Tortillas Again

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing
            The Mother of Culinary Invention

    [AB is looking out a window to the sound of an angry mob] Look at this. A picket line! Can you believe this? I've never even heard of "Cooks Against Wasted Left Overs." CAWLO? It's a silly name. They seem to be under the impression that that I haven't made enough shows focusing on the utilization of recipe remains or some such thing as that. To make matters worse, my crew is refusing to cross the picket line. Some have actually joined it!

AB: Oooh, you faithless cur!

    Anyway, it seems that all have abandoned me except for my trusty friend ...

THING: [holds up a sign outside the window]
AB: Et tu, Thing?


T: [shows the obverse of the sign]
AB: Hardy har har. [opens the door] Get your five fingers in the house.
T: [enters]


    I've got to take some kind of action here. Let's see. To the refrigerator! Yeah. Yeah. That's it.
    Alright, what do we have here? Well, seems that we have some tortillas. Leftovers from our episode, Flat is Beautiful ... Six ... I think. Gosh, there must be two or three hundred of them. Oh well, practice makes perfect. The problem is, what am I going to do with these things?

T: [tries to hand AB a book entitled "Mexican Cooking"]
AB: Oh, thanks. But no, Thing. I .. I think that would somehow be cheating.


    It's not that I have anything against cookbooks, it's just the idea of having to dig up a recipe just to deal with some leftovers rubs me raw. [a whisk at the end of a long metal pole appears, and taps AB on the shoulder, he turns to face it]

AB: [Screams]
AB: [Screams again]
MOCI: I'm The Mother of Culinary Invention, see? [indicates her kitchen tools tiara]
AB: [Screams one more time.]
MOCI: [smacks AB across the face with the whisk]
AB: Ow, ow. Alright. You're The Mother of Culinary Invention. What are you doing here?
MOCI: Oh, no reason, other than the fact that there's a mob of angry cooks picketing your house and not an idea in your fuzzy little head.
AB: That's not true. [pause, then concedes] Okay, that's true. But I just can't perform under this much pressure.
MOCI: [waves her wand/whisk, and a bag of tortillas arises from the floor, the string is obvious] Not to worry. In tortilla, we trust.
AB: Really? [examines the string]
MOCI: Oh, yes. No other food I know can so wonderfully weave itself into other dishes.
AB: Really?
MOCI: You're beginning to sound like a broken record, dear, and that's annoying. Now think about it. The tortilla has a million things going for it.
AB: Really?
MOCI: [annoyed again, she hits AB on the head with the whisk]
AB: Ow, that hurt!
MOCI: Really? Tortillas have everything you could want in an ingredient. They're tasty, textured, water-soluble. Flexible one minute, crunchy the next. In fact, the only problem is, is that we don't have enough time to take full advantage of them.
AB: So what you're saying is ...
MOCI: That's right, even left over, tortillas are ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

AB: [is looking outside, at the protestors]
MOCI: Wow, they're getting really worked up out there. You better get cooking.
AB: Tell me about it. Got any ideas for me? Any inspiration?
MOCI: Use your noodle. Ta ta. [glides out of scene]

    Use my noodle? What does she mean by that?

MOCI: [from off screen she hits AB on the head with the whisk appears]

    Hey, you know? In the early 20th century, Mexican border restaurants hoping to appease the appetites of visiting American touristas, began serving variations of traditional dishes. One such dish used tortillas to separate layers of meat, cheese, veggies, and sauce. It became known as the "enchilada". Although the enchilada in this country has become known as a dish of filled and rolled corn tortillas baked in a chili sauce, the word actually means, "with chili sauce", and can, in fact, take many forms. If that be true, then we should be able to use our tortillas to make a lasagna. I'm a genius! Ha ha!
    Like most lasagnas, this is a simple dish. It has more in common with, say, building a parking deck, than it does actual cooking. It's all about construction.

    Start with a medium saucepan on high heat. Add three cups of tomato sauce, two cups of chicken broth. Any brand will be just fine. Homemade would be great. Two chipotle chilies, chopped fine, three cloves of garlic, also minced fine, two and a half teaspoons of chili powder, one and a half teaspoons of cumin—seeds, toasted and ground. Fresher is better in this regard. If you have to use pre-packaged, you can. Half a teaspoon of salt, and about a quarter of a teaspoon of pepper. This is going to be plenty spicy, so you can cut back on that if you want to. Now just make sure that that is thoroughly combined, and allow it to come to a boil. 3 Cups Tomato Sauce
2 Cups Chicken Broth
2 Dried Chipotle Peppers
3 Large Cloves Garlic,
2½ tsp. Chili Powder
1½ tsp. Toasted Cumin
    Seeds, Freshly Ground
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper
    Now in the meantime, we can construct our filling. So you're going to put a skillet, a medium skillet, over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil. Then you're going to add one pound of cubed up chicken. Now it can be any combination of white and dark meat. I happen to prefer thighs. That's just me. You can certainly use leg meat as well, but I wouldn't go with 100% white meat. You want to mix it up. Keep this moving. Sauté it for seven to nine minutes because we want it to be relatively cooked through. Then remove it to a bowl, just to stand by, to wait for assembly. 1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil

1 Pound Boneless, Skinless,
    Chicken, Cubed

    Put the skillet right back on to the heat, and then dump in one and a half cups of onions. You can see that's kind of a medium-fine chop. Nothing too fancy. And we're going to cook this with a little bit of salt because that always helps to bring out some of the natural juices. Probably for four to six minutes. And you're probably going to want to drop the heat on that, at least about halfway through the cooking, to medium-low, lest they burn. 1½ Cups Onions, Diced
Pinch Of Kosher Salt

    You can see that our sauce is now at a rolling boil which is all that we're going to need. So we're going to turn that heat way, way down. Almost off.

    Returning to the onions, we now add one clove of garlic, that has been minced—yes, more garlic in this recipe— and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Mexican would be good if you can get it. And continue to cook for, eh, two to three minutes more. Then the chicken can go back into the bowl ... well, the pan, sorry. From the bowl, to the pan. And then, the heat goes off on both burners. 1 Large Clove Garlic, Minced
1 tsp. Dried Oregano

    Now we are ready to assemble. We have sprayed a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little non-stick spray. Then we are going to ladle in about half a cup of sauce, just right into the bottom. That will help to ensure that these tortillas aren't going to stick.
    And I've got 12 tortillas total. And I've cut several of those in half. It's just going to help me kind of build this. I stick as many of them as possible into the sauce and then kind of fish them out and build the base.

    Now each layer is going to have three whole tortillas and then also two half-tortillas that have been dipped in the sauce to kind of make as even a layer as is possible. 3 Whole & 2 Half Tortillas
    Dipped In The Sauce
    We'll now add half of the chicken mixture, and then top that with one cup of crumbled "queso fresco" cheese. 1 Cup Queso Fresco Or
    Monterey Jack

Queso Fresco is interesting stuff. It is a fresh, un-aged cheese. And although it has a very smooth texture and crumbles nicely like feta, it will not melt no matter what you do. So it's great for placing in dishes where you really do want it to stay put. Most megamarts carry Queso Fresco, or its cousin, Queso Blanco, which can also be used in this dish.
    Now, we are going to repeat this process with more tortillas, the remaining chicken, more cheese, and then finally, another layer of tortillas, the remainder of the sauce, and then last, but not least, the rest of the cheese.

    Cover your lasagna in aluminum foil, and park in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

350 Degrees

The word "enchilada" didn't appear in English until the end of the 19th century.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Military Wives #1, #2 & #3

    Now, carefully remove the foil, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until it's nice and bubbly on top.

Or, if you like it good and crunchy, park it under the broiler for a few minutes.

    [AB takes the enchilada out of the oven, the scene cuts to him walking back into the house, he looks out the window] Oh yeah, they're going for it.

MOCI: Well, it's a perfectly acceptable—albeit not very original—variation on a classic theme.
AB: What are you talking about? That dish is great. Those CAWLO people are going to be out of here in no time.
MOCI: Oh, I rather doubt it. Several more busloads just arrived. Oh, and look! There's a TV newsman, too. Lucky for you, you already have tortilla chips.
  [tortilla chips fall on AB] Oh, thanks. Now, when they breach the gates, I'll be able to fling these, like, like Kung-Fu throwing stars.
MOCI: So ungrateful. Here you've been given the keys to leftover paradise and that's the best you can do? You, Sir, are no Ignacio Anaya.
AB: Oh, why that's the worst thing ... Who?
MOCI: Do you like plays?
AB: Huh?
MOCI: Good, 'cause you're in one. [shoves AB out of the camera shot]
AB: Waaaah!

[the Kitchen becomes theater]

MOCI: Once upon a time, in 1944, or '45, I can't remember which, Chef Anaya was getting ready to lock up the kitchen for the night, at The Victory Club, in Piedras Negras, [Coahuila de Zaragoza] Mexico, when three military wives from Fort Duncan, just over the border, dropped in after a long day of sightseeing and shopping. But Chef Anaya told them, "Alas, the kitchen, it is closed."
AB: [as Chef Anaya] Alas, the kitchen, it is closed.
MILITARY WIFE #1: But we have been out shopping all day, and we are so hungry.
MILITARY WIFE #2: Surely you have some leftovers you can make something out of.
MILITARY WIFE #3: Well, can't you make anything?
MILITARY WIFE #1, 2 & 3: Hmmm?
AB: I will withdraw to the kitchen to ponder the possibilities.
MOCI: At first, Chef Anaya was stumped. He had so little on hand. Some cheese, a few chilies. A bunch of tortilla chips. But he could think of nothing. So I called out to him, "Hey Nacho!"
AB: Nacho?
MOCI: It's the familiar, and diminutive form of the name "Ignacio". Anyway, I called out to him, "Nacho!"
AB: Okay, okay, I get the point. I get the point. Now shoo out of here and let me cook, okay?
MOCI: Very well.

[the kitchen returns to its former state]

    Okay. So, the perfect nachos. It all begins with the right software. We have 80 corn tortilla chips here. Store-bought would be okay. Factory-bought would be better. Homemade would be really good. Three to four jalapeño chilies, very thinly sliced. If you like them on the hot side, be sure to leave the inner membrane and seeds intact. Four and a half ounces of diced red onion. It's about half of a good sized onion, and six ounces each, it's about two and a quarter cups, of grated cheeses. We have here cheddar cheese, and here we have Oaxaca [pron: wah-HAH-kah] cheese. 80 Corn Tortilla Chips
3-4 Fresh Jalapeno [sic]
    Peppers, Sliced
4½ Ounces Red Onion, Diced
6 Ounces Each Cheddar &
    Oaxaca Cheese

    Oaxaca cheese is, of course, named after the Oaxaca region of Mexico. And the name represents, actually, several different varieties of cheese all of which are cow's milk, white, and very smooth-melting. One of my favorite examples, Asadero. It's actually Spanish for "broiler" and it's cheese that is very, very smooth-melting. It's a pulled cheese, kind of like mozzarella, but the flavor's more like un-aged Monterey Jack. Now, to the hardware!

    First, we must properly prep the oven. If you have a middle rack, remove it. Get the top rack all the way up, and the bottom rack all the way down. We need plenty of space in here. Go ahead and set your temperature for 350 degrees.

350 Degrees

    Continuing the hardware, we need not one, not two, but three wire cooling racks. They are cheap and I use them for lots of things such as draining-rigs for frying. I put them in my smoker. I use them to change the oil in ...  Oh, never mind. If you do not have any of these, you could always use, probably, you know, grill grates. I saw a guy do this with coat hangars one time, although I don't suggest that. Last but not least, a sheet pan.
    But first, we need a foundation, like parchment paper. [tears off a piece] Should do the trick. [places the parchment paper on the sheet pan, assembles a cooling rack on top of a sheet pan] Before the chips go down, we need some spacers. Something in the two-inch range, that will be oven-safe. Perhaps, aluminum foil. [tears off a piece] Perfect! [puts four wads of crumpled up aluminum foil at the four corners of the rack]
    So, what's with this crazy construct? Well, it's all about evenness. We want each chip to have the exact same amount of each ingredient. But we don't want the chips to be stuck together into a big, gummy mess on the platter. And of course, we would like to avoid the microwave.
    [covers the first rack with chips, places one slice of jalapeño pepper on each, sprinkles the onions and cheese mixture over the chips, places another wire rack with 4 crumpled ball of aluminum foil on top and repeats for a total of 3 racks]
    Ahh, here we go. Park in you prepped hot box for about seven minutes or until the cheese is nice and bubbly. [admires his hardware] Ha ha ha ha. I'll bet old Nacho didn't think of this one. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

According to early Mesoamerican lore, humans
were made out of corn by the gods.

    Mmmm ... ah .... ha, ha, ha. [AB retrieves his nachos after cooking, laughing to himself as he does]

The popularity of nachos took off after they were served
at the 1964 Texas State Fair.

The Kitchen

    And there we have it, Nachos Especiales.

    Now, as far as serving goes, odds are good  everyone on this planet has done this before. But just in case you have any aliens living with you or in your neighborhood, here's how I would do it. A little bit of fresh chopped oregano gets sprinkled on—Mexican oregano would be very nice. Then perhaps just a touch of sour cream, and, well, maybe some salsa. Guacamole, completely optional. I think that would be overload here. Now notice, we still have structural integrity. That's because the cheese has spanned a  [stops carring] ...  Oh, never mind.

2 Tbs. Fresh Oregano,
[sour cream & salsa]

[AB walks back into the house obviously having delivered the nachos, the protestors continue to chant]

MOCI: Oooh, looks like nachos Kung-Fu isn't going to be enough to turn this crowd. You're going to have to come up with something new. Gonna be tough, too, what with all that's already been done with tortillas, heh. And of course, the pressure that you're under. You know, if I were you, I might be, say, digging a tunnel, or, oh, you know, maybe a helicopter ...
AB: You know, this ...  really ...  isn't ... helping.
MOCI: You know what they say. Invention is 99% desperation.
AB: I thought they said it was perspiration.
MOCI: Ewww. Here, let me ask you a question. How many foods do you know of that can be uncooked back into their original raw state?
AB: None. That's crazy talk.
MOCI: Hmmm, yeah, I guess you're right. Well, I'm out of here. [glides off]

    Ohh. To break tortillas back down into masa would require considerable moisture, a food processor, and ...  Well, even if you could do it, all you could make would be ...

MOCI: [hits AB on the head with her whisk]

... tots! Of course. Beautiful, delicious, masa tots. All we have to do is break down the tortillas. Reform them into a scoopable dough. Why didn't I think of it before?

Atole is a Mexican drink made by combining masa,
water, sugarcane, cinnamon and vanilla.

    Our batter begins with the glue. One whole egg will keep things together, but we'll need more moisture than that, so half a cup of whole milk. Some seasoning. A teaspoon and a half of kosher salt—I'm guessing—and a quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. 1 Whole Egg
½ Cup Whole Milk
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
    As for the tortillas, we'll need ten ounces, and that's about 20 standard factory rounds. Go ahead, tear them into bite-size morsels. Make the process go a whole lot quicker. There. 10 Ounces Corn Tortillas

    Now we're going to process this for two to three minutes or until we've got kind of a lumpy dough consistency. You'll know you're done when ...  right there. You see how the dough is kind of piling up on the sides of the bowl?  You can see all the way down into the blade. So we'll turn it off.

    And here we have a bowl containing a quarter cup of diced onion, and two tablespoons of minced jalapeño. ¼ Cup Diced Onion + 2 Tbs.
    Minced Jalapeno [sic]

    Now if you like the flavor of jalapeños but don't like quite as much fire, you can split them in half and then just kind of scoot your knife down the chili removing as much of the membrane and, of course, the seeds as possible. And then you can just dice that sucker right up. Notice I do have a latex glove on one hand. That's because capsaicin has serious hang time on skin. You know, I might have to scratch my eye or something, and that would really hurt.
    Just get that [tortilla mixture] dumped in [to the bowl with the onions and jalapeños]. There. And we will mix using the best tool on earth: the human hand, clean, of course. There. Just kind of squeeze it around. And you'll know it's right when you can make a fist [it clumps together kind of like pie dough] and get one of those. We're good to go.
    In the past, I have loosely endorsed the use of countertop electric fryers for their convenience and safety. But the truth is, they don't manage heat very well. The main issue being recovery. The food goes in, it takes way too long for the heat in the oil to bounce back, and that can lead to greasy food. So I generally stick with the old trusty combo of a Dutch oven and a thermometer which gives me a little bit more control. Now as far as the cooking medium itself, I am a fan of peanut oil. It is neutral in flavor and it can take an obscene amount of heat before smoking and degrading. And it doesn't tend to stink up the house.
    Now, for those of you who look like this [model of a puffer fish] when you eat peanut products, I offer this fun fact: the allergens in peanuts are located in the protein portion of the nut, not in the fat.

    These proteins are not included in the standard heat-processed peanut oil that most food is fried in. However, if you or a loved one have a peanut allergy, you will want to avoid organic, or cold-pressed peanut oils which you wouldn't want to fry with anyway because of their expense and relatively low smoke points.
    All that said, if peanut oil just isn't for you, then try either safflower oil or sunflower oil for your deep frying.


12.7 fl oz

Peanut Oil

Peanut oil can be recycled for conversion into biodiesel.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Good Eats Crew

    Ahh, excellent! Our oil is in the zone; between 365 and 375 degrees. Of course, that's the good zone, not the other zone, the bad zone. We're ready to roll.
    We're looking for careful portion control here. I want these balls to be about an inch - an inch and a half across, in the two-teaspoon range. So, I'm going to use one of my favorite devices. Just a little cookie disher, spring-loaded. This holds about two teaspoons. So, to get the right compression, just scoop and kind of press up against the side of your bowl and then out into your hand. And we're not looking for a really super-tight pack, just a good cohesive shape. There.
    Now I'm going to work in batches of eight of these, so I'm going to make eight before going into the oil. Okay, good, now into the hot fat we go. [lowers them down into the oil with a spider, he shakes the around as he lowers so they don't stick]
    Now, unlike tortillas that would float to the surface when they are done, these aren't. They're just going to sink, and stay sunk. So let them cook for two to three minutes, checking often for the correct browning.
    [takes them out when they are GBD (Golden, Brown and Delicious), places them on a wire rack which is over a sheet pan covered with newspaper, he then sprinkles kosher salt over them]
    In Mexico, I believe these little snacks would be called "antejitos". That means "little whims". I kind of like that. Now if you were to ditch the onions and jalapeños, reduce the salt to half a teaspoon, and replace the pepper with a tablespoon of orange zest and two tablespoons of sugar, you would be able to convert your masa tots to sweet antejitos, but that's another show.

Real tater tots were invented in 1953 as a way of using French fry scraps.

AB: [looks out at the protestors] Whew, I think it's working. They're leaving.
MOCI: So, what did we learn today?
AB: Well, I learned that leftover utilization is really a state of mind and that tortillas are kind of like the vice grips of the culinary world.
MOCI: [hits AB with her whisk]
AB: Ow! What was that for?
MOCI: For being such a geek.
AB: Have you ever heard of The Lady of the Refrigerator?
MOCI: First cousin.

    That would explain the hitting.

MOCI: Ahh, your crew returns, and my work is done.
AB: Okay. Nice seeing you. You can let yourself out.
MOCI: [floats up and away]
AB: Uh hmm, here they come alright. Well, look what the faithless, back-stabbing cat drug in.
CREW: [enter while handing AB empty dishes]

    Well, let's let this be a lesson to us all. If you don't play wise with your leftovers, you'll end up with people picketing your house, your crew abandoning you, and of course, you'll be infested by some strange little fairy-type person. Oh well, see you next time on "Good Eats".


Outtake - The Kitchen

    [from the first scene when AB first sees MOCI] Ahhggghgghhh! i'm winded. Cut.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010