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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole

Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole
Aren't memories an odd beast?  Some are crystal clear, while others get lost in a fog of time.  And sometimes the memories that you're trying most desperately to recall are the hardest to shake the haze.  That's pretty much where this dish comes from.  The haze.  A tinkling sound that I'm trying sightlessly to locate.

So yes, when I was a kid...a teenager, mom made this dish that was absolutely out-of-this-world.  But she didn't make it that often.  It was, for all intents and purposes, a tortilla casserole.  I remember it having green chiles in it.  And I remember wishing that she would make it more often.  But it just sort of faded away.

One of my sisters and I used to talk about this dish endlessly about 10 years ago.  You see, my mom barely remembers it and has no idea where the recipe went (she was always one to use a recipe back then).  Or where it came from in the first place.  So, while mom shook out her cookbooks in search of a scrap of paper with the recipe written on it, we scoured the internet in hopes of finding something that sounded close.

We failed miserably.  My mom has a bad memory for stuff like that.  And let's just say, it runs in the family.  Every once in a while, an email would volley between my sister and I (Is this close? This one sounds good! Maybe this?).  To this day, that recipe remains a mystery.

It shouldn't be that hard.  I'm pretty handy in the kitchen.  But nothing has ever measured up to that that dish that, though we only ate it a few times over the course of a few years, was a favorite of both of ours.  Maybe the expectations were just too high.  Maybe it wasn't the dish alone, but the memory of all still being together as a family around the table (I am the oldest of four kids, and my parents were still together back then), the memory of seeing my mom cooking a meal from scratch in the kitchen while we peered through the kitchen door from the table as we set it.

That said, I did try to come up with something close.  I sense the wheel turning against the flint, but it wasn't enough to cause a spark.  Sigh.  It's good, though!  But I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board in what could be a never-ending quest.
  • Tip:  Get the whole family involved in making dinner (or any meal)!  From measuring to stirring, chopping to weighing, picking the meal to setting the table - this teaches teamwork, and generates discussion.  You'll have successes, and you'll have failures - but no matter what, you'll have spent time together.  Keep a notebook in the kitchen for recipes that you've made...let everybody add notes or drawings about either the cooking process, or how they liked it.  This will be treasured for generations to come.

Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole
Chicken and creamy sauce studded with green chiles combine with tortillas to form this comforting casserole.
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Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole

by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 20-30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Keywords: bake entree nut-free soy-free sugar-free chicken chiles sour cream tortillas American Southwest

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
  • 1 pound chicken breast - poached & shredded
  • 7 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/3 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 8 small-medium (scant pound) Anaheim chiles - roasted,seeded, skinned, & diced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 20 (6-inch) corn tortillas (white or yellow), cut into sixths
  • 8 ounces Quesedilla or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350° F. Have a 9"x13" baking dish ready.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. When it has melted, add the onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt, pepper, and cumin and cook for another 30 seconds.

Add the remaining butter, and once it is melted, shake the flour over everything and stir it in to form a roux. Let it cook for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the chicken broth until the roux has dissolved into it and no lumps remain. Whisk in the milk and add the diced chiles. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 3-4 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and whisk in the sour cream.

Taste the sauce at this point and adjust seasoning, as needed - how well seasoned it is really depends on the stock or broth you started with, and if you used salted or unsalted butter. Taste, taste, taste!

Use a one-cup measuring cup, scoop a meausre of sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly layer 1/4 of the tortillas over it. Pour another scoop of sauce evenly over the tortillas, then add another 1/4 of the tortillas. Scatter 1/2 of the shredded chicken evenly over the top. Scatter 1/2 of the cheese evenly over the top. Repeat process, ending with sauce. Use the back of the measuring cup to make sure the top layer of sauce is covering everything (but it's okay if a bit of this-or-that is poking through).

Slide into preheated oven and bake until hot and bubbly, ~30 minutes. Let the casserole rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into it. This allows the liquid time to "set", making for easier cutting (and you won't lose all of your sauce to the baking dish).

To poach the chicken breast, place the breasts in a medium-sized pot. Cover with water by at least an inch. I like to season my water with whatever I have around...half of an onion, a clove of garlic, some parsley, thyme, oregano, and/or cilantro stems, black peppercorns, and a smattering of salt. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Let it sit, without removing the cover, for at least 40 minutes. Pull meat out and shred it once it's cool enough to handle. You can strain the broth and use it in place of chicken broth/stock in a recipe.

To roast the chiles, place them on foil, under the broiler, and turn until all sides are charred and black. Place into a bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Slide the charred skins off, pull out the stem and seeds, and then dice the chile.
Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole