Classic Mexican breakfast dish

Courtney Campbell, born in Mexico City,holds a dish of  chilaquiles. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Courtney Campbell, born in Mexico City,holds a dish of chilaquiles. Photo: Gregor Richardson.

Flavours of home is a series of recipes from around the world cooked by people at home in Otago. This week, Courtney Campbell, from Mexico, shows us how to make Chilaquiles rojas de pollo.

Courtney Campbell was born and raised in Mexico City, although she lived in Kenya for 18 years. She came to Dunedin from California three months ago to live near her son and his family.

Chilaquiles [chee-lah-kee-less] is a classic dish much loved by Mexicans and is eaten at breakfast, especially after a night of partying: it is even said to cure hangovers.


There are many versions of this dish of crisped tortilla chips in a spicy sauce, red with tomatoes and red chillies, green with tomatillos and green chillies and instead of chicken you can use eggs, chorizo or nothing.


Chilaquiles rojas de pollo
Serves 4


8 day-old corn tortillas cut into 1cm strips
2 dried ancho or guajillo chillies
2 plum tomatoes
¼ white onion
1 clove garlic
1 fresh red chilli (optional)
½ cup water
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup canola oil for frying
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
sea salt, to taste
½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream diluted with 1 Tbsp water
50g dry feta, crumbledcoriander to serve



If you are starting with raw chicken, poach it in some chicken stock with a couple of sticks of celery, a red onion and a carrot all roughly chopped, for about 20 minutes or until cooked. Tear into pieces.

On a hot, dry frypan or comal (see Tips below), put the dried ancho chillies to warm. This releases the flavours. When warmed on both sides and fragrant, put the chillies in a bowl of cold water to rehydrate. When softened, cut off the stalks and slit the chillies down the side to flatten.

Remove seeds and veins if you like a mild spiciness, otherwise leave them in. Do the same with the fresh chilli if using. Tear into pieces and put into the blender with a half a cup of water to help it blend.

Put the whole tomatoes, the quarter onion and the garlic on the hot, dry pan to char and cook. Turn from time to time, and when cooked, remove the skins.

Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic to the blender and blend to form a salsa or sauce. It should be fairly thin.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot, add the tomato mixture and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Fry the tortilla strips, a few at a time until crisp but not brown. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with kitchen paper. Salt lightly.

When all the tortilla strips are crisp, mix them into the hot salsa until well coated.

Use a shallow dish to serve. Layer the tortilla crisps and salsa in the dish, with the chicken pieces, as you would a lasagne. Top with crumbled feta, drizzle with the thinned creme fraiche or sour cream, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro (coriander).

Serve straight away.

Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New World.


  • Mexicans always dry-roast ingredients rather than sautuing them in oil. It's the way the Aztecs cooked, she says.
  • Three things you always find in Mexican kitchens are a cazuela (a flat terracotta dish for cooking), a comal (a smooth, flat cast-iron pan for cooking tortillas, toasting spices and searing food), and a blender.
  • Ancho chillies (also called Californian or New Mexican chillies) are mildly flavoured.
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes or other sensitive parts of the body with hands that have touched the inside of chillies. Some people wear gloves to prepare chillies.
  • You can substitute chipotle chilli powder for the whole dried chillies, but the flavour of the whole chillies is better. If you are buying tortillas for this, the best are the white ones made with maize flour. You could substitute bought tortilla crisps.
  • In Mexico, a salsa is a chilli sauce. There are various stages of a salsa: an adobo is a marinade or a sauce for a stew; a mole is a complex, heavy sauce with many herbs and spices - the famous mole from Puebla has chocolate in it but many others don't; a salsa turns into a sofrito when heated in oil.
  • You could use a different cheese, such as cheddar, but feta is closer to queso fresco, which is used in Mexico. Courtney prefers to use creme fraiche, which is closer to Mexican crema than sour cream.

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