Much has been said about the so called “family meals” served in some of the country’s famed restaurants. The many articles and cookbooks dedicated to this subject paint an idyllic picture of a group of jovial wait staff and cooks all sitting down and sharing a lovingly prepared meal together.
I would argue that a more realistic scenario includes whatever is in the walk-in on its last leg, combined with whatever else needs to be used up thrown together, heated up and splayed out in hotel pans for anyone who wants to eat while they finish setting tables or prepping for dinner. I have had everything from boiled chicken (and I mean just that, chicken, boiled in water, and nothing else) to frozen corn dogs and fries.
There are however, exceptions to the rule. I once worked with a tenacious woman who thought of little else than what she was going to prepare for family meal. And they were good, finger-sized taquitos stuffed with chicken, fried rice with bits of smokey bacon and sweet English peas. Occasionally she would hem and haw about having to make food for everyone all the time and someone else would offer to pitch in. She would then spend the entire meal constructively criticizing the offerings. “Did you forget to wash the lettuce?” She would say flicking flecks of black pepper off each leaf as if it were dirt.
And then there was Javier (who was better known by his place of origin, Oaxaca) a tireless ball of energy who even after flipping sauté pans at a breakneck speed all night would inevitably start filling the grill with peppers and the fry baskets with fresh-cut wedges of corn tortillas once service started slowing down.
Before meeting Oaxaca I had never had the beautiful mess that is chilaquiles. Depending on his mood sometimes they were burn-your-mouth-off hot and other times smokey and packed with grilled chicken. I always thought of the mélange of freshly fried tortilla chips and dried chile and charred tomato sauce as dinner food, topped with chopped sweet onion and dollops of sour cream. But it turns out chilaquiles are more typically eaten at breakfast with a scrambled egg or two added to the mix. I’ve included scrambled eggs in the recipe below, but if you want to leave those out and add cooked chicken instead, let your belly be your guide.
Adapted from Javier "Oaxaca" Solano
- 3 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 2 medium tomatoes, cored
- 1 medium white onion, quartered
- 3 jalapeño chiles, sliced in half vertically and seeds removed if desired
- 1 bunch cilantro, tough stems removed and roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 20 (6-inch) corn tortillas, cut into 8 wedges each
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- juice of 1 lime
- strips of grilled chicken
- crumbled cotija, Monterey Jack or feta cheese
- sour cream
- thinly sliced radishes
- lime wedges
- minced white onion
- Bring a small saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Place dried chiles, tomatoes, onion, and jalapeños in a large, dry cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Toast until chiles and vegetables are browned and beginning to char on all sides. Some things will brown faster than others so keep turning and flipping each piece and removing them from the pan as they do. Transfer the ancho chiles to the pan of boiling water and remove from heat. Submerge the chiles and let soak until soft and pliable, at least 10 minutes.
- Transfer remaining vegetables to a blender. When dried chiles are ready, remove them from the water (do not drain) and add them to the blender along with half of the chopped cilantro, the salt, and 1/2 cup of the chile soaking liquid. Blend until smooth.
- Heat oil in the cast iron pan over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer, or a chopstick inserted in the oil is immediately covered with bubbles, about 10 minutes. Fry tortillas in batches until they are lightly browned and crisp on both sides. Remove with a bamboo skimmer or slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
- Carefully remove all but 1/4 cup of oil to a heatproof bowl and return to the heat. Carefully pour the chile sauce into the pan (it will bubble furiously) and fry, stirring often, until it is fragrant, about 7 minutes.
- While sauce is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add beaten eggs and season with salt. Scramble eggs until just barely cooked through and remove from heat.
- Once sauce is cooked, reduce heat to medium-low and stir in lime juice. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Add tortillas and scrambled eggs and stir gently until tortillas are softened and well-coated with sauce. Transfer to a serving platter and top with desired garnishes.