I like my changas all different ways, so if you are cooking for me, I'll be just fine, thank you very much.

Once that is ready, turn off the heat and get ready to fill.

The Outside

The key to a good chimichanga is a good tortilla. You can get by with variations from Mission, as I did last night, but there are a few avaialble that will be better. Mission's Handmade tortillas are harder to find but better. Trader Joe's now offers a handmade version as well. By all means, get the totrtillas you like the best. Can you make this with corn tortillas? I suppose, but damn if I can make one fold the right way.

Tortillas can be heated in a foil pack in the oven, one by one in the skillet, or in the microwave. I prefer throwing it on the open gas flame and flipping it until it is soft and pliant. That's the goal, a workable tortilla.

Place your warm tortilla on a plate and put just about 1.25 times as much filling as your would for a thrown together fajita or taco down the center length-wise. Do not Overload! Fold two sides just an inch or so over the mixture (think about the opening and closing of a burrito) and then fold the longer side over the mixture and roll once. You want to make sure it is pretty sealed up.

(If this is confusing, I'll come over and show you. Basically, two tiny flip-overs create the sides you would eat from. Then take the side closet to you fold it over the mixture, pulling the mixture tight and making sure the ends don't open. Flip the portion closest to you, now enveloping the filling and this should create a seam at the overlap that cooking will seal).

Now you are ready to cook.

I bake my Chimichangas. I do. I swear by it. Yes, it is a different mouth and forkfeel. I love it though. Place the chimchanga(s) seam-side down on a baking sheet and pop in the oven for about 8 minutes.

If you prefer to fry them (like at Kellerman's), put about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a pan and put the heat on medium high. When it reaches temmperature, place the changa seam-side down and allow the heat to seal it. Give it about 45 seconds or so and then flip it over. Be careful! The oil has a tendencey to splash. Cook it for about 45 seconds again and you should be good to go.

(Now some people secure their chimichanga with toothpicks, etc. I have not had to do this, but feel free to spear the corners so they stay closed in the oil. Don't forget to take the toothpicks out!)

I had mine bare, but some will like to top them with more salsa and some cheese. In the case, throw those on and pop them in the oven for another 3-5 minutes. That sould be enough to bring them up to temp and have the cheese get nice and gooey.

Dessert Suggestions: I would suggest cinnamon ice cream if you have it on hand. Last night I had a taste of baklava which was delicious. One time I made these and someone had carried a watermelon for several blocks to the party I was at. It didn't seem to go, but we ate it anyway so she wouldn't feel embarassed.


Rosa said...

Oooooh, that does sound good. I like the baking. That's what I'll "try."

ScottE. said...

Nobody puts baby in the corner!

These sound tasty! Gonna have to try them.

Dancer in DC said...

Now I just have to figure out how Neal's name got into the recipe. :)

rebecca 1.0 said...

oh my god, i love that name. can't wait for summer now so that i can make "i carried a watermelon" fruit salad

Anonymous said...

This Neil folks:

James said...

I normally bake mine too, but I find that if I brush the outside with oil first I get a bit more of that deep fried crisp with less of the hassle. Take it for a spin, I think you'll find it tasty.

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Neuse River North Carolina said...

tortillas is one of my favorite..