Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fit for a King

Once upon a time--way back in the early 70s--there was a woman named A. (I don't actually know her name, so I picked the first letter of the alphabet.) She was in her twenties, and worked as a secretary in a busy research lab. She had a sad expression on her face a lot of the time. No one who worked with her knew why she was so very sad, but they suspected that her sadness was deep-seated and profound.

One day, my mom (who happened to be a lab technician in this same busy research lab back in the early 70s) asked A why she was so sad. Without much hemming and hawing, the story came out. It turned out that A had recently gotten divorced, which explained the sadness. And not just divorced at a young age, but divorced from the scion of the King Ranch in Texas. Unfortunately, she was now essentially penniless, having to work as a secretary to make ends meet.

"But," A said to my mom, "I do have a great recipe for enchiladas that they used to make at the King Ranch.

"It's literally the only thing of value I ended up with from the relationship."

The question, of course, remains whether this recipe was valuable enough. Not personally knowing A, but having personally consumed a lot of these delicious chicken enchiladas in my lifetime, I have to say her nasty, brutish, and short marriage was worth it! (Especially since A eventually realized her dream of going to law school, and remarried, and had several children.)

The enchiladas are like no enchilada you've had before. The filling is creamy, the cheese topping slightly crunchy, and the flavor piquant. They take a while to make, but they are definitely worth it. The recipe is easy to double, just by putting everything into a 9x13 in pan instead. Also, they freeze pretty well, or you can make them 24 hours ahead of time just up to the point where you pop them into the oven, and then refrigerate them to bake later. A few other cook's notes: when you boil the chicken breast, add some garlic, tomato, carrot, and onion to the water, and then you'll have some good chicken stock around for other recipes. Also, I substitute a whole red bell pepper if I don't have pimientos around, and saute that with the onions. I frequently serve the enchiladas with black beans.

My med school friends used to clamor for the "enchies," and now B does on a regular basis. I have given out the recipe to a lot of people (one of whom rather excessively doubled the cream cheese!), but I feel the obligation to tell even more of you through this blog, sort of like the internet gospel of that $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. Feel free to disseminate further, and enjoy.

King Ranch Chicken Enchiladas
Serves: 2-3 people
Time: 30 min active, 2 hours total

1 large chicken breast (whole), boiled until tender, cooled, and diced
1/4 pound low-fat (not non-fat) cream cheese, softened
1 large onion, sauteed in 1 tablespoon olive oil until softened
2 tablespoons pimientos
1/2 teaspoon salt

6-7 corn tortillas, each softened in hot oil (cool on a plate before handling)
1 1/2-2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 can Herdez salsa casera or other salsa
1/4 cup milk or cream

Mix filling ingredients together; set aside. Add approximately 1/4 cup to center of each tortilla. Bring sides over so that they overlap and place seam side down in a lightly-greased 9x9 inch pan. Repeat for remaining filling. Top each with salsa and cheese; pour milk or cream over. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated 350 oven for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes longer.

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures! I made these the other night right up to the popping in the oven, so that B could bake them for dinner while I was stuck in the hospital overnight on call. The enchies were already decimated by the time I got to them the next day. Next time I make them I promise I'll take a pic and post it.

P.P.S. More milk and meat mixed together. Sorry, JB.


  1. In another variation, JB makes these with black beans instead of chicken and assures me that they're delicious.

    This weekend we made them with J and B, but the silly grocery store in Brookline didn't have any corn tortillas. (Can you imagine? Thankfully J and B are moving out West soon. The funniest part is that there was another couple standing in the aisle ALSO staring in disbelief at the lack of tortillas!) Anyway, I made them with whole-wheat tortillas instead, and while not as crispy as a regular enchilada, they were quite serviceable.