Chilaquiles…this is the mother of Mexican breakfasts, but it seems discriminatory to relegate this dish to morning-only foods. A spicy, roasted salsa verde smothers crispy hand-fried corn tortilla wedges. Layer with black beans, sour cream, queso fresco, chopped onions, fried egg, and avocado and this is a meal worth having any time of the day.
What are chilaquiles?
Chilaquiles (say it like chee-lah-key-lays) are simply fried corn tortilla chips smothered in a cooked salsa. In central Mexico, the salsa comes in the red or green variety and toppings traditionally are some type of shredded cheese (cincho, fresco, cotija), Mexican style-sour cream, and chopped or thinly sliced onions. Chilaquiles can be accompanied with shredded chicken, cecina (a thinly sliced, salt-cured cut of beef popular in central Mexico), steak, fried eggs, or plain. This is a dish typically served at breakfast but is so complete, it could be eaten during any meal. In the US, we used to host a chilaquiles brunch on Sundays for family. We served these buffet-style so that everyone could top their chips with whatever they wanted. Sometimes, we enjoy them for a casual dinner too!
Not your traditional chilaquiles
Chilaquiles, like other Mexican foods, vary depending on the region. In central Mexico, the salsa is typically prepared by either boiling whole the ingredients, blending, and then heating prior to the final serving. Or the ingredients are blended first and then heated on the stove while the tortillas are frying. Both of these methods produce excellent chilaquiles but are different from the version that I most often make at home.
I am going a bit against the grain and using an untraditional roasted salsa verde in the version I am sharing here. Vegetables are pan-roasted until the skins are blackened, then blended for the final salsa. This is a bit more time-consuming than just blending and heating, but I promise you, the end result is well worth it. The veggies soften and sweeten when cooked this way. Plus, all of the charred bits get added to the salsa for additional flavor.
When I have seen chilaquiles prepared in Mexico, the cook usually has the salsa heating on the stove and the chips ready to go. The fried chips are put into the salsa to absorb some of the sauce just before serving and then ladled out onto a plate.
I prefer to plate my chips first and then put the sauce on top. I like my chips to be on the crispier side and to remain mostly crispy until I finish my meal. To me, the traditional salsa bath at the end kills all of the work that you just did to make those perfectly golden, crispy tortilla chips. This is a personal preference that strays from the conventional method. If you prefer your chips on the softer side, place handfuls into the sauce for a minute or two to coat, and then ladle onto serving dishes.
I would also venture to say that the insane amount of toppings that we use is not at all traditional, but who’s judging? At its origin, chilaquiles were a poor man’s dish, a way to economize and use left-over tortillas and garden vegetables to maximum advantage. At their core, chilaquiles are chips and salsa with some cheese and sour cream on top. Here, we glorify the chilaquiles by making these a gourmet, all-out breakfast nacho feast. Not pinkies-up gourmet, but a plate elevated with regular, everyday ingredients that takes this traditional dish to a whole new level.
Let’s talk ingredients
The base of this dish is a Mexican staple, the corn tortilla. Fresh corn tortillas are abundant in central Mexico, but using day-old or slightly stale tortillas actually helps reduce the amount of oil needed for frying. When I have used stale or previously dried tortillas, I have also noticed that the chips are slightly crispier. I have seen many Mexican home cooks cut the tortillas in wedges the night before and leave them out on trays to dry before frying the next morning. I honestly rarely have the foresight to do this step the night before. Chilaquiles are more spontaneous in our house. It is something that happens spur-of-the-moment when we have enough ingredients and time in the morning. The point here is that the freshness of the tortilla is not imperative. Feel free to use whatever corn tortilla you like and is available in your area.
The salsa that I am advocating for uses fresh, ripe tomatillos. If your grocer sells these with the husks still on, take the time to open and check them prior to purchase. Look for firm, bright green tomatillos. I would avoid wrinkled or yellowing tomatillos.
Lastly, my favorite pepper to use in this salsa is habanero. I love the flavor and spiciness. This is a really hot pepper, so if you are heat sensitive, you could exclude entirely, use a portion of a habanero, or substitute for a milder pepper like serrano. You could add more peppers for additional heat, if you really like the spice! I don’t like the taste of jalapeño in this salsa. Something about that pepper didn’t work for me.
Top tips for the BEST chilaquiles
Here are my top tips for preparing chilaquiles that you will want to eat over and over again!
- Cut and fry your own tortillas. I would not substitute store-bought corn tortilla chips for this dish. The commercially available corn tortilla chips that I have seen in the US do not have the same texture or consistency that you will get with a hand-cut and fried tortilla. They can often be thinner and saltier, which will lead to an over-salted soggy final dish. You may be able to find Mexican-style totopos (chips) which are thicker than your ordinary corn tortilla chip. In Mexico, many cooks buy these types of chips to short-cut the frying process; but even in Mexico, I prefer to fry my own.
- Fry the tortillas in small batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan or you won’t be able to achieve a perfectly golden chip! I make sure that my tortilla wedges are in a single layer in the frying pan for each batch. This ensures that each chip becomes crispy and golden.
- Make your own salsa. Really, I am not advocating for any short-cuts in this dish. You can’t buy a bag of Tostitos and top it with some Pace salsa and call this chilaquiles. Putting in the work to make your own elements of this dish is essential to getting an end product that is more representative of the original dish in Mexico. Plus, you control all aspects of the dish when the items are handmade. The saltiness, texture, spice level is all customizable to your unique tastes.
- And on that note…customize away! Following a vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free diet? Remove or substitute elements to fit your needs. If you have a super carnivore in your house (like I do), up the protein by topping with both steak and eggs.
Making ahead and leftovers
Chilaquiles are best enjoyed fresh. Warm, crispy chips and fresh roasted salsa are hard to beat. The roasted salsa verde can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days, if necessary. This storage method applies to any leftover salsa as well. You will notice that the cold salsa will take on a gelatinous texture. Just rewarm on low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding broth or water as necessary to bring it back to your desired consistency. The chips should be made fresh, just in time for serving. Otherwise, you risk the chip losing its crispiness and taking on a chewier texture.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and chilaquiles become one of your new favorite meals!
Chilaquiles with Roasted Salsa Verde
- 12 Corn tortillas, about 6 inches in diameter see notes
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 12 medium-sized tomatillos husked and washed (about 1 kg or ~2 pounds)
- 1 medium white onion cut into large chunks (about 250g or 1/2 pound)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2-4 habaneros
- Salt to taste
- Toppings of choice (see notes)
- Cut tortillas into wedges
- Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes
- Working in small batches, add tortilla wedges to oil and fry until they begin to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes per batch. Ensure that the tortillas are in a single layer in the frying pan and are not overlapping.
- Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and repeat until all tortillas are fried
- Meanwhile, heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat
- Once the pan is hot, add tomatillos, onions, garlic, and peppers to the dry skillet. The vegetables should be whole, with the exception of the onion
- Let the vegetables cook until the skins begin to char and blacken. Turn occasionally to allow to blacken evenly (about 15-20 minutes).
- Once the vegetables are cooked, place in a blender, taking care to remove the chile stem at this point.
- Add salt to the salsa as desired
- Blend until mostly smooth and no large chunks of vegetables remain (about 1 minute)
- Taste for salt and adjust as necessary
- If the salsa is too thick, you could add a small amount of broth or water to achieve the desired consistency.
- Divide chips evenly among 4 plates and top with equal amounts of salsa
- Add toppings of choice (see notes)
- Optional: tortillas can be cut into wedges the night before and left to dry out on trays before frying. This helps to reduce the amount of oil needed to fry the tortillas and produces a crispier chip.
- Optional toppings: Sour cream, queso fresco, avocado, sliced onions, fried egg, shredded chicken, cecina, black beans, sliced flank steak
- Cook times do not include the time required to prepare additional toppings
- This recipe uses 2x my roasted salsa verde recipe or about 4 cups total