This started as a dish called chilaquiles, a recipe which I clipped out of Cooking Light 4 years ago. I used to think a dish couldn’t qualify as chilaquiles unless it had eggs in it. But, I believe I was wrong. Now I believe that just about any casserole dish made with corn tortillas and chicken and some green stuff qualifies, and this definitely fits the bill. But I call this particular iteration Chicken Tomatillo Casserole. So call it chilaquiles or call it Tomatillo Casserole, just call me to come over for dinner if you make it, because it is easy and delicious and a true comfort food. I added all of the fat and calories back in that Cooking Light had taken out, just so you know. I also messed around and fell in love with fresh tomatillos, when the original called for canned.
About tomatillos…the first time I made this I used a can of tomatillos and it was great. I then went about trying to make the recipe again and I went to about 5 grocery stores before finding another can of the little beauties. However, fresh tomatillos were at many of the same stores. So I decided that it must be an improvement to use fresh and that I would do just that, and I did. And, you should also know that this is the first time I have played with fresh tomatillos so don’t let them intimidate you if you have not, either. (I acknowledge that it is muy lame that I have not played with them before this). They are great, and they are easy to handle. But if you don’t want to fool with an extra step in the process, please feel free to grab a can if you can find it, because it is still wonderful that way, too. However, if you do have a few extra minutes grab a handful of the fresh and go home and peel away the husk and discover a lovely little fruit.
In case you are curious, tomatillos are a relative of the tomato, but they are not tomatoes. And while you might see them called tomate verdes, they are not in fact “green tomatoes.” They are their own little corner of heaven. They are a little sweet and a little tart, and very delicious. And, now for some totally lazy research results…on Chowhound, a great food Q & A resource related to the also great Chow, I read that the venerable Rick Bayless said, at some point, someplace, that it takes about a pound of fresh tomatillos to equal an 11 ounce can of tomatillos. So in this recipe, I cooked them in broth with a slice of pickled jalapeno and kept as much liquid after cooking to make about 1- ¼ cups to 1-⅓ cups of green goodness. This troubles me because I like citing with a little more accuracy than that when I am coasting on the work of others. I will just say, in everything that I do in my kitchen, I am standing on the shoulders of giants, from the feeblest of my grannies to the biggest, baddest chefs. We all are. In this case, on this poorly researched point…I THINK, but cannot confirm now, that it was Bayless…and I found that on a blog because a guy named Brandon posted it. I am a numb-skull sometimes. I will do random-ish penance for this at the bottom of the post if you make it that far…please do. But suffice to say, it worked out great.
1 can (11 oz.) tomatillos OR 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 sliced pickled jalapeno
2 cups chopped chicken
½ cup green onions, sliced (whites and light greens only)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon (each) salt and pepper
1-4 oz. can chopped green chilies
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
8 to 9 corn tortillas (depending on the shape of your dish)
For the tomatillos, if you are not using canned tomatillos, roughly chop the tomatillos and place them in a small saucepan with enough chicken broth to just cover them. Simmer them for approximately 20 minutes or until they are well cooked and totally softened. Strain off enough of the cooking liquid so that you are left with about 1-⅓ cups of tomatillos. Set aside.
Cook and chop the chicken. I used 2 large breasts that I had brined for 30 minutes in ½ gallon of water in which I had dissolved ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup salt. I sliced the chicken and cooked it on a grill pan until done. You can also use chicken tenders. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine the chicken, ½ cup of the Monterey Jack cheese, the Parmesan cheese, green onions, chili powder, salt and pepper. In another small bowl, combine the green chilies, tomatillos, sour cream, and milk. Use an immersion blender to process it until smooth. You can also use a food processor or regular blender.
To assemble, pour ½ cup of the tomatillo sauce in the bottom of a 9” x 9” baking dish and spread it around. Place one layer of corn tortillas on top of the sauce. Place ½ of the chicken mixture on top of the tortillas. Place another layer of tortillas on top of the chicken. Then spread the remainder of the chicken and one top layer of tortillas. Pour all of the remaining sauce on the top, making sure it goes down the sides and between cracks. I even poked a few holes in the middle of the top with a fork to make sure it permeated the whole casserole. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.
To repeat, the layers go from bottom to top like this: sauce, tortillas, chicken, tortillas, chicken, tortillas, sauce, and cheese. Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes so that the sauce soaks in a bit before baking it.
Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until it is nice and bubbly and hot. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes after you remove it from the oven.
I served this with avocados dressed with a little lime juice and a sprinkle of cayenne. The next time I make it I think I will make a batch of this avocado and black bean dip.
To make up for my lame research, I will tell you about several fun food blogs that I have found lately, mostly on Twitter. If you don’t do Twitter, let me just tell you this much. Unlike facebook, you do not have to be “accepted” into “friendship” to follow people. You merely “follow” them. This means that you can follow the “tweets” of astronauts in space, comedians, politicians and some of the best food bloggers and food people around. So if you just like to watch the world go by…go follow some of your favorite people (including me, I hope) on Twitter. It is very easy and pretty fun. You might even find yourself tweeting one of these days. But you need not tweet to follow. Anyway…check out some of these blogs I have found lately:
You fed a baby chili? (just great)
Homesick Texan (if you don’t already, you will be a big fan)
Baking Barrister (fellow lawyer…lots of tweeting lawyer/food/bloggers out there)
The Lunchbox Project (all illustrations…seriously cute…serious talent)
Everybody Likes Sandwiches (a new favorite based on a recent Apple Cherry Pie)
Dishin and Dishes (I like this Oklahoma gal…you can see her smiling through her typed words)
This is NOT EVEN REMOTELY an exhaustive list, and there are wonderful food giants (names you don’t know yet) playing around on Twitter. If you do try twitter you can look at the list of people who I follow and start your journey there.