Gloriously creamy, cheesy, and tomatillo-bright, enchiladas suizas are easy to love.
The Mexico City specialty, whose name nods to the dairy-rich culture of Switzerland, features delicately seasoned shreds of chicken tidily rolled into subtly savory corn tortillas, topped with cheese, and bathed in a sauce spiked with Mexican crema, each distinct component shining through in every bite.
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As I worked up my own recipe, I aimed to do justice to each of these elements, but I also wanted to address some classic enchilada pitfalls along the way.
Making enchiladas is a project, and results can be mixed: Oftentimes, the tortillas crack, the filling pokes through the rolls, or the sauce sogs out the whole dish, resulting in a collapsed, mushy mess.
I’d need to employ some strategy to ensure my recipe was both streamlined and structurally sound.
A Punchy, Creamy Sauce
When I spoke to Zarela Martínez, chef and co-host of the Cooking in Mexican from A to Z podcast, about the dish, she emphasized the importance of a lush sauce. “The creaminess is very important to enchiladas suizas,” she said, noting that cream is not usually used in other styles of enchiladas. “It’s characteristic of the dish.”
Enriching the Sauce
The key to enchiladas suizas’ luxurious, dairy-rich sauce is Mexican crema, a salted, cultured cream used both as a topping and an ingredient in Mexican cooking. Crema is typically stocked in the dairy section of the grocery store, but if you can’t find it, an equal amount of heavy cream mixed with a pinch of salt will work in its place in this recipe—crema’s richness and consistency are essential, but its cultured tang isn’t, since the tomatillos in the sauce provide plenty of acidity.
That sauce, which is typically spread on the serving plate and spooned generously over the top of the rolls, shows just how much flavor simple techniques can coax out of a handful of ingredients.
It’s made by gently simmering whole, husked tomatillos in water until they’re olive green and close to bursting. Serrano chiles (two whole ones are enough to supply heat, but a third seeded chile is required for grassy depth), a few half-moons of onion, and garlic cloves simmer alongside the tomatillos until they’re soft and mellow and then the solids are fished from the water and pureed in a blender along with a generous ⅔ cup of cilantro (stems included) and then ½ cup of Mexican crema to infuse the sauce with its signature creaminess and temper the tomatillos’ sharp acidity.
From there, I could proceed with the recipe or refrigerate the sauce overnight and reheat it later.
Suizas for Shoppers
Like Jordan Marsh’s blueberry muffins and Neiman Marcus’s creamy, cheesy dip, enchiladas suizas is a relic of department store dining. This dish is closely associated with Sanborns, a Woolworth’s-esque chain founded in Mexico City in 1903 by a pair of brothers from California. Whether the dish was created or simply popularized by the store is debated, but by the middle of the 20th century, these enchiladas were a well-established, beloved item on the menu at Sanborns’ restaurant. Turn up for lunch at the chain’s most unique outpost—a location in the beautiful tiled Casa de Los Azulejos—and you’ll still see hungry shoppers ordering this iconic dish today. –Alyssa Vaughn
A Soft, Easy-to-Roll Filling
Many recipes call for poaching and then shredding a whole chicken. I liked this preparation—small shreds are easy to roll, and poaching results in soft, tender meat that won’t poke through a tortilla—but I was less enthusiastic about the hour-plus time commitment of poaching a whole bird.
Because there is plenty of sumptuous dairy in the sauce, I didn’t feel the need to include fattier dark meat in my filling, so I opted to swap in a pound of boneless, skinless breasts. The breasts didn’t need nearly as much water to poach, which significantly reduced the amount of time I needed to wait for my pot of water to come to a simmer. To save even more time, I split the breasts into thirds lengthwise.
This shaved about 10 minutes off the poach, and at least 20 minutes off the cooling period before I could shred the meat. After I broke down the breasts into tender shreds, I set the chicken aside while I prepared the dish’s other components—it would need just a quick season with a sprinkle of Mexican oregano and a few cracks of black pepper before it was ready to roll.
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The Art of the Assembly
After frying a stack of corn tortillas in oil, rendering them more pliable and less prone to sogging out, it was time to assemble.
Traditionally, the tortillas are dipped into the sauce before rolling, a step that both flavors the tortillas and keeps them from drying out (the term “enchilada” roughly translates to “coated with chiles,” a reference to this step). Enchilada pros have no trouble wrapping filling into a sauce-slicked tortilla, but the handling can be tricky for those with less experience.
So for the sake of neater rolls, I skipped the dip, knowing that I could sauce the enchiladas in the skillet.
Science: Fried Tortillas Make Sturdy Enchiladas
Store-bought corn tortillas are traditionally fried before being rolled into enchiladas. The hot oil warms the tortilla, making it pliable enough to roll around the filling, and drives off some of its water—which has a twofold effect. Removing water from the tortilla’s gelled pectin and hemicellulose (its main structural components) causes it to firm up, making the round nicely chewy. And oil fills the microcrevices that the evaporated water leaves behind, strengthening the tortilla and creating a water‑resistant barrier that helps it hold together even after it’s covered with sauce.
Each tortilla fries for only a few seconds—long enough to make it pliable and resilient.
Most recipes for enchiladas suizas present them as a casserole, snugging the enchiladas into a dish, covering them with sauce, and baking until hot. Homey and appealing as this approach is, it dirties more equipment, and it typically takes about 20 to 25 minutes, as the abundant sauce needs time to heat through.
I opted for a speedier approach: baking the enchiladas in the skillet I had used to fry the tortillas and using just enough sauce to spread a base layer beneath the rolls and lightly coat them on top. This reduced the reheat time to just over 10 minutes. As the dish baked, I reheated the sauce so that it could be generously spooned over the rolls at the table and prepped a few garnishes: onion, cilantro, radish, and cotija cheese.
When the dish was heated through, I coated the bottom of a bowl with sauce and then placed a couple of enchiladas on top, finishing with a flourish of garnishes. I cut into a roll and revealed a neat cross section of tender shreds of chicken encircled by tortilla and swathed in luxurious sauce and cheese—a paragon of enchilada architecture.