For Texans, it’s hard to find a more comforting and familiar dish than a platter of authentic, tex mex enchiladas—corn tortillas filled with melted cheese and white onion, smothered with real chili gravy is our trademark recipe.
After working as a chef throughout Texas, I’ve had the unique opportunity to study the various ways that different regions of the state serve this famous dish, and today I’m sharing my favorite recipe for tex mex enchiladas —cheese and onion filled enchiladas with a beefy chili sauce.
It’s the version I grew up eating as a child, with melted cheddar cheese filling, and a sauce containing little bits of meat, swimming in a smooth chili gravy sauce made with real Texas chili powder like Gebhardt’s or Mexene. It’s the most authentic version I can share with you, and if you’re a displaced Texan craving enchiladas, this recipe is sure to become one of your favorites.
Let’s get started…
What are Tex Mex Enchiladas?
Tex Mex enchiladas are corn tortillas filled with cheese and white onion (usually cheddar or American cheese depending on the region) and coated with a smooth sauce regionally referred to as chili gravy.
What is Chili Gravy?
Chili gravy is a sauce made with pan drippings, a little flour to thicken, beef broth, and the most important ingredient: a proper Texas chili powder.
What is the Difference between Texas Chili Powder and Chile Powder?
Texas chili powder (with an “i”) is different than chile powder (with an “e”), the latter of which is simply dried powdered chiles. Texas chili powder is a combination of powdered dried chiles and other spices.
What’s in Chili Powder?
Texas chili powder is a mixture of several different spices (each brand has their own recipe) containing powdered chiles (such as Ancho or New Mexico chiles), cumin, garlic, black pepper, and occasionally Mexican oregano.
Although many generic Texas chili powders fill the shelves of southwestern grocery stores, most Texans prefer the unique and exceptional flavor of two classic brands, Gebhardt’s and Mexene.
Using either of the brands seems to add a little something extra to your chili gravy, as it should! Both companies have been in the Texas chili powder business for over 100 years, so they’ve had awhile to get their recipe perfected.
A Note on Homemade Chili Powder: I’ve done many side by side comparisons of homemade chili powder versus the name brands mentioned above, and as a 7th generation Texan and veteran chef, I have never been satisfied with the flavor of homemade chili powder. It’s fun to try and you should certainly do it for the experience, but in my opinion the flavor isn’t anywhere close to the classic brands. If I find a recipe and grinding method I like, I will certainly update this post. Leave me your comments below on the issue.
Now onto the cheese enchilada…
What Cheese Should Be Used Inside of an Authentic Tex Mex Enchilada?
Texas is a big place, so this question has two answers.
I grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where Tex Mex restaurants exclusively fill their enchiladas with mild to medium cheddar studded with finely diced white onion.
When I became a chef on the San Antonio River Walk, as well as visits to see my Dad in Houston, it was more common to see American cheese or Velveeta used inside a chili gravy enchilada.
Although every rule is easily broken, with chili gravy enchiladas the only tried and true tradition is that it is made with yellow cheese.
If you want my preference, I much prefer mild to medium cheddar because I like the classic string pull when you lift your bite from the plate. I also recommend grating your own cheese from a block of cheese instead of using pre-shredded cheese from the bag. You can do whatever you feel like today. 🙂
How to Make the Chili Gravy
To begin the chili gravy recipe, brown the ground beef (I prefer a high fat content such as 80/20) in a skillet. Add the onion and spices.
Then, to provide thickening power, sprinkle in the flour and fold with a spatula to combine. It should cling to the meat like snow.
Next pour in the beef broth (I prefer a high protein beef broth of bone broth for extra flavor like this one), and bring to a simmer.
When the mixture thickens, season to taste. I occasionally add a little tabasco sauce for acidity if I am not serving small children. You can add more chili powder to taste, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, whatever you think it needs to fine-tune to your particular tastes.
Fill individual corn tortillas with shredded cheddar cheese (or you may substitute American cheese if you’re creating an authentic, southern Texas cheese enchilada), with a sprinkling of finely diced white onion.
Roll them up and place them into a casserole dish, as shown below.
Pour the chili gravy on top of the Texas style enchiladas and bake.
Our Favorite Side Dishes for Serving with Chili Gravy Enchiladas…
- 1 lb. 80/20 ground beef, chili grind if available
- 1 T. Kosher Salt
- ½ t. black pepper
- 1/3 c. minced white onion
- 2 T. Texas chili powder such as Mexene or Gebhardts
- 1 t. powdered garlic
- ½ t. Mexican oregano
- 2 t. cumin
- ¼ c. flour
- ½ t. salt
- 2 ½ c. beef stock
- 1 t. fresh lemon juice
- 12 oz. medium cheddar from the block, freshly grated
- ½ c. minced white onion
- 12-16 fresh corn tortillas
- 1 c. oil for frying
In a skillet on med-high heat begin searing the ground beef and breaking it up well with a wooden spatula. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper and let the meat sear well as you break it up. The dark brown parts of the sear will dissolve and enrich the chili gravy later adding to the flavor.
When the meat is well-seared add in the onion and cook 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Add in the chili powder, powdered garlic, cumin, and Mexican oregano and let the spices brown and toast in the pan along with the beef. Finally, turn the heat down to medium and sprinkle in the flour. Toss the flour in the meat and incorporate into the fat and juices creating a roux of sorts. When the flour dissolves into the mixture, pour in the beef stock and whisk it into the mixture.
Turn the heat up and stir frequently bringing the mixture up to a boil. Lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes (or longer if desired), the longer the chili cooks the more the flavors in the chili gravy will enhance and deepen.
Finish the gravy with ½ t. salt if needed, and 1 t. fresh lemon juice.
For the enchiladas:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a skillet heat the oil to medium-high heat and fry each corn tortilla for about 20 seconds to soften them. Drain on paper towels as they come out. Grate the cheddar cheese and mince up about ¼ c. of white onion.
In a 9x13 inch baking dish roll up the corn tortillas filled with 2 T. or so of freshly grated cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of minced onion. Roll them into enchiladas and with the seam on the bottom. Fill the entire baking dish with enchiladas tucked closely together. Ladle the hot chili gravy on top of the enchiladas.
Place in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle extra cheese and white onion on top if desired.