The Perfect Enchilada
Note: When soaking the chiles for this sauce, use 5 cups of water.
“A church fair almost anywhere in the Southwest is apt to be accompanied by an enchilada supper, served always by pretty dark-eyed señoritas,” wrote Sunset in January 1922, introducing the magazine’s first recipe for enchiladas.
California (where our offices were and still are located) had been part of Mexico until 1848, and Mexican food was as much a part of the landscape as the sunshine. But for the many thousands of people who’d just moved to the West and were turning to Sunset for advice on enjoying life in their new homes, Mexican food was truly foreign.
It was through our pages that they first learned about guacamole, tamales, chiles, and enchiladas. Our July 1954 cover story even featured an all-out Mexican buffet, complete with “the colorful foods of old Mexico,” served in glazed Mexican pottery.
“Sunset acclimated new Californians to Mexican cuisine,” says Kevin Starr, prolific author of California history books and state librarian emeritus. The same could be said for readers in the Northwest, where Mexico’s influence was not nearly as strong.
Over the decades, Sunset has continued to publish Mexican recipes―hundreds of them, including several dozen for enchiladas alone. In honor of Cinco de Mayo and our enduring love of Mexican food, we ate our way through Sunset’s many enchiladas, starting with that 1922 recipe. Beautifully simple and true to its roots, it called for dipping the tortillas in sizzling-hot lard and a sauce of sieved red chiles, then layering them with chopped raw onion and cheese.
We also tasted chorizo enchiladas, Tampico-style enchiladas, and enchiladas with cream; we tried enchiladas filled with pork and green chiles, with cheese, and with fresh corn. The one we offer here (updated with a few notes) comes from a 1960 article called “The Versatile Enchilada.”
Its intriguingly smoky flavor and crunchy, sweet almonds mixed with tender chicken appealed to us―and, we hope, to you.
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