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When we say chilaquiles (see the recipe), you probably think of it as one of those great brunch dishes with magical powers to cure last night's debauchery and this morning's raging headache.
You may be as surprised as we were to learn that it's actually a traditional Mexican dish conjured long ago (we're talking Aztec times) as a way to use up stale tortillas and leftovers from the previous night's dinner. And it's still a genius idea, no matter what time of day.
We called up Mexican food guru and Eat Mexico author Lesley Tellez for some helpful tips, and took inspiration from some of our favorite restaurants—to help you make your best version at home.
Make your own chips. Do you like soggy food? Neither do we. Tellez confirms that frying your own chips tastes so much better, because they hold up to the sauce and keep their toothsome crunch. Think of the chips as important texture vessels, which proudly showcase other delicious ingredients in order to make you happy and full. Tellez also recommends not salting them, as the seasoning should come from the sauce. Size and shape also matter, so take a cue from NYC's Empellón Cocina and cut your stale tortillas into small squares, which are easy to stack into a perfect bite, before frying.
Be sauce savvy. Since the sauce is the backbone of flavor, choose wisely: You can make your chilaquiles rojo, or red, by submerging your chips in salsa, mole or a dried red chile sauce. Verde usually translates to a tomatillo-based salsa. Though Tellez prefers divorciados, a half green-half red combination that gives the best of both worlds, we went with a red version, using chipotle in adobo and dried ancho pepper to offer a sweet, lingering depth with just enough heat.
Coat, don't oversoak. Some recipes call for simmering the chips for so long in the sauce that they turn to soft polenta. Others merely recommend coating the chips, bordering on nacho territory. Tellez prefers the balance in which the chips are still fairly tough, but not crunchy, and most definitely not soggy. We couldn't agree more. Tossing and coating the chips so they are completely covered allows the sauce's flavor to come through, while retaining enough addictive crunchy chip integrity.
Pile on the toppings. This is where it gets really fun: Anything you can imagine putting on nachos, you can put on chilaquiles. Do like Empellón Cocina and pile salsa verde-drunken chips with black beans and shredded chicken, or pair a red sauce with salt-cured steak, à la NYC's Hecho en Dumbo. Our version has smoky chorizo, avocado and queso fresco, but you can get creative with leftovers and dice up the half onion roaming in your vegetable crisper, smash the forgotten garlic clove lying lonely on your counter and finish with that half-used bag of shredded mozzarella. Our only hard-and-fast rule is that you should always top chilaquiles with a fried egg, because, well, everything tastes better with a fried egg on top.
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