This Mexican classic is a stew of leftover corn tortillas. There are probably as many versions as there are Abuelas who make it, but no matter, all are excellent. My recipe uses fresh tomatoes and stale tortillas, is modestly spiced, and enriched with shredded cheese and eggs. Feel free to improvise wildly, but hold the line at tortillas. Only the best-tasting will do, because that bright flavor of nixtamalized corn is the magic cement holding chilaquiles' diverse sensations in luscious balance.
Yield: One, 10-inch frying pan filled with stew - a main course for two adults.
Time to Make: 45 minutes.
Tools needed: Cast iron or other heavy frying pan. Paper towels. Metal tongs. Instant-read thermometer (optional). Small bowl. Sharp knife. Cutting board. Measuring cups and spoons, or scale.
1) Stack the tortillas and cut into triangular sixths. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels. Add corn oil into frying pan to about 1/2 inch deep. Heat over high until oil reaches 350 - 375 F by instant-read thermometer. A corn triangle placed into the oil will sizzle vigorously but the oil will not smoke.
2) Working carefully, in batches of six triangles, slide tortilla chips gently into the oil. Cook for about 1 minute, then use tongs to turn the chips over and cook another minute. Drain the chips and place on the paper towels. Adjust heat to maintain oil temperature, and continue frying chips until all are done. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool somewhat before removing oil.
3) Meanwhile, dice the onion and garlic and slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick, removing the stem core as you do. Measure spices into a small bowl and mix together. Pour oil into a heat-resistant container, retaining a layer about 1/8 inch deep in the pan. (Do not dump oil down the drain!) Place oil safely out of the way until it thoroughly cools. Oil in the container may be transferred to a Tupperware for refrigeration, saved, and re-used.
4) Return the frying pan to medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for a minute or two, until pieces are lightly browned. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant - about 30 seconds. Add the tomato slices. Add the spices and stir. When tomatoes soften slightly - after about 2 minutes - turn slices over, turn heat down to medium low, cover pan and let tomatoes reduce, about 5 minutes.
5) Taste tomatoes and adjust spices. Stir to break up any lingering chunks. Push the tomatoes to one side of the frying pan and place a layer of tortilla chips into the cleared part. Cover with a handful of grated cheese and spoon the tomatoes back over the chips and cheese, uncovering the other half of the frying pan. Lay down a layer of chips and cheese on the cleared pan, and re-distribute the tomatoes. Repeat until all chips are layered with cheese and tomatoes.
6) Cover pan and simmer on medium-low for 15 minutes, or until chips have tenderized, cheese has melted, and the aroma is irresistible. Remove cover and adjust spices. Make two small wells in the surface and break eggs into the wells. Re-cover pan and heat until eggs are cooked runny, about 7 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.