Friday, February 1, 2008

Chicken Chilaquiles: How to turn leftover chicken and tortilla chips into a Mexican casserole

For me half the fun of cooking is the clever re-invention of a dish into something totally different using leftovers. For this reason alone, though I'd been cooking half the box of pasta long before Mark Bittman said to, I've started cooking the whole pound knowing that with what's left over I can use other leftovers like chicken or vegetables to make soup or a frittata or a simple side or whatever. That's why it's particularly great to make something in the beginning of the week knowing you'll have enough left over to create another meal from something you've "prepped" in your own kitchen earlier in the week. This was the original premise of Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller on the Food Network, though she's deviated from the original format these days.

In this vein, I confess that half the reason I volunteer to cook Thanksgiving dinner is that I know I'll get at least two meals out of that leftover turkey (chili, pot pies, shepherd's pie, turkey divan, etc.) before I even make the turkey soup from the bare bones of the carcass! And besides even though you think you'll never want to eat again after stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving, you and yours will need something to eat on Friday too! So get comfortable with making leftovers. Not every delicious meal has to be made from scratch, but the satisfaction of making a delicious meal from leftovers is a timesaver that every cook should embrace.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post: chilaquiles. The Italian dish panzanella, though it has been dressed up by all manners of chefs into something approaching high cuisine, was originally conceived as a way to use up stale bread. As the Italians don't want to waste their day old bread, Mexicans don't want to waste their day old tortillas. When the cook finds herself with leftover tortillas from the day before, it's time for chilaquiles. Unless you've recently made enchiladas, you probably won't have enough corn tortillas left over to make this dish, and when making a dish from leftovers, it should not be necessary to go the store for any additional ingredients. But I wouldn't use fresh tortillas to start with anyway because it requires an added step of frying the tortillas to make them crisp, which drags out the whole process and seems inherently messy and unappetizing. The really quick way to make this leftover dish is with your favorite brand of plain old tortilla chips, all the better if they're a bit old and stale and not suitable for dipping into guacamole. I searched my usual sources and discovered that chilaquiles can be made with eggs as a breakfast dish, which reminds me of another dish I learned to make--called migas--also from Mexico. It's another great way to use stale tortilla chips or the broken bits at the bottom of the bag by simply adding them to scrambled eggs. You won't need any salt and you won't believe how delicious this dish will taste. Thanks to Rosa Mexicano for that recipe and teaching me about the genius of la cocina Mexicana.

So consider making this dish when you have leftover chicken (or turkey or chili or pork roast, etc.), a nearly full bag of tortilla chips, some salsa, some sour cream, and some cheese (five ingredients). Done. Finito. Bastante! My recipe is closest to Rick Bayless's from Mexico One Plate at a Time, but uses the bag chips in lieu of the fresh tortillas. He uses salsa verde from tomatillos rather than using the typical tomato salsa. I happened to have some salsa verde frozen from the last time I made Rick's grilled chicken with salsa verde, which is a foundation sauce of Mexican cuisine and a great alternative to salsa roja. Here, Joy of Cooking style is this twenty minute meal.

Chilaquiles Verdes
Four Servings

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In the bottom of a 3 quart casserole dish (9x13 is too big) spread
2 cups (3 ounces) of tortilla chips
Crush the chips somewhat so that the bottom of the dish is covered. Spread on top
1 cup (8 ounces) of leftover chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cups tomatillo salsa (or 1 1/2 cups tomato salsa)
over the chicken and dollop with
4 tablespoons of sour cream
Repeat layering one more time with all of the above ingredients. Top with
1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, etc.)
Cover with aluminum foil and bake in center of oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and broil for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. If desired, garnish with
chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, chopped jalapeno, or additional sour cream


  1. Thank you for this! I had a box of hardshell tacos that were going stale and was bummed to have them go to waste. I used vegi chicken cutlet bits instead and my vegetarian husband loved it!

  2. Glad you found the recipe helpful! I haven't made this in a long time, mainly because I almost never have leftover chicken or other meat! But maybe after Thanksgiving this year? Hmmm...


Please let me know what you're thinking!