For a happy weekend breakfast, chilaquiles tick all the right boxes. Coated by fiery salsa, crisped tortilla strips are topped with refried beans, tangy soured cream, salty feta, and softly poached eggs. It’s like two fab sunrises on one morning.
Our chilaquiles are all about partnerships between really varied flavors and textures. Crunchy, golden strips of fast-fried tortilla are paired with a hot, smooth salsa of roasted sweet cherry tomatoes, onion, cayenne chilies, and garlic. Already full of contrasts, this is merely the foundation for your chilaquiles’ base.
That’s topped with slowly flowing bands of soured cream mixed with a little lime juice. Then comes a chunky crumbling of salty feta cheese. And now, things just keep on getting better. Curving around one side of the plate is a rolling range of slightly crisped refried beans. They’re balanced on the other side by a quarter-moon of avocado and lime wedges. And then you lay on two gently poached eggs.
Lots of nice problems to have
When it comes to eating the chilaquiles, it’s hard to work out who’s the real hero. That’s the first pleasant problem. And then it’s even harder to work out where to start. My advice? Squeeze a wedge of lime over the beans and fork them up with a little of that fiery red salsa and some of the soured cream. Then sit back and purr like a stroked cat as you ponder your next taste sensation.
Many more are right there, waiting. Perhaps a sunburst of egg with a little avocado on a crisp strip of salsa-dipped tortilla? That’s the wonder of chilaquiles – there’s just so much happening here in all the spot-on combinations of tastes and textures.
A taste of real Mexico
The absolutely essential quartet of ingredients for chilaquiles are tortillas, salsa, queso, and crema. Queso is the cheese. To be muy autentico for a moment, it should be an aged, hard-ish, fairly crumbly white cheese called cojita. I’ve seen it referred to as ‘Mexican Parmesan’ because – like Parmesan – it’s eaten more like a sprinkle-over condiment rather than a table cheese. In terms of a sort of similar flavor, I opted instead for a sharp, tangy feta cheese as the much-suggested substitute for cojita.
Crema. That’d be the soured cream. To approximate the Mexican version, I added a little thinning milk and lime juice to the widely available, pretty mild and thick sour cream that I usually buy. As for the tortilla-coating sauce, I went the route of salsa roja, using tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cayenne peppers. And I kept the cilantro aside to use as a garnish instead of the highly authentic Mexican herb, epazote. There’s more about that here.
And now the tortillas. They should be made of corn, never wheat. And they should be leftover from the night before so they’ve dried-out a little. I replicated that effect by heating some fresh ones for a while in a low oven. Cut into broad inch-and-a-half strips, they then got flash fried in hot olive oil.
Did I use corn tortillas? Not telling. What I will say is that they turned out just dandy and were crisply-sealed by the oil so as not to turn soggy in the salsa.
As for the refried beans, avocado ,and lime wedges, well, I reckon you’ll find them just as indispensable as that essential quartet of tortilla, salsa, crema, and queso. Salud!
For the salsa roja
- 1 pound red cherry tomatoes left whole. Do make sure they really are ripe – then the skins will soften wonderfully.
- 4 red cayenne peppers stalks removed and slit open lengthways to expose the seeds. (Don’t scrape out the seeds.)
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and slightly crushed
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice approximately the juice from one lime
For the refried beans
- 4 ounces smoked Canadian bacon aka streaky bacon, finely diced
- 2 yellow onions medium-sized, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 1 can black beans 14-ounce can, drained and rinsed
- 1 can borlotti beans 14-ounce can, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
The queso – in this case feta cheese
- 150 grams crumbly feta cheese drained — I used the easily crumbled sort that comes in ‘fingers’.
The crema – sour cream
Prepping the crema
- Apparently, Mexican crema is a little thinner than the sort of soured cream you might usually buy. I thinned mine down by mixing it really well with a little whole milk – so that it could just be poured. For me, some lime juice lifts the soured savour.
Cooking the salsa roja
- In a shallow baking dish, the plan is to roast the salsa’s ingredients together on a high shelf in a pre-heated 400F/200C oven for 20 minutes. So, add all the ingredients to your dish and give them a good stir to coat the tomatoes, onion, and cayennes with the oil, salt and pepper.
- After ten minutes’ roasting, give everything a turning stir and return to the oven. After its final ten minutes, turn the oven down to 120F/50C. Remove your dish and let its contents cool a bit before tipping the whole lot into a processor and zapping it smooth. Add the lime juice, check the salt, and add more if needed. Keep it warm in a bowl in the cooling oven.
Drying the tortillas
- Place the tortillas evenly spread on a rack in the cooling oven. You want them to just start curling at the edges. So, they’re going to sit there gently drying – but checked on a couple of times so they don’t crisp at all – while you make the refried beans.
Cooking the beans
- In a big skillet (I used a deep, 9-inch one), fry the diced bacon on a medium heat in a tablespoon olive oil to give it some fat-melting color. Don’t let the bacon crisp too much. Rather cook it gently with a few stirs for about 5 minutes. You want its fat to mix nicely with the olive oil. Good.
- Now add the onions and garlic. Continue frying on that medium heat for another 7 minutes or so, until the onions soften and begin to barely take on a little colour – barely.
- Add the beans, mix everything together really well and drop the heat to low-medium. Continue to cook with the odd thorough stir until the beans just start to catch on the bottom of the skillet, and they start to very slightly crisp. That’ll take maybe 10 minutes. The beans should be pretty dry – apparently, the Mexican term ‘refrito’ beans doesn’t so much mean refried but rather ‘well fried’ beans.
- Remove from the heat and roughly mash the beans with a potato masher and season with salt and pepper. Don’t mash into a puree, you want to keep this pretty chunky. Done. Empty the beans into an oven-proof bowl and set them to keep warm in that low oven.
- Wipe the skillet clean and set it on a high heat with four tablespoons of olive oil. That’s where the tortillas are heading when it’s good and hot.
Finishing the tortillas
- Cut the dry-ish tortillas into strips 1-1/2 inches wide. Now take some special care in how you flash fry the strips. So, add them to the skillet in batches so they cook in a single layer. Fry the strips for no more than 90 seconds each side – you want them to get a good, light golden colour in that hot oil. Drain each batch on kitchen towel. Good, nearly finished.
Poaching the eggs
- I always use an egg poacher because it’s so much easier than poaching them in a pan of gently simmering water.
- Bear in mind that, in terms of timing, you want the eggs to be ready as soon as you start plating our chilaquiles. And it’s time for that right now.
Bringing it all together – plating and serving
- Pour off the olive oil from the skillet. (I keep it in in a little bowl for another day’s cooking.) Set the skillet back on a medium low heat and add the salsa roja. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn off the heat and add all the fried tortilla strips. It’ll be a crowded skillet, so gently coat all the strips with the salsa.
- Cover each diner’s plate with a serving of tortilla and salsa. Now pour over a few flowing stripes of the crema, and crumble on some feta.
- Arrange the beans in a nice curve around one half of each plate’s edge. Add the avocado and lime wedges to the opposite side.
- Then add two poached eggs to each plate’s centre. Done! And well done, too. You’ve just made Mexico’s national breakfast.