Why It Works
- The chicken and vegetables release plenty of liquid as they cook in the pressure cooker, creating a rich and flavorful salsa with minimal effort.
- Soy sauce adds saltiness and umami depth to the enchilada salsa.
- Mixing the cheese with sauce when applying it to the top of the baking dish keeps it moist and gooey as it melts.
I've learned many useful things from my wife Adri over the years. The importance of doctors and dentists. That keeping track of airline miles and credit card rewards really can pay off in the long run. That there is nothing I enjoy more than taking a long walk outside as soon as I hear Project Runway starting. But perhaps the most useful are her cooking tricks, whether it's boiling pasta with less water, using crackers to make a lime pie in 10 minutes, or throwing five ingredients into a pressure cooker and coming back to a complete and delicious meal.
It's this latter trick that I've been trying to find new ways to employ. The idea is simple: Take raw chicken legs, a few aromatics, and vegetables, throw them all into a pressure cooker, and then cook them just until the chicken is cooked through in about 15 minutes. The airtight seal of a pressure cooker prevents any liquid from escaping, which means that your ingredients end up producing their own sauce, with no added water or stock required. Pretty neat, right?
I've been on a big enchilada and salsa kick recently, so I thought to myself, could I use this technique to kill two birds with one stone, cooking my chicken and producing an intensely flavored enchilada sauce all at the same time?
Turns out it works well. Remarkably well. But it took a little tweaking to get there. Here's how it went down.
Two Techniques, Two Sauces
Because of that Colombian chicken stew recipe, I already knew that cooking chicken with moist vegetables—in this case tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh chiles—along with some aromatics—Mexican oregano, cumin, coriander, bay leaf, and dried ancho chiles—would successfully produce a tasty sauce and tender chicken. The question is, are there any other steps I could take to make it taste even better, without losing sight of the ease-of-preparation factor?
If anything, I figured that adding a few browning and sautéing steps would help things out. I cooked one batch of the mixture by dumping all the ingredients straight into a pressure cooker and cooking it on high pressure for 15 minutes before using the quick-release method to open the pot (I ended up actually adding a bit of boxed chicken stock because I wanted the enchilada sauce to be extra-saucy at the end).
I pulled out the chicken and set it aside to cool, discarded the bay leaves, and then puréed the vegetables into a sauce, adding a squirt of soy sauce to it as it blended for a salty umami blast.
This was the chicken and sauce I'd use as a baseline for flavor comparison. For the next batch, I decided to pan-sear the chicken with the skin side down until golden brown before adding the remaining ingredients.
I figured the extra browning would add correspondingly more flavor. Similarly, I also tried a batch in which I sautéed the onions and garlic in a bit of chicken fat to soften them before adding the remaining ingredients, sealing the pot, and cooking. To my great surprise, neither of these batches was significantly better (or even significantly different) from the batch in which I just dumped all the ingredients, closed the lid, and set it on the stovetop. Certainly not different enough to warrant the extra time and effort needed.
Dump-and-cook recipes are not generally my style, but in this case, the method works incredibly well.
The puréed sauce was so tasty with its intense chicken and chile flavor that I was almost tempted to just thin it with some more stock, season it, and eat it as a soup (in fact, I may well do that next time), but for now I had a different goal in mind.
As soon as the chicken was cool enough to handle, I shredded it apart with my fingers, discarding the skin and bones. Then I added some of my seasoned sauce...
...and tossed it all together along with some cilantro and lime juice.
At this stage, I was almost tempted to stop again and just call it a day, using the filling and salsa to stuff tacos or burritos.
In fact, if you want an even quicker meal, I'd suggest doing just that—the most tender chicken tacos with an incredibly flavorful salsa in about 25 minutes is not bad on the work-to-delicious scale that I often use to rate my meals.
But I'd committed to enchiladas, so enchiladas it is.
Assembly and Baking
To form the enchiladas, I started by frying fresh corn tortillas in oil on the stovetop just long enough to soften them (about 5 minutes). You can also steam them in the microwave or heat them in the oven wrapped in foil if you prefer, though frying gives them a little more texture in the finished dish.
Next I dipped them into the sauce, stacking them as I worked. I spooned the chicken filling into the center of each one in a row...
...then rolled it up like a cigar. It's important not to overstuff at this stage. Just a few tablespoons of filling per tortilla will do.
I tucked them into a casserole dish layered with a bit of extra sauce as I worked, making sure to place them seam side-down so that they wouldn't unravel in the process. After spooning on a little more sauce, I was at a critical juncture. Do I go full-on Tex-Mex with melty Jack or Cheddar cheese, or do I keep things a little more austere and traditional?
It wasn't really a hard question to answer. Bring on the cheese, please.
Here's a quick trick: You want to make sure that your cheese stays gooey and moist as it bakes? Drizzle some extra sauce on top of the grated cheese. Just like it does with a Trenton-style tomato pie (what they call pizza over there), the cheese comes out extra gooey this way.
I covered the dish with aluminum foil (another thing that'll help melt that cheese without drying it out), then popped it in the oven for about 10 minutes before removing the foil. I almost popped it straight back in to finish uncovered (just to get some bubbling and browning action going on), but who am I kidding? It needed more cheese before that happened.
A big handful of grated cotija to melt in with the cheddar. Of course, I reserved some of that cotija to sprinkle on just before serving as well. I speculated that I apply my enchilada cheese almost exactly the same way I apply mozzarella and Parmesan on my pizza: sauce and melty cheese on the bottom, grated hard cheese on top, baked hot, then a finishing layer of grated hard cheese after it comes out of the oven for some extra-fresh bite. Perhaps there's some sort of underlying order to the universe dictated by cheese layering after all. This will require further speculation and analysis.
But it'll have to wait. For now, there was a hot tray of enchiladas on my dining room table and they sure as heck weren't going to eat themselves.
I could have pretended that I'd toiled over the stove all day instead of taking the quick and easy pressure-cooker route in order to justify the rate at which I wolfed these down, but honestly, you don't really need justification when faced with something this delicious, now do you?
For the Chicken and Sauce:
2 whole dried ancho chiles
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, roughly sliced
1 pound roma tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 4)
1 medium onion, sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, smashed
2 whole canned chipotle chiles packed in adobo, plus 2 tablespoons sauce from the can
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems
1/4 cup canola oil
12 fresh corn tortillas
3 ounces grated Jack or cheddar cheese
1 ounce crumbled cotija cheese
For the Chicken and Sauce: Trim tops of chiles and discard seeds (see here for more detailed instructions). Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power until pliable and fragrant, about 15 seconds. Cut chiles into thin strips using kitchen shears or a sharp knife.
Combine chiles, chicken, serrano or jalapeño, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, coriander, and chicken stock in a pressure cooker, season with salt and pepper, and stir roughly until ingredients are evenly distributed. Seal pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Release pressure using quick-release method. Using tongs, transfer chicken to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Discard bay leaf. Transfer remaining ingredients from pressure cooker to the jar of a blender. Add soy sauce and lime juice. Blend, starting at low speed and slowly increasing to high until sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and stir in 3 tablespoons of cilantro. Transfer to a bowl.
When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones. Shred chicken meat roughly with your fingers or two forks. Fold in 1/4 cup of sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To Assemble: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Heat canola oil in a medium cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working one at a time, place a tortilla in the oil, fry for 5 seconds, turn, and fry second side for 5 seconds. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, then to a second clean plate. Stack tortillas as you work and cover with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel when finished to keep tortillas warm.
Dip tortillas in sauce one at a time, letting excess drip off and stacking them as you go. Ladle one cup of sauce over the base of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of chicken filling in a line along the center of one tortilla. Roll tortilla up like a cigar and transfer to baking dish, seam side-down. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.
Spoon more sauce over the top of tortillas, then spread cheddar or Jack cheese in two even rows across the center of tortillas. Spoon a few more tablespoons of sauce on top of cheese. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil, transfer to oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with half of cotija cheese, and continue baking until heated through, 5 to 10 minutes longer.
Remove baking dish from oven, sprinkle with remaining cotija cheese and chopped cilantro, and serve immediately, passing any additional salsa at the table.
Electric or stovetop pressure cooker
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 35g||44%|
|Saturated Fat 11g||55%|
|Total Carbohydrate 47g||17%|
|Dietary Fiber 9g||31%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 25mg||127%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|