Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


You recent arrivals may not realize Austin Agrodolce had its starting point as a food blog.  Previously all things gardening and outdoors were covered over at my old Gardenista digs.  In fact there has been such a dearth of food or eating related posts here lately you'd be forgiven even if you knew that and simply forgot.  I practically did and I am at least periodically obsessive.  On top of that, I may not garden every single day but I sure enough do eat.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Rather than provide a recipe here today I thought I'd share a technique I've developed to use up leftover proteins.  Dire economic times or no, I hate throwing out food of any sort but especially animal protein. It is wasteful, children are starving, animals gave up their lives, there are all sorts of good reasons to make sure every bite of animal protein you've purchased and/or prepared is consumed and hopefully enjoyed.

But what to do when you are left with bits and pieces that do not in themselves constitute a meal sized portion?  Recently I had roasted pork loin, poached and grilled chicken pieces left from the week's dinnertime efforts.  Sure you can throw them atop salad or into soup but, BOR-ING.

Enter the chimichanga.
According to tradition, a chimichanga is a meat filling in a tortilla wrapping that is deep fried.  Sort of like a burrito only a bit tidier.

When I make chimichangas, however, I finish them off in a hot oven.  There's still plenty of fat calories along for the ride, these are not any sort of restrictive diet type items, but the baked version simply and reliably re-heats better.  The way we eat around here that ability to reheat and serve on demand is essential.

You may be wondering, how much is enough?  I rarely have predictable amounts of leftover meats at any given time.  If what is on hand looks like it won't have enough to feed everybody, I'll put together a few chimichangas using seasoned refried beans in lieu of the animal protein mixture.  (Be sure to check the end of the post if you are planning on using beans, the technique varies slightly.)

What I had on hand today yielded about a cup and a half of meat once pulsed, and that is just about enough to fill the 10 tortillas that come in the packaging of our favorite locally made variety.

Soooo - let's make Chimichangas! Ready?  Wheee!  Here we go!

The cast of characters is as follows:
Cooked Animal Protein (or seasoned refried beans - see end of post for additional notes)
Grated cheese
Flavored mayonnaise** (see below)
Flour Tortillas (6-8 inchers - not those behemoths sold as "burrito" sized)

Assemble your proteins.  Making sure to remove skin and bones as applicable (these can go into your next batch of broth or stock) cut the meat into chunks about an inch in diameter.  As previously mentioned here I am using leftover roasted pork loin, some poached, and some grilled chicken.
You are now going to pulse the meat in a food processor. If you are using more than one protein, you want to sort out what is densest and put that into the processor first, adding the other protein about halfway through. When combining pork and chicken as I am today I pulsed the pork 6 times, then added the chicken and pulsed 6 more times until the mixture looked like this:
Now we'll add a moistening agent to help hold the meat mixture together and keep it from drying out. I've used all sorts of sauces and gravies throughout the years.  Barbeque sauce, green salsa, even mashed avocado have served ably in their turn, but most recently I've settled on using a bit of flavored mayonnaise.

In this case I took a 1/4 cup of Hellman's, added in about 1/16 teaspoon of chipotle powder and smoked pimenton each (to taste) and let that sit in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors speed date. You'll want to watch adding salt if your cooked meat is already seasoned.  Plain mayo works fine in a hurry.  You don't want a wet mess, just add enough to barely hold it together, like so.
Prepare your flour tortillas by softening them in melted butter in a skillet over medium high heat.  Flip each tortilla over after a couple of seconds, until it is buttery on both sides, soft and quite pliable. You want to work with warm tortillas so they will fold easily.  Until you get the hang of how many tortillas your filling will require, you can heat and fill a few tortillas at a time.
While not absolutely necessary, I began adding grated Monterey Jack cheese to our chimichangas a couple of years ago.  I often have odds and ends of grated cheese hanging around and any will do, but Jack cheese is our favorite.  The meat mixture will work fine solo, again, this is about using up what you've got on hand rather than running out to the store to buy ingredients.

Put a tablespoon or so of grated cheese into the middle of each softened tortilla.  You are putting the cheese in first because you'll flip the tortilla over prior to baking and you want the cheese on top of the meat.  If the cheese ends up on the bottom it often leaks out while baking thus undoing your work. Sneaky, work-undoing cheese!  When the heat is on you just can't trust it to stay put.  

Now add about two tablespoons of meat filling on top of the cheese.  Fold in two opposing sides towards the middle and then the other two sides in as well to make a neat little package, thusly.

Why do my fingers look so weird?  Ugh.  Please ignore and continue!  Flip each bundle over seam sides down and...

prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking.  See?  Easy peasy.

If I am making bean and meat chimichangas at the same time and need to tell them apart I will poke a different pattern into each type.  Also, as you can see, the tortilla flaps stick out on the bottom on two sides. You could orient your chimichangas in varying directions to differentiate types if that is how you roll.  

Continue filling (and obsessively arranging on your baking sheet) until you've used up all your meat mixture.  I had about 1 and 1/2 cups of meat mixture today and that fills 10 tortillas neatly.

I am not above tinkering with the amounts I use per tortilla to stretch or to use up extra filling as required.  If you had extra, could you eat the pulsed meat mixture in a sandwich?  Absolutely.  Might you stand at the counter and eat that last little bit of moistened meat mixture left in the bowl?  Not if you are watching your waistline you won't.  Do as I say, not as I....lalala LOOK!  A squirrel!
At this point the chimichangas can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 24 hours before baking.  If baking from the refrigerator, do allow a few minutes for the bundles to warm slightly first. When you are ready to heat and eat, place the desired number of chimichangas on a foil covered pan (for easier clean up in case you accidentally bought aforementioned sneaky type cheese).
Slide onto the middle rack of a moderately hot oven and bake until golden, about 15 minutes (depending on your oven).  Serve warm.

Depending on appetites, two to three chimichangas is a serving.  You can put out crema (or sour cream) and salsa verde to be used as a bit of a dip with these if you like, but that is definitely gilding the lily.   Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Some of my favorite lilies are gilded.

As mentioned, unbaked chimichangas will hold in a covered container in the refrigerator to be baked to order.  On the off chance you have uneaten baked chimichangas (do we need a term for leftover leftovers? leftovers squared? leftoveragains?), they may be kept refrigerated and then reheated again easily in a warm oven for a few minutes.

I've tried microwaving these for just a few seconds to take the chill off and they are OK that way but to my mind the tortilla gets too soft for my liking.  Once baked these will keep a week tightly covered in the refrigerator but I've never had them last that long.

Are you tired of all this talk about chimichangas?  Me too.  I like eating them a hell of a lot more than typing.

Here's a recap with some suggested amounts.  SUGGESTED....for the love of all that is easy do not get too hung up on amounts.  These are guidelines, not restrictions.


1 1/2 cups Cooked Protein (meat pulsed to a coarse grind or well seasoned refried beans)
1/2 cups Grated Cheese
1/4 cup Moistening agent - Not needed if using refried beans.
10 Soft taco or fajita size flour tortillas
1-2 tablespoons Unsalted butter

Heat tortillas one at a time in a hot skillet on both sides in a half pat melted butter until pliable.  Repeat and reserve.
On foil lined baking sheet, place 1 tablespoon grated cheese in center of each heated tortilla
Add 2 tablespoons meat or bean mixture on top of cheese
Fold 2 opposing tortilla sides in towards the middle, then fold remaining 2 sides in to make a square bundle
Carefully flip bundles over seam side down
Pierce tops with fork
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes (until lightly golden brown)
Serve warm

Once you've tried these a few times you will doubtless hit upon combinations all your own that will become family favorites.  You could top the meat mixture with pickled onions, a slice or two of jalapeño, chopped olives - be creative.  But by all means do give baked chimichangas a whirl.  You won't be disappointed.

My daughter is a confirmed carnivore and actually enjoys the bean versions best.  Here are a couple of notes for using beans rather than meat as a filling.

For my vegetarian friends:  These are fabulous made with well seasoned refried beans.  If using beans, you will not need a moistening agent as you will with cooked meats.  I've had good luck finding cheese made with non-animal rennet.  If you are not using butter, soften your tortillas in a little flavorless oil.  If you are eating vegan, then adjust further as needed.

Beans should be well seasoned.  I have the best results making the chimichangas with refrigerated refried beans because they hold their position better on the tortillas while assembling.  Again, start with your grated cheese.  Then if you like, put 1-2 pickled jalapeño slices on next, then 2 tablespoons of your beans.  Fold, flip and bake as directed.  Enjoy!

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