Over the centuries, the strong roots of Mexican cuisine have allowed the assimilation of foreign ingredients and techniques as part of its identity, without losing its distinctive national flavours. First, during colonial times, it was the introduction of unknown food products and crops from Spain, along with many Spanish recipes; later on, starting in the XIX Century, French and British influences could be appreciated in new versions of Mexican dishes, the adoption of pastries and the use of different meats and dairy products. A perfect example of this evolution in more recent times is enchiladas suizas (Swiss Enchiladas), said to have been named after this other European country because of the pristine white top, resembling the Alps (see photo above), or perhaps more likely because of Switzerland’s reputation as top producer of cream and cheese, key ingredients in the preparation of these enchiladas. The recipe resulted from the fusion of basic green enchiladas, a chicken filling, and generous amounts of cream and cheese; baking them to melt the cheese was the final touch of genius. The origin of enchiladas suizas is somewhat debated; I found several references, one edging on a manifesto, pinning the creation and naming of the dish to the Café Imperio, a family restaurant in the old neighbourhood of Tacuba, in Mexico City. That restaurant closed down, but the dish survived – a silent tribute to the success of this integration of flavours – and Swiss enchiladas appeared in the Jockey Club menu, during the time it was housed at La Casa de los Azulejos (1881-1914). As I have mentioned before, this historic building was purchased by the Sanborn brothers, and re-opened as a drugstore and tea room, moonlighting as a restaurant (since 1920). La Casa de los Azulejos became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, with the Sanborn’s restaurant now being the most prominent part of the business; its menu, of course, has featured enchiladas suizas for decades.
Swiss Enchiladas – Enchiladas suizas
Ingredients (single portion)
3 corn tortillas
1 cup cooked chicken breast; shredded
1 ½ cups green tomatillo salsa (try my cooked green sauce recipe, or bottled)
½ cup cream (Mexican cream, or sour cream diluted with 2-3 tablespoons milk)
1 cup cheese (such as Oaxaca, Mexican manchego, friulano, mozzarella, etc.); shredded
Onion; thinly sliced (optional)
Warm tortillas as directed in the package (microwave or dry skillet). Place one tortilla in an oven-proof dish, fill with a third of the chicken and two tablespoons of sauce; roll, finishing with the tortilla end facing down. Repeat with the other tortillas; top with half of the remaining sauce*:
* Someone has mentioned (see comments at the end of the post) that the chicken was not warm enough after broiling the enchiladas; she saved her dinner by heating the enchiladas in the microwave oven, which worked well. I guess it depends on the broiler, and how far the enchiladas are from the heat source; my enchiladas were fine, but to avoid risk of this problem, a single portion of enchiladas may be microwaved for one minute at this point. Alternatively, before assembling the enchiladas, bring sauce to a simmer in a pan over low heat, and drop the shredded chicken in the sauce, pushing it down and to one side with a spoon; this will ensure the filling and sauce are nice and hot at serving time. Continue with recipe …
Sprinkle cheese, then distribute the rest of the sauce on top of the cheese:
Pour cream to completely cover enchiladas; bake under the broiler just until cheese melts:
Transfer to a dinner plate; top with onions (optional):
I prepared the enchiladas in a Pyrex™ glass dish to illustrate that several portions may be prepared at the same time, using a larger tray (10-12 enchiladas in a rectangular 9”x11”, for example). I do that for parties, but otherwise I bake individual portions in oven-proof dinner plates, to serve directly from the oven, and cater to specific preferences in my family (less sauce, more cheese, etc.)
For a slightly different way to prepare Swiss enchiladas, follow instructions as above, but after placing the rolled enchiladas in an oven-proof serving plate/dish, process the remaining sauce with the cream in a blender until a uniform mix is achieved:
Pour over enchiladas, top with cheese and bake as indicated in the recipe; serve (onions optional):
This method results in a more rugged surface, not pristine white as the first version, but gives the sauce a creamy texture that many people prefer. It really becomes a matter of taste; I like it this way, but my husband requests his portion with no cream at all.
Note: There are some claims that the original recipe used tomato-based red sauce, which along with the dairy evoked the colours of the Swiss flag and inspired the name; this seems a little bit of a stretch to me, because the dish was invented in Mexico City, where, as far as I have seen, they are always prepared with green sauce. I also think that an association to a foreign flag would have been unlikely. In addition, enchiladas in tomato-based sauce are usually called “entomatadas” (“in tomato”):
The enchiladas (entomatadas) above were filled with chicken and my red sauce with tomato, then topped with more sauce and a sprinkle of Oaxaca cheese. To melt the cheese, they may be broiled as before or – as I did for this plate – microwaved in high for one to two minutes.
I am also joining Fiesta Friday #245 hosted by Angie @ Fiesta Friday (another great fiesta, and kudos to her dog Skye, for earning her keep around the house); this week’s co-hosts are Liz @ spadesspatulasandspoons.com (yep, as the blog name indicates, Liz has lots of interesting stories on gardening and cooking) and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio (always about cooking with love and appreciation for life)