Chilaquiles: a new adventure in Mexican food!

To explain why I tried this dish tonight, I have to back up about 3 weeks and tell you about a night when our friend Nicole showed up at our back door, (which she frequently does) bearing a leftover box from dinner. In the box was something called chilaquiles (say “chee-lah-KEE-lace”). Kirk and I greedily snarfed it down, and wondered why we had never heard of this delectable thing before, given our years of Mexican food fan-hood. (There’s an answer to that, and I’ll get there.) I proceeded to hunt down recipes for chilaquiles, and after looking at about 40 of them and realizing that it is a very simple method, really, I went for it. Tonight’s dinner was fantastic, and I can safely say we will be having MORE chilaquiles–probably this WEEK! So here’s the low down on them:


The reason we hadn’t ever heard of chilaquiles before was because they are a really common breakfast food in Mexico, usually made to use up all your stale tortillas. So it’s not considered some kind of fancy delicacy. Putting it on the menu at the restaurant would be like offering, I dunno, ….cream of tuna on toast is the nearest equivalent from my family’s food repertoire. I happen to like cream of tuna on toast, but it’s not really company food. So that’s why I’d never had chilaquiles in a restaurant before.

What is this dish? Basically, it’s layers of tortillas and other things, cooked in a deep skillet. Here’s what we did, along with a few things I might do differently next time:

First we heated about 4 TBSP of peanut oil in the skillet. When it was good and hot, we lightly fried about 12 corn tortillas. (And you want them to be a bit stale–if they are fresh, they will just fall apart.) We set those aside until the rest of the ingredients were ready.

Then we added another TBSP or so of oil to the pan, and laid down a layer of 4 tortillas on the bottom. On this layer, we drizzled some Mexican crema (if you can’t find this in your grocery store, you can use sour cream, although the taste is different.) Then we sprinkled some grated cheddar. We threw in a splash of some molé sauce that Nicole had brought us on Saturday (but this would be optional.) Down went another layer of tortillas. On top of that, we drizzled more crema, a little more cheese, and a good layer of salsa. This time we used plain old Pace Medium Picante, but I’d like to try Salsa verde. Then the top layer of tortillas went down. We covered the pan and let the whole thing cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the bottom was crispy and brown. I think next time, I’ll try to flip the whole thing and brown the other side. As it was, we flipped it out onto a plate and served wedges, with more crema drizzled over top.

The meal was a rousing success, I must say. Kirk and I couldn’t stop doing that, “MMMMMMM!” thing that says, “This is SOOOOO good!” The boys both tried it and expressed approval (#1, the picky eater: “Not bad.” #2: “I want MORE of that!”) We had to call up Auntie Nicole and invite her over for some (turns out they were calling to her loudly enough that she heard them way over in Minneapolis!)

Nicole tells us that chilaquiles is frequently eaten with an egg–sunny-side-up–served on top, for breakfast. Sometimes the crema is drizzled over the top, and a bit of crumbled Queso Fresco (it tastes a bit like Mozzarella, but the texture is more crumbly and less stringy/rubbery.) We could also add to the layers with scrambled eggs, refried beans, shredded meat, vegetables, etc. We could cut down on the fat by skipping the tortilla frying, and by using non-stick spray on the bottom. (But I have to say, the crispy fried tortilla on the bottom was FAB!) Further cutting down the fat, we could use fat-free sour cream instead of the crema, and use skim-milk mozzarella instead of cheddar. The really essential ingredients here are the layers of tortillas, cooked with salsa and other stuff in the skillet.

I’ll be adding further posts as I experiment more with this tasty and economic dish. If anybody out there has any fantastic tips or additions for chilaquiles, please share!


18 thoughts on “Chilaquiles: a new adventure in Mexican food!

  1. Basically, it’s layers of tortillas and other things, cooked in a deep skillet.

    And this differs from every other Mexican dish…how?? 😉 hehe

    They do sound good, actually!!

  2. Hi Steve,
    I think the thing that makes them chilaquiles is that really crunchy brown layer on the bottom of the skillet–mmmmm!

    And I have to say, my horizons in Mexican food have widened considerably since I moved to the Twin Cities, and especially since I acquired a friend who goes to a Hispanic church. I used to ONLY order chimichangas at a Mexican restaurant, and that is just NOT the specialty up here. The Mexican people up here are more into meats in different sauces, with Mexican rice and beans on the side. There is a restaurant in town where their chimis are sort of…meh…but their carnitas make me weep with joy. I’m learning to love the cooking from the south of Mexico! (Which is not the same thing at all as the cooking of Mexicans in the Southern U.S. :-D)


  3. Laura:

    It is so true about the different regions . . . in both countries! In southern NM a sopapilla is wonderful fry bread that is puffy and you eat it with honey, but when we moved to IL and went to a Mexican restaurant I ordered sopapillas and was so disappointed to find something like a fried tortilla on my plate – thin and crispy. I almost cried. Other than that, however, our family will happily eat almost pretty much any Mexican foods we’ve encountered so far. My oldest would probably want this for breakfast every day! 😉

  4. The best chilaquiles ingredient (in my opinion) is crumbled chorizo, fried until really, really crisp (though homemade guacamole on top runs a close second). Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico has a great section outlining the different kinds of chilaquiles made regionally in Mexico. Yum!

  5. Oh, yes! Always, definitely, guacamole. COLD guacamole with lots of onion. The contrast in textures really wakes up your mouth,

  6. Wow, I’m from Mexico city, and what we know here as traditional chilaquiles is way different. As previously mentioned, the culinary diversity is enormous between regions, this is a great example. Our “central/southern” chilaquiles are like these:

  7. I’m going to have to agree with Guillermo. My family is from Michoacan and Chilaquiles (say “chee-lah-KEE-less”, not “chee-lah-KEE-lace”) has always been a traditional breakfast food whose main ingredient is scrambled eggs and other required ingredients being a good homemade salsa, fried corn tortillas, and a good, strong mexican cheese. Changing the other ingredients up is what makes it versatile.. my favorite being crumbled and browned chorizo. Adding avocados or guacamole is nice too but if you have a great cheese and salsa, you wont miss the avocado.

  8. Hi Esperanza,
    It’s so cool to see the regional differences in these things. The chilaquiles that we first sampled came from a Mexican restaurant in south Minneapolis, whose cook is from somewhere in Mexico. We liked them a lot–enough that we go looking for them now.

    By the way, we have a friend from Morelia, who lives up here now. We also have a gringa friend who spent quite a lot of time in Michoacan, and currently lives in a house with a bunch of Michoacanos. She is working on a translation of the Bible in some obscure dialect spoken in Michoacan.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  9. WOW!
    I also love Chilaquiles. My husband of 8 years is from Michoacon and the way we make them is completely different.

  10. I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in October and had chilaquiles practically everyday. They were so delicious and I’m so glad I found this recipe (and the variations)! I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks!!

  11. Hi Rose,
    I’m thinking that the texture would be significantly changed. If I was going to freeze it, I think I’d skip the step of frying the tortillas, and just make it a layered casserole kind of thing. The fried tortillas would lose their crunchiness, and I think would taste greasy, if they were frozen and then reheated.

    If you try this, please let us know how it turns out.


  12. hello, i just want to tell you that chilaquiles are sell in restaurants, is not an offense or a cheap dish, you said it, its a very common breakfast, so by pure logic, chilaquiles will be selled in restaurants so people can have some of them for breakfast, btw, my parents have a restaurant in Mexico city, called “La Peña de Losa”, in tecate Baja California, and chilaquiles IS IN THE MENU, and no, theyre not made of old tortillas, you can put fresh tortillas in oil, well, i think in usa u cant, in us i dont know if they have any tortilleria, i have only seen tortillas in plastic bags, thats awfull,and they taste horrible to be honest. but yeah, you can use fresh natural tortillas to make chilaquiles.

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