Instead of using a prepared enchilada-type sauce, I was excited to find this recipe called for making a homemade version to use! After a quick trip to our favorite spice store (it is a blessing and a curse that the store is less than a 5 minute drive away!) to pick up a bag of dried chipotle chiles, I seeded and diced 'em up to be added to a pot full of fresh garlic cloves, chili powder, freshly toasted and ground smoky cumin seeds, tomato sauce and chicken broth. Once the liquids were rapidly bubbling, we turned the heat down to a simmer and let the mixture go until the chiles had softened.
Keeping my hand busy, I moved on by cubing up an even ratio of chicken breast meat and thighs to keep the filling lean, yet still have plenty of depth. You could use either all breast or thigh meat though... work with what you have and like to eat! After browning the chicken, we scooped them out to a bowl and tossed in a mess of chopped onions to soften. A fat clove of garlic, along with a couple pinches of dried oregano, were stirred in and left to sit over the heat to let their pungent essence permeate the onions. The cooked chicken is then added back into the pool and tossed around so all those ingredients were mixed together.
Before you start layering ingredients into the baking dish, make sure you spread a bit of the homemade sauce over the bottom so the bottom layer doesn't dry out. At this point, you may want to enlist the help of another pair of hands, because the assembly process can be a bit messy! Four of the tortillas are first dipped into that warm red sauce and then fitted over the bottom of the dish - three will fit well, but you will need to break up the fourth piece to cover any bare spots. Half of the chicken mixture is arranged on top of those soaked tortillas, followed by a generous shower of queso fresco cheese. This is a type of fresh cheese that is somewhat crumbly and has a taste that is mild, a touch salty and does have a slight tang to it. If you haven't come across this cheese, you could use a more readily available Monterey Jack, but do try and search it out first and you just might be surprised!
After repeating the process and ending with a layer of tortillas on top, you'll notice that there is still a ton of sauce in the pot. You may think it would be crazy to add it all, but have faith! It will look flooded, but after a trip through the oven, all of those dry tortillas will drink up the liquid and expand, leaving you with solid portions to dish out. Using those chipotles in the sauce added more of a smoky depth that a spicy bite, but we found there was a tolerable amount of heat that I think most people would enjoy. However, if you do want a more intense burn, you could try leaving those stimulating seeds in with the chiles and see what you end up with! I think what Jeff appreciated most was the fact that the corn tortillas didn't turn into a pile of mush (you know about his texture issues!) and while they did soften, the tortillas still retained some integrity. Plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow too... I'm already counting down the hours!