Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish that turns day-old fried corn tortillas (we’ll use tortilla chips for convenience) into a comforting stovetop casserole that’s quick and comforting if your Cinco de Mayo was a wee bit over the top.
I am that person, the one who asks to take the extra tortilla chips from the table at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I consider it a gift to the planet—they’re just going to be thrown away. Secretly, however, I consider it a little gift to myself—leftover tortilla chips mean I’ll be making chilaquiles soon. That first bite of savory, saucy casserole absolutely makes the eye rolls from my friends worth it.
Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish born out of savvy ingenuity. In an effort to use up yesterday’s not-so-fresh corn tortillas, Mexican cooks slice them into strips, fry them, and toss them in leftover salsa. Rather than frying your own tortillas, take an opportunity to use up any excess tortilla chips (i.e. already fried tortilla pieces) by making your own take on chilaquiles.
Best described as a tortilla stovetop casserole, traditional chilaquiles is comprised of just three ingredients: tortilla chips (the thicker the better), salsa (red or green), and cheese.
The salsa or tomato sauce is key to unforgettable chilaquiles. You can use prepared salsa in a pinch or look for another pre-made option like Frontera Red Chile Enchilada Sauce with Roasted Tomato & Garlic. It’s a simple solution that packs great flavor without the effort of making your own.
Of course, if you’re feeling culinarily curious, you can certainly make your own spicy, tomato-based sauce. Start with a large can of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes. Incorporate elements you like (roasted garlic!), and eliminate things you just can’t stand (keep the cilantro, please). Just be sure to write down what you do so that when you get it right, you can do it all again.
When you’re ready to make the dish, heat your sauce in a skillet, then pour in two to three cups of tortilla chips. Stir gently using a rubber spatula to coat each chip, but try to avoid busting them up too much.
It’s OK if the chips are stale. I’ve been known to snack on chips after getting home, only to fall asleep and leave them exposed to the elements. The idea is to allow them to soften as they absorb the sauce, so if you’re starting from stale, no one will notice.
Once the chips and sauce are warmed, top with a crumbly Mexican cheese like Cotija or queso blanco. I wouldn’t be opposed to a spoonful of luxe crema either. Serve while still warm.
As is typical with classic dishes, you’ll find many chefs take great liberty with this humble fare and dress it up with everything from avocado and corn to bacon and sunny-side up eggs. These latter ingredients turn chilaquiles into a great brunch option. A runny yolk makes the rustic tortilla dish extra rich and luscious.
You can also add ingredients to make chilaquiles a decidedly dinner dish. Our Chicken Chilaquiles Casserole is a fast option on busy weeknights. Use tortilla chips instead of tostadas in this dish to make use of the leftover chips you have on hand.
Chilaquiles certainly allows for great creativity, so don’t be afraid to play around with ingredients you have on hand. Saute some corn and zucchini to add a boost of vegetables. Look for crispy ingredients like fresh radishes or minced red onion to add a vibrant finishing touch. I’ve also been known to use up leftover rotisserie chicken or steak in chilaquiles, too. So long as you get the sauce right, everything else is just icing on an already delicious dish.