As usual, I spent my Christmas in New Hampshire in the house I grew up in — with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, brother and sister-in-law — all of us packed into my parents’ house, with one shower. You can imagine the engineering project that is coordinating bathroom time! But it was a wonderful week full of family time and lots of eating, drinking and playing lots and lots of games. My family is big on games — including the somewhat obscure card game called whist, that you’ve probably never heard of but we play ad nauseum when we’re together. That and Outburst, Password, cribbage, Yahtzee, Trivial Pursuit…you name it.
Since my siblings and I all live elsewhere, my parents like to cook us all of our favorite meals when we converge back at Casa Whittemore. One of those is always my dad’s chicken chimichangas. He started cooking them with his guitar-playing friend Arthur back when I was growing up and they got together for jam sessions, and they’ve always been a stand-by. While traditional chimichangas are deep-fried, these are pan-fried, so you still get the crispy tortilla without so much fat. They’re spicy and full of cumin flavor, with melty cheese and crunch from the lettuce — I could eat them for every meal! I still don’t think mine are ever as good as my dad’s, but I make a valiant effort.
- Try adding in a can of black beans when the chicken is finishing up cooking, and heat through
- I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce, but it’s perfect here since it’s so crunchy and crisp
- Get two frying pans going to toast up the chimichangas if you have a bigger group partaking
- If you have spice-sensitive people to feed, scale back the spices a bit and have a hot sauce like Chalula on hand for the spice-lovers
- Warning — the spice measurements here are approximate. My dad never measures. I did about a tablespoon of cumin and chili powder, and 1/2 tablespoon cayenne, and it was still pretty mild (for me). Next time I’ll go more aggressive with my spice.
Dad’s Chicken Chimichangas
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 green pepper, sliced
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (fresh or jarred)
- Chili powder
- Curry powder
- Ground cayenne pepper
- Large flour tortillas
- Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican blend recommended)
- Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce
In a deep skillet over medium heat, add olive oil (about three times around the pan) and heat. Add about a teaspoon of each spice (cumin, chili powder, cayenne, curry) and toast for a minute or two. Add the sliced onion and peppers and a splash of juice from the jarred peppers if that’s what you’re using, or a splash of beer. Cook for a few minutes. Season the chicken with chili powder and salt and pepper. Add to the pan and saute to cook through. Add some more spices along the way, concentrating on the cumin and cayenne, to taste.
When the chicken is cooked through, turn the pan down to low and heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and a dash of cumin to the skillet. Warm a tortilla in the microwave for 15 seconds and pile the chicken filling in the middle. Add shredded cheese and wrap up like a burrito. Add the wrapped tortilla to the skillet with the loose edge of the tortilla side down so it doesn’t unwrap. Brown on all sides in the hot skillet (it will cook fairly quickly). Serve with shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.