Mexican Beef Enchiladas

published May 16, 2024
Mexican Beef Enchiladas Recipe

The secret to the best enchiladas? Dousing them in a rich red chile sauce.

Serves4

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours

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An overhead shot of Mexican beef enchiladas on a platter with some removed.
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Beef enchiladas are an iconic traditional dish popularized in the 20th century as a national Mexican dish. It’s one of my favorite dishes, and one I regularly make for my family. This recipe for enchiladas with shredded beef reflects the style that is common in Southern Zacatecas, my home region of Mexico.  

The secret to the best enchiladas? Knowing how to pick your dried chiles. That said, finding the right balance in your sauce can also be tricky. My enchilada recipe is perfectly balanced, owing to its mild spiciness and the rich flavor of the ancho chiles. It’s so good you’ll always want to keep a jar of this enchilada sauce stocked in your fridge. 

Why You’ll Love It

  • According to our cross-tester, this recipe was a hit. It delivered enchiladas that were lightly sauced, well seasoned, and delicious. 
  • Since these enchiladas involve a few components, you can easily tackle it by breaking up the prep. Make the shredded beef or enchilada sauce ahead of time and either store them in the refrigerator or freezer. When ready to assemble, just thaw then reheat. 
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Key Ingredients in Mexican Beef Enchiladas

  • Beef: Choose between flank steak or carne para deshebrar for the filling. You’ll use the cooking liquid from the shredded beef to make the flavorful sauce. 
  • Chiles: Making a well-balanced and flavorful enchilada sauce can be challenging, especially if you don’t pick the right ancho chiles. Purchase your chiles from the bulk section so that you can touch, smell, and see each one. Hold the chiles to the light and check for burgundy hues throughout. Bend the chiles to ensure they are not too dry and have some flexibility.
  • Cheese: Top with your choice of shredded cotija cheese or asadero cheese. 
  • Tortillas: Opt for 5-inch corn tortillas for assembling the enchiladas.

How to Make Mexican Beef Enchiladas

Enchiladas are more straightforward to make than you may believe. To prepare these enchiladas, you will follow these general steps. 

  1. Cook the beef. Simmer the beef with some aromatics in water until fork tender, then shred the beef, straining and saving the cooking liquid for the enchilada sauce.
  2. Make enchilada sauce. Start by toasting and soaking the chiles. Place the soaked chiles, some beef cooking liquid, milk, garlic, oil, cornstarch, and ground cinnamon in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Prepare your tortillas and assemble enchiladas. Fry the tortillas one at a time until they start to soften. Then dip in the enchilada sauce, fill with shredded beef, and roll. 

Helpful Swaps

  • This enchilada sauce incorporates milk to balance the acidity and heat of the chiles, but you can swap the milk for Mexicana-style cream or regular sour cream if you prefer.  
  • I call for dried California chile, but you can use a dried guajillo chile if you want a spicier sauce.

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

  • Make ahead: The shredded beef and sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating both before assembling the enchiladas.
  • Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Do not freeze.

What to Serve With Mexican Beef Enchiladas

  • Mexican Rice
  • White rice with peas and carrots
  • Slices of avocado or a simple salad

Mexican Beef Enchiladas Recipe

The secret to the best enchiladas? Dousing them in a rich red chile sauce.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the shredded beef filling, assembling, and toppings:

  • 5 cups

    water

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    flank steak or carne para deshebrar

  • 1 head

    garlic

  • 1

    small white onion, divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    dried oregano

  • 1/4 cup

    crumbled cotija or shredded queso asadero cheese

  • 12 to 14 (about 5-inch)

    corn tortillas

  • 1 1/2 cups

    vegetable or canola oil

For the sauce:

  • 2

    dried ancho chiles

  • 1

    dried California chile (or guajillo chile for a spicier sauce)

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    distilled white vinegar

  • 1 cup

    cooking liquid from the shredded beef filling (recipe below)

  • 1/3 cup

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    vegetable or canola oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    cornstarch

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

Instructions

Start the beef filling:

  1. Bring 5 cups water to a simmer in a small pot (about 2 quarts) over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut 1 1/2 pounds flank steak crosswise into 4- to 6-inch pieces. Cut across the grain into 3- to 4-inch wide pieces. Cut the top off 1 garlic head to expose the cloves.

  2. Add the beef, garlic, and 1/2 peeled small white onion (reserve the remaining onion for topping) to the simmering water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam from the surface as needed. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Simmer, adjusting the heat as needed, until the beef is fork tender, 1 hour to 1 hour and 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the chiles.

Prepare the chiles:

  1. Toast 2 dried ancho chiles and 1 dried California chile: If you have a gas stove, turn a burner on to medium heat. Toast each chile one at a time by holding it with tongs directly on the flame, turning occasionally, until fragrant, darkened in color, and starting to soften, 8 to 10 seconds per side. If you have an electric stove, toast the chiles in a frying pan over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

  2. Cut the stems off with kitchen shears, then remove and discard the stems, seeds, and veins. Place in a medium bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar. Let the chiles soak until they soften, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the soaking liquid.

Finish the beef filling:

  1. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano to the beef, stir to combine, and remove the pot from the heat. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

  2. Transfer the beef to a plate or clean cutting board. Shred with 2 forks into bite-size pieces, discarding any fat. Cover to keep warm. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer set over a heatproof bowl or liquid measuring cup. Discard the contents of the strainer. Reserve the cooking liquid for the enchilada sauce.

Make the sauce:

  1. Place the soaked chiles, 1 cup of the beef cooking liquid, 1/3 cup whole or 2% milk, 1 peeled garlic clove, 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

  2. Pour into a medium frying pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low heat to keep warm.

Assemble the enchiladas:

  1. Thinly slice the reserved 1/2 small white onion (about 1/2 cup). Crumble cotija or shred queso asadero cheese until you have about 1/4 cup.

  2. Warm 12 to 14 corn tortillas if desired (or you can skip straight to frying them): Place on a comal, griddle, or pan, over a medium flame on a gas stove or outdoor grill, or in a skillet over medium heat on an electric stove. Cook, flipping occasionally, until it inflates with pockets of air, chars in spots, and is pliable. Stack together and wrap in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.

  3. Heat 1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until 350ºF to 365ºF. Fry the tortillas one at a time: Add to the hot oil with tongs and fry until starting to soften and pliable but not crisp or browned, 10 to 15 seconds per side. Stack them on a plate.

  4. Dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce and flip, making sure the tortilla is fully coated. Place on a second plate. Repeat dipping, stacking the tortillas on top of each other, until you have 6 or 7. Place scant 1/4 cup of the beef filling down the center of the top tortilla. Roll the tortilla up over the filling and place seam-side down on a plate. Repeat with the remaining dipped tortillas.

  5. Repeat dipping and filling the remaining tortillas. Serve topped with the onions and cotija or queso asadero cheese.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The shredded beef and sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating both before assembling the enchiladas.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Do not freeze.