WHEN MAKING enchiladas, it’s necessary to soften the tortillas with oil, which makes them pliable enough to roll without cracking and prevents them from becoming soggy during baking. The traditional way to do this is to heat about 1/2-inch of cooking oil in a small skillet over medium heat until a drop of water instantly vaporizes. Using tongs, you then place a tortilla in the oil and cook it for 15-20 seconds but don’t allow it to become crisp. Then you remove it from the oil and place it on absorbent towels to drain.
A much easier, less messy, and healthier way to do this is to spray or brush lightly both sides of the tortillas with regular cooking oil (commercial cooking sprays work fine). Then place them (6-12 at a time) in a plastic tortilla warmer, or wrap them in a tea towel, and microwave for 30-60 seconds on high, or until they are very hot and pliable.
SPECIFYING an accurate number of dried chilies in recipes is difficult because they vary greatly in size and moisture content. For example, a bag of ancho chilies often contains chilies of vastly different sizes. Specifying weight is equally difficult, as a very dry chili can weigh half that of one that is less dry. Try to use chilies that are not so dry that they crack when bent. A little experience will guide you to the right amount of chilies for your own taste.
REMEMBER, it’s always a good idea to wear gloves when working with chilies, and be sure to avoid touching your eyes and face.
TO PEEL fresh chilies, use kitchen tongs to hold individual chilies over a gas flame until skin is charred on all sides. (If you don’t have a gas range, you can roast several chilies at a time under a broiler or in a toaster-oven.) Place roasted chilies in a paper bag or a heat-proof plastic freezer bag, and allow to “sweat” for 15-20 minutes. Upon rinsing, the skins will come off easily.
ADDING A teaspoon or two of white vinegar and a couple of bay leaves greatly enhances red chili sauces, especially those made with dried New Mexico chilies.
From the January 1970 issue.