Red chile sauce and melted cheese liven up this classic dish
Enchiladas are a favorite with us. And their variety is endless.
We’re especially partial to Tex-Mex enchiladas: Corn tortillas wrapped around a savory filling, then covered in chile sauce and baked (usually with a thick coating of melted cheese). Yummo!
And when the filling is shredded beef, they’re pretty much irresistible.
Recipe: Tex-Mex Shredded-Beef Enchiladas
Enchiladas can be plain (or not). At their most basic, in the form of Enchiladas Rojas, they’re just hot corn tortillas dipped into a thin spicy sauce made from dried red chilies. No filling—just corn tortillas and scrumptious sauce.
Tex-Mex enchiladas (the kind we feature here) almost always use chile sauce as a kind of gravy, with flour as a thickener. In fact, this “gravy” is what gives Tex-Mex enchiladas their characteristic flavor. Tex-Mex enchiladas also tend to be smothered in cheese (an ingredient that’s used in Mexican enchiladas too, but typically much more sparingly).
We’re making our enchiladas with a filling of Mexican-style shredded beef. But you can substitute almost any filling you want. Shredded chicken and pork are popular choices. Mexican Charro Beans are also nice. Or just use shredded cheese. Or veggies. No matter what filling you choose, the enchilada sauce and the assembly method remain the same.
Traditionally, the sauce for Tex-Mex enchiladas is made with whole dried red chilies. But these aren’t always readily available (and using them takes time), so we substitute dried red chile powder instead. We suggest using ancho chile powder, which is available in most supermarkets (it has great flavor and is fairly mild). If you can’t find chile powder, you can substitute chili powder (we explain the difference between the two in the Notes).
This recipe has three parts: First you prepare the shredded beef. We’re using the beef from our Shredded-Beef Soft Taco recipe, but with a different final step (we include the entire procedure for preparing the shredded beef, so you don’t have to click over to that earlier recipe.)
Second, you prepare the enchilada sauce. You can substitute commercial jarred enchilada sauce if you want, although its flavor won’t be nearly as good.
You can complete both these parts of the recipe a day or two ahead of time if you prefer (and you can make the enchilada sauce while the beef is cooking).
For the final phase in this recipe, you assemble and bake the enchiladas.
If you’re making this dish all at one go, allow about three hours total for prep and cooking time (much of the cooking time will be unattended). If you prepare the shredded beef and enchilada sauce ahead of time, final assembly and baking of the enchiladas will take just half an hour or so.
This recipe makes about a dozen enchiladas.
For the shredded beef:
- ~1½ pounds chuck roast (we often double the shredded-beef part of this recipe, then freeze the extra; see Notes)
- 1 medium onion (white onions are traditional in Mexican cooking, though yellow ones work fine)
- 3 garlic cloves
- water or beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, plus additional as needed (see Notes)
- 1 additional medium onion
- 2 additional garlic cloves
- 2 to 4 jalapeño peppers (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil
- one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- ½ to ¾ cup enchilada sauce (optional; if using, prepare it according to the Procedure below)
- 2½ cups chicken broth or water
- 2 to 4 tablespoons dried ancho chile powder or another mild to medium chile powder (may want to start with 2 tablespoons if you’re making this dish for the first time; can substitute chili powder; see Notes)
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil (use 1 tablespoon if you want a thinner sauce)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use 1 tablespoon if you want a thinner sauce)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1½ teaspoons dried cumin powder
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional—and not traditional—but tasty)
- ~1 teaspoon Kosher salt (to taste)
- sugar to taste, if necessary (very optional; probably about a tablespoon or so—see Step 7 of the Procedure for enchilada sauce)
- the shredded beef (prepared according to the Procedure below)
- the enchilada sauce (prepared according to the Procedure below)
- ~4 ounces queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or a mild white cheese
- ~4 ounces cheddar cheese
- ~12 corn tortillas (store-bought tortillas are easier to roll than Homemade, but you can certainly use your own if you prefer; see Notes)
- jalapeño pepper slices or chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
For the shredded beef:
- Cut the chuck roast into squares of 1 inch or so. Add the beef pieces to a 3- or 4-quart cooking pot.
- Peel one onion, then slice it thinly. Add the onion slices to the cooking pot.
- Peel three garlic cloves, then slice them thinly. Add the garlic slices to the cooking pot.
- Add enough water or beef broth to the cooking pot to just cover the beef (it’s OK if the tops of some pieces aren’t entirely submerged). Add salt. Bring the cooking pot to a simmer on the stovetop, then gently simmer for 1½ hours (until the meat is tender).
- When the meat is done, allow it to cool in the cooking broth. Once cool, remove the beef from the broth and shred it with two forks. (If you’re preparing the meat ahead of time, you can stop at this point and store the beef until you’re ready to use it—see Notes).
- When you’re ready to finish cooking the shredded beef, peel the additional onion and cut it into dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside. Peel the two additional garlic cloves and mince or slice them finely. Set aside.
- Wash the jalapeño peppers, cut off their stems, then slice each pepper lengthwise. Using a teaspoon or soup spoon, scoop out the seeds (the oil from the seeds will be hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Mince the peppers finely (reserving a slice or two of pepper for garnish, if you wish). Set aside. Now wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot pepper oil from your skin.
- Set a large frying pan on medium stovetop heat. When it’s hot, add the lard or olive oil. Add the diced onion and salt to taste (maybe ½ teaspoon) and cook until the onion is soft but not yet translucent (3 to 5 minutes).
- When the onion is soft, add the minced garlic and jalapeño, then cook for a minute. Add the shredded beef, the can of diced tomatoes, and the enchilada sauce (if using; quantity need not be exact). Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (10 minutes or less). You want the beef to be quite moist, but not runny. Taste, then add more salt if needed. At this point, the beef is ready to be used in enchiladas.
- Add the chicken broth or water to a large measuring cup. Add the chile powder, then stir to dissolve. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic clove, then mince it finely.
- Heat a 2-quart saucepan on medium stovetop heat. When the pan is hot, add the lard or olive oil. Once this has heated, add the minced garlic and sauté it for 30 seconds.
- Add the flour to the hot oil, and stir with a whisk or wooden spoon to incorporate. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously to make a roux.
- Add the oregano, cumin powder, and tomato paste (if using) and stir into the roux. Cook for 1 minute.
- Remove the saucepan with the roux from the heat. When the roux stops bubbling (this will take just a few seconds), slowly add the chile-powder mixture (from Step 1), stirring continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon to blend (and to prevent lumps from forming). Return the saucepan to stovetop heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Taste the sauce and add salt as needed. (The sauce may seem bitter. This usually is not a problem, and it will taste fine when used in the enchiladas. But if this bothers you, add a bit of sugar to sweeten it). If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it a bit with additional chicken broth or water.
- The sauce is now ready to use in enchiladas. You can move on to the assembly procedure at this point. Or you can cool the sauce and store if for use later (it will keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Set out the shredded beef and the enchilada sauce. If you prepared these components ahead of time, you can reheat them if you like (we do this because it cuts down on baking time, but it’s not necessary).
- Grate the cheeses.
- Soften the tortillas: Sprinkle a kitchen towel with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water, then wrap the tortillas in the towel. Microwave for 2 or 3 minutes until the tortillas are soft and pliable.
- Prepare the baking dish: Use a large, shallow baking or casserole dish (one that measures about 13 x 9 inches). Pour in just enough enchilada sauce to cover the bottom of the dish (usually ½ cup or so).
- Begin assembling the enchiladas: Place a tortilla flat on the kitchen counter, then add a tablespoon or two of shredded beef. Roll the tortilla like a cigar. Place the rolled tortilla in the baking dish, seam side down. Repeat until you have used all the tortillas. Cover the rolled tortillas with enchilada sauce (you may not need to use all the sauce you've made, but we usually dump it all in). Sprinkle the grated cheeses over the enchiladas, covering them. Place the baking dish in the oven. Bake until the enchiladas are piping hot and the cheeses are melted (about 15 to 20 minutes; it may take a bit longer if you’re using chilled, pre-made shredded beef and enchilada sauce that you haven't reheated).
- To serve, dish up the enchiladas. Garnish, if you wish, with a sprinkling of jalapeño pepper slices or chopped cilantro.
- Ingredient quantities for this dish are fairly elastic. You can adjust quantities to suit your whim (or what sounds good to you).
- If you want to prepare the beef ahead of time, just pause after Step 5 of the shredded beef Procedure. Place the cooked beef in an airtight container, then cover it with the cooking liquid (to keep the meat moist). Refrigerate the beef if you’re not planning to use it immediately. When you’re ready to prepare the enchiladas, drain the beef and continue with Step 6 of the shredded beef Procedure.
- BTW, you can also freeze the shredded beef (in its cooking liquid, to keep it moist). In fact, we like to double or triple this recipe, then do exactly that with the extra beef.
- You can use this shredded beef in tacos, quesadillas, gorditas—almost any Mexican dish that requires beef.
- If you prefer pork in enchiladas, just substitute pork for beef in this recipe—and prepare it exactly the same way.
- The enchilada sauce should have a prominent chile flavor. But if you add too much dried chile powder, the dish may be too hot for your taste. That’s why we suggest ancho chile powder—it’s pretty mild. We think using 4 tablespoons of ancho chile powder produces a nicely flavored enchilada sauce with just a bit of tang. But our mild may be your wild. So we recommend starting with just 2 tablespoons of ancho chile powder the first time you make this recipe. It’s easy to add hot sauce at table if the dish is too wimpy.
- We often make enchilada sauce with 2 tablespoons of dried ancho chile powder and 2 tablespoons of dried chipotle chile powder. This makes a much hotter sauce—but one with fantastic flavor.
- If you can’t find dried chile powder, you can substitute commercial chili powder. Our usual reminder here: In the US, chile powder is made from dried chilies, and nothing else. Chili powder (spelled with an i rather than an e) is a blend of chile powder and other spices that typically are used in the dish called “chili.” If you substitute chili powder in this recipe, remember that it usually contains quite a bit of salt. So you may want to reduce the amount of salt you use elsewhere in the recipe.
- We like to use Kosher salt in our cooking. Because it’s coarser than table salt, it’s less salty by volume. So if you use table salt, reduce the amount by about half.
- Lard is the traditional fat for Mexican cooking. But if you don’t want to use it, olive oil makes a good substitute.
- The traditional way to soften tortillas for this dish is to fry them briefly in about ½ inch of hot oil—just long enough to make them flexible, but not crispy. This method adds some calories (and takes a bit more time), so we prefer to soften tortillas in the microwave. But the flavor of the fried ones is better, we must admit.
- Some people like to dip tortillas into hot enchilada sauce before adding the filling (Step 6 of the assembly Procedure). This does add nice flavor, but be careful: It’s easy to tear the tortillas if you do this.
- Although we love the superior flavor and texture of homemade tortillas, we tend to use store-bought ones when making Tex-Mex enchiladas. Commercially made tortillas are thinner and a bit easier to roll around the filling. Homemade tortillas can be a bit unwieldy.
- But homemade tortillas work very well if you’re making New Mexico stacked enchiladas. To prepare enchiladas this way: Dip a tortilla in enchilada sauce, then place it on a plate or baking dish. Scoop some shredded beef (or other filling) on top, then stack another tortilla on top of that. Add more filling and another tortilla. Then cover the whole thing in sauce and cheese. Place in the microwave (if using a plate) or in the oven (if using a baking dish) to melt the cheese.
- BTW, many restaurants keep their enchiladas in a steam table. When dishing up an order, they’ll add the enchiladas to a plate, cover them with grated cheese, then run the plate under the broiler to melt the cheese. This also heats the plate, of course—which is why the plates in Mexican restaurants are always so hot.
Cinco de Mayo Eats
“I’d say we’re ready for Cinco de Mayo,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “These enchiladas are primo.”
“And if we run out, we can have some of those great Shredded-Beef Soft Tacos we featured on the blog last week,” I said.
“Made with our own wonderful Homemade Tortillas,” said Mrs K R.
“Which would also go well with the Charro Beans we featured a few weeks ago,” I said.
“I’d vote for pairing any or all of these dishes with a nice tequila-based drink,” said Mrs K R. “Like the Rosita Cocktail we posted about early this month.”
“Or a Margarita,” I said. “If you want to be traditional.”
“You could sip it while munching on some chips and our Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip,” said Mrs K R.
“Sounds like we’ve posted the makings for an entire Mexican meal,” I said.
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “The whole enchilada.”
Why didn’t I see that coming?
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Classic Margarita Cocktail
Tequila Sunrise Cocktail
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Salsa and Picante Sauce
Frito Pie with Chili
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