Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oven-Baked Chicken Chimichangas

My Venture into the Exciting World of Chimichangas:
I had my first chimichanga at Chi-Chi's Restaurant when I was in high school. My Spanish class went there for dinner at the end of the school year for a little "cultural enrichment." I have to tell you that going to Chi-Chi's for cultural enrichment is a lot like going to Saudi Arabia for Fashion Week. During the festivities, my teacher insisted that we all speak Spanish. She had even arranged for a Spanish-speaking waitress that night.

Before the waitress had taken our orders, I noticed that the guy seated next to our table, who looked visibly annoyed at having to sit next to 20 teenagers slaughter the Spanish language, had ordered a little pouch of heaven. Not knowing what it was, I asked the waitress (in Spanish, of course) what he was eating. She said, "Una chimichanga." I instantly knew I had to eat this chimichanga thing because, if anything, it had a really cool name. I ordered the chimi and, to sound really mature and adult-like, also requested a virgin raspberry daiquiri – which I unknowingly mispronounced "die-query."

Minutes later, the chimichanga arrived and it tasted as good as it looked. I even thought I might be getting a little tipsy until my teacher, who was seated next to me, informed me that my "virgin die-query" did not have any alcohol in it. Oh. Well, I wondered why she allowed a 14-year-old to order a mixed drink. Anyway, in the middle of dinner, a classmate who was seated on the other side of the table, said in Spanish, "How do you say 'fire' in Spanish?" Perplexed, my teacher asked why. The girl then pointed to the table behind us and some guy was using his hand to try and put out a raging fire on his tablecloth. Our teacher sprang into action and hurriedly escorted us out of the restaurant. The fire was quickly doused but we were not allowed to return inside to finish our meal.

As we were boarding the bus, my teacher asked me if I was feeling alright. Not knowing what she was talking about, she pulled a mirror out of her purse and allowed me to look at my face. During a span of about 15 minutes, my eyes had nearly swollen shut and I had developed Angelina-Jolie lips. I was obviously suffering an allergic reaction to something. Fifteen years and a hundred daiquiris later, I'm still trying to get those lips back -- and the only thing that has swollen during that time period has been my backside.

Whenever I fix these chimichangas, it takes me back to that eventful evening I had at Chi-Chi's oh so many years ago. Because my chimichangas are not fried, they are a lot healthier but just as tasty. So make some new memories and cook up some of these chimis today! Buena suerte – y disfruta la comida!

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Oven-baked Chicken Chimichangas
(Printable Version)

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)
1/4 tsp black pepper
5 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup drained and rinsed black beans
2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro (or baby spinach)
3/4 cup salsa
8 oz freshly shredded monterrey jack cheese
7 flour tortillas (Taco-size, about 8 to 9")
Vegetable oil or olive oil for brushing

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, cumin, oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, scallions, black beans, and cilantro. Add the salsa and cheese. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Brush 4 tortillas on one side very lightly with water then place them in a stack on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the towel around the tortillas. Microwave the tortillas for about 25 seconds. This heats the tortillas enough to make them pliable.

Remove one tortilla from the kitchen towel and rewrap the others to keep them warm. Add 1/3 cup of the filling to the center of the tortilla. Wrap the chimichanga like you would a burrito. Fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up over the filling then roll it starting from the bottom to completely enclose the filling. You should not roll the chimi too tightly or the tortilla will tear (or later burst during baking). Place the chimi seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other tortillas – heating additional tortillas in the microwave when needed.

Brush the tops and sides of each chimi with some oil. Bake for 23 to 26 minutes or until the chimis are golden and crispy. Serve with additional salsa, sour cream, or pico de gallo.

Alternative Preparations:
1) Use freshly grated 2% sharp cheddar. Regular cheddar is also tasty but releases a lot of oil when it melts. Pepper jack cheese works great for those who appreciate things on the spicy side. Feeling naughty? Use 12 oz of cheese. It's really tasty that way but increases the caloric content and level of saturated fat considerably.
2) Make it vegetarian! Instead of chicken, add some red bell peppers, corn, and additional black beans.
3) Use whole-wheat or low-carb tortillas.
4) Instead of regular salsa, use salsa verde. It's really tasty this way!


  1. mmmmmm, sounds good! and easy enough, too. i think i have all the ingredients in my kitchen!

  2. What a great story! And oh, how we all miss Chi-Chi's! I trust that your Spanish teacher told everyone the meaning of the restaurant name....

    I can really hear your voice in your writing...and I can't wait to taste your recipes!!

    Here's a request from someone with 'below novice' skills in the kitchen. At some point, could you post a list of staple items that every cook needs? For example, you listed kosher salt for this recipe (thanks for the simple alternative by the way) and I've heard lots of mention recently of "sea salt". I'd love to have your expert opinion on what "cool things" I need to purchase for those days when I'm feeling like really going for the gourmet gold, if you know what I mean...

    Thanks for the blog Vince!

  3. Oh, yeah! I had forgotten all about the meaning for "Chi Chis"! :-) Did you hear that all Chi-Chi's Restaurants in the U.S. are now closed? Where will I go for a flaming dinner now? I think it is a great idea to add a blog entry about staple items for the household. I'll do that in the coming weeks. At the top of my list will be vodka, then scotch, then bourbon... Just kidding!

  4. Vince - first of all, I'm having a great time reading all of your recipes! Second, I wanted to let you know your chimi recipe gave me a great idea on how to prepare potato and pea samosas without having to prepare a dough or fry them. I used tortillas instead - brushing them with olive oil and baking them in the oven. I love potato and pea samosas and had never tried to make them due to my extreme lack of skills when it comes to making dough. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Oh, I love samosas! I made them one time for the office about 3 or 4 years ago. With rolling out all of that dough, it is truly a labor of love. That's why I LOVE your idea! It would be so much faster (and healthier) your way. You should try it and let me know how it works out. My birthday is in November. Hint, hint.

  6. I wanted to say I made this recipe and it was delicious! Love the oven-baked chimi's! All the ingredients work perfect together! It is a very colorful, tasteful, and aromaful dish! We made them a little on the spicier side with Salsa Verde rather than regular Salsa. These go perfect with the Chili Verde recipe to top them off!

  7. Just coming over to say Hi! Can't wait to make these!

  8. These were delicious. My variation was red kidney beans (all I had), salsa verde AND Pace's Pinnaple and Pepper salsa (again, all I had) and everyone loved it. I made a huge batch but did not bake all of them and into the freezer they go for a busy day in the future. Thank you for sharing! The spice combo was great.

  9. I love this recipe! Thanks so much for posting!


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