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Corn tortillas...soften in oil or not?

Hiya...I'm getting ready to make a batch of green chile chicken enchilladas. Do you need to soften the tortillas in oil or not? Where I live (northern NM), everyone fries the tortillas briefly in oil prior to stacking them into the enchillada casserole. Is this necessary? Can you just warm them in the m-wave or oven prior to assembling the enchilladas? What do you all think?

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  1. When making rolled-up enchiladas, I find that dipping the corn tortillas in hot oil helps to keep them from breaking up. Just warming in microwave or oven doesn't soften them up enough. If you're making some kind of stacked enchilada casserole, you can probably do without. The oil does add flavor (and calories) though.

    1. You CAN just warm them without oil, and they usually soften up enough to work with. And if they break once or twice, it's not the end of the world anyway. The only difference is that if you dip them in the oil, less of your enchilada sauce will soak into the tortillas when you cook them, and they won't get as soggy.

      1. I used to use oil - in the interest of health I now use my bamboo steamer. Bamboo steamer works really well especially for fish tacos. With the enchilada - the oil does help stop the mushies

        1 Reply
        1. re: coastie

          I agree that the oil, while not essential, makes a meaningful difference in the finished dish.

        2. I used to steam but recently, I purchased a ceramic tortilla warmer--you put the tortillas in it, put the pot in a 300 degree oven and 7-10 minutes later, the tortillas are pliant (and edible.) I have never found that the oil method was much of an advantage...

          1. When I am not concerned about calories or mess, I soften in oil. When I am concerned about calories and mess, I griddle briefly on each side (dry cast iron pan or a griddle, depending on how many I am making). I prefer the flavor of dry heat to the microwave "steaminess". I think that the fried in oil is superior in terms of flavor and authenticity, but any enchilada is better than no enchilada!

            1 Reply
            1. re: dkenworthy

              I often simply throw my corn tortillas onto the gas flame and flip them a few times until they're pliant and lightly charred. I prefer to fry them briefly in oil, but sometimes I just don't want to bother.

            2. I prefer to dip in oil but if you're looking to reduce calories, you can dip the tortillas in the sauce (heat the sauce first). It gets a little messy but works as well as dipping in oil. However, this method does produce a mushier end product. I haven't had luck with microwaving or waming them on a dry pan. The tortillas don't get pliable enough and they break. Not a big deal but maybe you want them to look nice for whatever reason. Also, I find that microwaving makes them soft initially but then they get really hard as they cool - so you have to work really fast or microwave just a few tortillas at a time.

              1 Reply
              1. re: soniabegonia

                I use the sauce to, but I brush it on with a pastry brush, so there's only a little bit.

              2. I steam, but if I'm using the microwave I cover and put a glass of water in with the tortillas. Rick Bayless steams, BTW.


                1. I brush a little oil on them, the fry briefly in a hot pan, a bit better than dipping in oil.

                  1. I prefer to dip my corn tortillas in the warmed sauce i cook my chicken in, It intensifies the flavor and adds a lovely color.

                    1. I use my big non-stick pan, and spray both sides of the tortilla with a little corn oil. Just a spritz. I toast them briefly on each side (I can usually do 4 at a time - it's a big pan). I pull them out, put 4 more in while I fill and roll the 4 that just came out of the pan. I can usually get a rhythm going where I don't have to wait for the tortillas. I think they taste better with a little 'toast' on them.

                      1. The objective is not to soften. The oil "sear" preserves their shape and definition in a rolled casserole dish, elsewise it all turns into a homogenized mush. Even in a flat layered dish, a quick fry of the tortillas separates the layers and allows a little flavor separation between them, plus a little texture.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Veggo

                          Exactly. I've done it both ways and I now believe that it's absolutely crucial to cook them in oil first. It greatly improves both texture and taste.

                        2. If you don't use oil (or lard), what will you fry your egg in?

                          1. Thank you all for your suggestions...I'm debating between the real deal (soften in hot oil) or brushing with oil and toast/sear (?) on hot griddle. I'll report back to let you know all how it turns out. Many thanks for your responses!

                            1. I've tried it both ways and for me enchilladas not only work better but taste better cooked in oil first. It brings out the corn flavor in the tortilla more. I saute them one at a time, briefly. Then stack them in between paper towels. Yep I go through about half a roll, (exagerating) but I like to blot any excess oil off, and then make the enchilladas. Be ready for burned little finger tips though!

                              1. Yesterday I used the CI "Cover And Bake" recipe which instructs you to spray both sides of tortilla with spray oil, then bake in hot oven (? 400 degrees) for 4 minutes. Timing wise, I baked 5 at a time, and rolled them while the next 5 heated.

                                1. I find that brief frying or lightly brushing with oil and heating on a cookie sheet in the oven really adds to the body and texture of the finished dish. I used to dip them in the enchilada sauce to soften, trying to avoid the extra calories. When I went back to frying or brushing with peanut or canola oil, I realized that I had been missing an important part of the dish.

                                  My vote would be, unless it's for important health reasons, stick with a little oil.

                                  1. I make a traditional chicken enchilada dinner for Christmas Eve that has been passed down from my Mom.
                                    God forbid I change the slightest thing, but I do instead of briefly frying my corn tortillas, brush them lightly with oil, stack and microwave to soften them and give them that true to form flavor in compliance with Mom's original.
                                    The best ever.

                                    1. Well, I decided to brush them with oil and griddle them...Worked beautifully and the enchilladas were AWESOME. Thank you for all of your replies. Any suggestions for the leftover corn tortillas?

                                      1 Reply