I didn’t grow up eating Mexican food, or at least what passed for Mexican in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1970s. We very occasionally had tacos-from-a-kit, when we were feeling Kicky, but Mexican cuisine—even Americanized, watered-down Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine—was not on our radar. I didn’t even quiero Taco Bell until well after I finished college.
When I did finally go to a Mexican restaurant, after perusing the menu for a lot longer than my table mates thought necessary—a very whole lot longer, I finally settled on something called a chimichanga. I’m pretty sure anyone from Mexico wouldn’t recognize a chimichanga as Mexican food, but here in the US, our definition of what Mexican food is tends to be narrower in some ways and broader in others.
It’s narrower in that Americans (excluding Rick Bayless) don’t really pay attention to the vast diversity that is Mexican food—Mexico is comprised of thirty-one states as well as a federal district, and the cuisine varies widely from east to west and from north to south. And it’s broader in that Americans are happy to call Mexican-ish dishes that were created in the Southern and Southwestern United States “Mexican food” because we rather clumsily think they’re “close enough.”
The chimichanga falls under the “close enough” category. It’s basically a deep-fried burrito, and various restaurants in Arizona claim to have invented it. So, a chimichanga isn’t Mexican. It isn’t even Tex-Mex. It’s Arizona-Mex. And it is mighty fine eating.
Deep fry a corn tortilla and you end up with a crunchy shell that shatters when you bit into it.
Deep fry a flour tortilla, and you end up with a crisp shell that yields easily to the bite. It crunches just a little, but it doesn’t shatter. If you’ve never had one before, think of a hand pie. How its thin, crisp outside gives way to a hint of chew in the dough before you find the filling.
As with so many meals that I prepare, the idea for making chimichangas just sort of happened. It all started with a jar of Herdez Salsa. I discovered this salsa in the Mexican section at our local grocery store, and The Beloved and I have been in love with it ever since. When I shared my recommendation on the fan page, it turned out that I was the last to know about this brand. Many people commented that they are huge fans of their whole line of products, so I went In Search Of the other day.
What I came home with was a bottle of Herdez Taquero Sauce. My first thought was to cook some chicken in the sauce and make tacos. That idea morphed into burritos, and from there, it was just a quick dip in hot oil that brought me to chimichangas.
I had some leftover black beans and corn from…something else…I made a few days ago, so I added that to the mix as well. Served with some cilantro-lime rice and topped with a bit of pepper jack, this made a great dinner that honestly didn’t take very long to get on the table.
One thing I learned that I will now pass along to you because I love you and want you to be successful: make sure your filling is cool before trying to fill your tortillas. Hot filling will turn your tortilla to goo in about 7 seconds, so make sure it has cooled down significantly before slapping it on your tortilla. Once I realized my error, I spread the filling out on a plate and stuck it in the freezer for ten minutes. Of course, you guys are better planners than I am, so you will make your filling ahead of time.
Do take the flour tortillas out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking so they have a chance to come to room temperature and be a bit more pliable.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium sweet onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup Herdez Taquera Sauce
- 1 chipotle in adobo, minced, plus about 2 teaspoons of the adobo sauce
- 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (not split) (use thighs if you have them for more flavor)
- ¼ cup each yellow corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- ¼ cup cooked black beans (canned or from dried)
- 6-8 10″ flour tortillas, depending on how full you want to fill them
- A little water to “glue” the tortillas shut.
- Enough oil or melted shortening (or lard) to fill a cast iron skillet to a depth of ½” (or if you have a deep fryer, use add as much oil as is required)
- ¼ cup Herdez Taquera Sauce per plate (more or less)
- 1 slice pepper jack cheese (or 2 Tablespoons of shredded) per chimichanga
- 1 Tablespoon Sour Cream or Mexican crema per chimichanga
- 1 Tablespoon crumbled Queso Fresca per chimichanga
- 2 Tablespoons guacamole per chimichanga
- In a medium saucepan or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot.
- Add the onion and cook until softened and starting to color, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, minced chipotle and sauce, and cook another minute more.
- Season with salt and pepper and add the Herdez Taquera Sauce
- Add the breast (yes, raw and unseared) and cook over medium-low heat, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness of meat.
- Remove the meat and shred with two forks.
- Return to the pan and add the beans and corn. When you think of it, shred the meat some more if it’s not as finely shredded as you’d like.
- Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, simmer for a few minutes uncovered to reduce the liquid a bit and set aside to cool until warm.
- Use a slotted spoon to gather up your filling and allow most of the liquid to drain back into the pot. If your filling is too wet, your chimichanga might blow out in the fryer.
- Place about ⅓ cup of filling a bit off-center (closer to you) on your tortilla. Arrange the filling so it’s sort of in a rectangle about 4″ long and 2″ wide. No need to measure. I’ll be sad if you do.
- Fold each side of the tortilla over the short sides of your filling rectangle and then pull the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the filling, trying to tuck it in under the far side of your rectangle of filling.
- Moisten the far side of the tortilla with a little water.
- Make sure the sides are well tucked in and then roll up the tortilla pretty tightly so the filling is completely encased in the tortilla. Press down on the seam and set the filled tortilla seam side down.
- Fill the rest of your tortillas and let them sit there while you heat your oil.
- Pour oil (or melt shortening) in a heavy bottomed skillet (I used cast iron) to a depth of ½”.
- Heat the oil over medium heat until it registers between 350F and 360F. Since the oil is shallow, this won’t take long, so keep an eye on it.
- While the oil is heating, place a few layers of paper towel on a cooling rack and place so it’s convenient to the stove.
- Once the oil has come to temperature (I check mine frequently with my Thermapen), carefully place the filled tortillas in the pan, seam-side down. I used tongs to be on the safe side.
- Fry, monitoring the temperature frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until deeply golden brown.
- Turn carefully (again, with tongs) and fry for another 2 minutes, or until deeply golden brown.
- If you’re deep frying, the timing will be about the same. You’re going for medium golden brown.
- You may need to fry in batches. Don’t crowd the pan, and allow about an inch of space between your tortillas.
- As you finish cooking the chimichangas, set them aside on the prepared rack.
- Once they’re all done, transfer them to a sheet pan (sized for your toaster oven or oven, depending on how many you’re making, top with the sliced or shredded cheese and place under the broiler for a couple of minutes–just long enough to melt it.
- To serve, pour a pool of sauce on each plate and set 1, 2, or 3 chimichangas on top of it (totally dependent on how hungry you are).
- Top with any combination of the suggested toppings, or come up with your own.
- Eat while still nice and hot.
If you love chimichangas and thought you could never make them at home, I hope I have just shown you that you can. And you should.
If you’ve never had a chimichanga before, I’m pretty sure you owe it to yourself to try them out. I think you’ll be very happy that you did.
And there you have it. I hope you enjoy these little guys. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Have a lovely day.