Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, the cooking blog of bad calls and culinary blunders! I’m your Feature-Length Failure, Jon O’Guin. Today, we’re going to revisit a dish we’ve made before, Chilaquiles, but make it in an almost entirely different way. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is, as a man, I am stereotypically bad at remembering anniversaries, and definitely thought that the anniversary for the first Catastrophe was June 11th. It is not. Interestingly, “11 Days Early” is also when I showed up to be born, so at least I’m consistent.
The two other main reasons are, 1: my mom wanted to make them so we could show my brother the dish, and 2: to have an entry reminding us all of the importance of differing recipes and small sample sizes. It’s an issue I’m sure we’ve all encountered. A friend or relative who refuses to eat something because “They hate it”. Time and again they refuse to eat it, because “every time my mom made it, it was gross.” Well, did your mother ever change her recipe? “Uh, no.” Then you only know you hate YOUR MOM’S version.
Was that a "your mom" joke? It felt like a "your mom" joke. So here's a still from "Stacey's Mom", to ensure I look like a 7th grader.
“Well, it’s all the same.” They reply. And that, my friends, is typically pretty wrong. Let’s take meatloaf as a simple example. Your typical household has a pretty standard meatloaf recipe: ground beef, breadcrumbs, diced onion, diced celery, an egg for binding, and a sauce made from ketchup, brown sugar and worchestershire; Except some houses use oats instead of breadcrumbs, which will change the texture and flavor. Some use a panade (mixture of bread and milk), which will definitely shift the texture. And we haven’t even touched on changing the veggie prep (raw? Sautéed) or what spices go into it.
I briefly glanced over 57 ‘top meatloaf recipes’ from a Google search, because I have little to no social life, and found that at least 45 of them were different enough to be counted. There were at least 5 distinct versions of “Southwestern/Tex-Mex/Taco Meatloaf”! Think about that. I wouldn’t doubt that there are potentially hundreds of distinct kinds of meatloaf. But I’m equally certain you could ask 10 or so people, and find someone willing to say they don’t like “meatloaf”.
"And I would eat anything for Lunch
Run right to Taco Bell and Back
And I would eat anything for Lunch
But I won't eat that.
And I’m not here to pick on those people. I get it, I’ve BEEN one of those people. For years, I was certain I didn’t like Mushrooms or Shrimp. They were both too rubbery for me, their texture off-putting. And then I kept dicing mushrooms for various meals, or getting them in steak sauces. Over time, I grew to like mushroom flavor, but was still insistent I didn’t like the fungus itself. And then, eventually, I just abandoned that stance as well. And of course, there are some flavors people just don’t like. Just this morning, my brother and dad opened a can of sardines as a snack before breakfast, because they are terrible monsters. In the interest of fairness, I tried a bit of sardine on cracker, just to confirm I wasn’t a fan. The next five minutes of gritty fish flakes lurking in my mouth confirmed it, and I moved on.
A Botanical Bonanza
Just a quick glance at the two recipes will show how different chilaquiles can be. The Alton Brown recipe was a rather simple affair: chips tossed in oil, then some thick salsa, eggs, and you’re basically done. This recipe, which I got from delish.com, is notably more involved, and is arguably healthier. Certainly more summery, at least.
If you didn’t read my last chilaquiles post, a quick overview: Chilaquiles are kind of like the quiche of Mexico, in terms of consumption: a food predominantly associated with breakfast, but not uncommon at lunch or dinner. In terms of composition, they’re basically just sauce-drenched tortilla chips, often served with a protein (typically eggs or chicken), with some garnish. Nachos’ more elegant cousin. I made a roasted chiles chilaquiles, I’ve seen a mole chilaquiles, but today, we’re making chipotle-lime chilaquiles! And the first step on the road to success is…CORN
Pictured for reference
Yeah, this recipe’s a little weird from the get-go, being a vegetarian version. Using sweet corn and zucchini as the basis of the flavor profile. (Ostensibly. We’ll talk about how it tastes at the end.) This is one of many recipes where there are quite a few simple steps. And, as is often the case when I go into recipes expecting them to be easy, the first one turned out to be the most frustrating.
See, the first step is to peel the corn, and cook it in a pan on the stove. The specific directions are “Turn the corn every 2 minutes to achieve even char.” Which, by implication, means the corn should be charring in the pan, right? Well, after 14 damn minutes, my corn was…unimpressive in terms of char.
Seriously, is anything happening here?
I ended up just saying “Screw it, good enough” after 8 more minutes (and some mild char in the middles) and moving on, because this is supposed to be a 40 minute recipe, and I was close to 20 minutes in on step ONE. After you’ve decided your corn is charred enough, you toss onion, oil, and garlic into the pan, to soften. By the way, I hope you picked a big enough pan: literally everything happens in this one piece of equipment. I chose the second largest skillet we owned, and it was BARELY big enough. I feel there’s a joke to be made with the phrase “barely big enough”, but I just can’t get it to fit anywhere. Maybe it’s too big?
Things Go Wrong
Once the aliums are softening, you cut up zucchini into half-moon slices, and slice the corn from the cob. The Zucchini goes in, then the corn, and then half of it comes out again, like you’re playing some form of hot-pot hokey-pokey. Then you make…the brew.
"Bathe us in its glory! "
Why do I end up in so many brew-based cults?
Or you would, if this were a just and fair world. When I was making this, at this juncture, my mother got home from work, because the idea had been to have dinner basically ready when she got home, but the GODDAMN CHAR-PROOF CORN had already jacked that plan to hell. So it was at this juncture that she walked in, and said “Hey, you said you were making chilaquiles, so I bought a thing of skirt steak. How long will that take to cook?”
The answer is “uh, about an hour?” See, skirt steak is a fairly tough, thin piece of meat. Therefore, all the recipes I know say “marinate it for about an hour before cooking as fast and hot as possible.” Looking around after the fact, there’s a couple that say you can get away with just 30 minutes, so I guess I was over-estimating, but yeah, this 40 minute dinner was swiftly ballooning out of control.
Of course, this is why I’m a professional Kitchen Cock-Up, to handle these kinds of situations. So I threw a quick marinade on the steak (Well, really just a rub, since I didn’t have the space to set up a marinade bag/dish.), re-calculated all the times, and moved on. About 30 minutes later, I started to use…the brew.
I can't hear you when you're drowning.
Now, for the first batch of chilaquiles, they were just cooked in a home-made salsa. This recipe called for store-bought salsa, mixed with chicken broth and minced chipotle peppers. Get that to a boil, and then the fun part begins. As I’ve no doubt you’ve noticed, this recipe of “tortilla chips tossed in sauce” hasn’t had a single tortilla chip so far. That’s because they’ve been waiting. Brooding. Building their strength. And now they’re ready to strike.
You need 14 oz of chips, which is 1 oz less than one whole bag. So I just took out a handful and ate them, and added the rest. It’ll be a scary process. By this point, my skillet was something like 60-70% full, and now I had to add an entire bag of chips? This is going to be a madhouse, a mess!
But just go a handful at a time, stirring and folding to ensure that every chip is coated before moving to the next handful, and I swear, it’ll be okay. The chips absorb almost all of the sauce (maybe too much, since there’s supposed to be some liquid to the dish, and this came out almost like a casserole.) and hunker down. Then, stir in the zest and juice of two limes, and bake the whole shebang for 20 minutes!
It’ll come out hot and thick. Top it with the half of the veggies you set aside like, an hour ago, some sliced avocado, crumbled queso fresco, and maybe cilantro, if one of your immediate family doesn’t hate the flavor, and it’s ready to eat. How is it? Well, as noted, I may have not eaten enough of the chips, because this was far, far thicker than I thought it should be. Also, maybe aim for smaller limes, because holy CRAP ours was limey. But even with that issue, it was still good. We just know to aim a little lower next time.
Chilaquiles can be a whole assortment of things, as can most recipes. Just because you didn’t like it one way, doesn’t mean you won’t like a different version. And maybe you’ll find new ingredients you like, new methods to try. Remember, as the old lie goes, every catastrophe is also an opportunity. And never trust your godddamn corn.
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2 ears sweet corn
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 1/2 c. store-bought red salsa
2 tbsp. chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
14 oz. thick tortilla chips
Juice and zest of 2 limes
kosher salt & black pepper
1/2 c. queso fresco, crumbled, for garnish
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375°. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add corn and sear, turning cobs every 2 minutes to evenly char. Remove corn from skillet and slice kernels off each cob, discarding the cobs. Or save them for corn chowder!
- Pour oil into skillet and cook onion and garlic, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, 2 minutes. Stir in zucchini and cook, 4 to 5 minutes more. Add corn and toss together. Remove half the mixture from skillet and set aside.
- Add salsa, adobo, and broth and stir together. Bring mixture to a boil and begin adding tortilla chips, a handful at a time, folding gently to coat every chip. Allow chips to soak up some liquid before adding more. Repeat until all chips have been added and evenly mixed.
- Add lime zest and juice, season with salt and pepper, and gently fold together. Bake until all liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Finish chilaquiles by topping with remaining zucchini and corn mixture, queso fresco, sliced avocados, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.