Enchiladas and chimichangas are two savory Mexican-style foods that consist of stuffed tortillas served with various sauces and sides. Often confused for each other (or burritos) these flavorful meaty entrées couldn’t be more different.
Not only do they have different origins (Mexican vs American Tex Mex), they differ in ingredients, cooking method, and how they’re served. This article will tell you all you need to know when deciding between an enchilada vs chimichanga. Recipes included!
What defines an enchilada?
Enchiladas are a classic Mexican cuisine entrée made with soft corn tortillas rolled around filling ingredients (typically chicken or beef). The rolls are smothered in a spicy tomato-based chili pepper sauce and baked in the oven.
This popular Mexican dish, typically served with rice and beans on the side, is said to date back to Aztec times. The sauce is a defining characteristic of an enchilada, which stems from the Spanish “enchilar,” meaning “to season with chili.”
What does an enchilada have in it?
While ingredients and cooking styles may vary by chef, here’s what's typically in an enchilada:
- Tortilla: Corn tortilla wrap
- Fillings: Usually meat with little else, though they can be made vegetarian or with added ingredients, such as beans, vegetables, potatoes, and cheese.
- Sauce: Traditional enchilada sauce is tomato-based and heavily seasoned with chili powder and cumin.
- Cheese: Enchiladas are commonly covered in a mix of Monterrey jack and cheddar cheese before baking.
- Garnish: Fresh green onions, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, and fresh salsa can help to brighten this otherwise heavy dish.
Are authentic enchiladas corn or flour?
Authentic enchiladas are made with soft corn tortillas. Not only does the corn provide a nice flavor, but flour tortillas do not hold up as well in the sauce used in this dish.
How to eat an enchilada
Because enchiladas are typically smothered in sauce, this dish is best eaten with a fork and knife. Enchiladas are typically served with rice and beans. Other typical Mexican sides include chips and salsa, beans, guacamole, and salad.
Are enchiladas healthy?
Enchiladas are not considered healthy because they are high in calories, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates and are cooked using inflammatory oils. A typical plate of beef enchiladas at a restaurant has anywhere from 600 to 1,200 calories.
An enchilada dish can be made healthier by reducing the amount of oil used, using chicken or beans instead of beef, skipping the cheese, and pairing it with lighter veggie-heavy sides, like salads and salsa.
Why are enchiladas so high in calories?
Enchiladas are high in calories because the tortillas are fried in oils and they typically are made with high-caloric ingredients, such as beef and cheese.
How to make enchiladas
Enchiladas are common in any Mexican restaurant, but they are easy to make at home. This way you can adjust them to your taste and dietary needs.
- Prepare the sauce: If you’re making your own enchilada sauce, prepare that early on. You can also buy it premade, like this hatch red chili enchilada sauce.
- Prepare the filling: Cook the meat in spices, if you’re using beef or chicken. Fry the beans and saute vegetables, if you’re making vegetarian enchiladas.
- Prepare tortillas: Lightly fry the corn tortillas and dip them in the enchilada sauce before rolling the enchiladas.
- Roll the enchiladas: Add filling ingredients to the center of the tortilla, careful not to overstuff. Tuck the edges as you roll them tightly and place seam side down in an oven-safe baking dish.
- Cover in sauce and cheese: Ladle the remaining sauce over the rolled enchiladas in the baking dish. If desired, sprinkle cheese overtop.
- Bake: Bake in a preheated oven until warm throughout and the cheese is melted.
What is the secret to good enchiladas?
Here are some tips for making the best enchiladas:
- Fry the tortillas first. This enhances the flavor of the corn and crisps them up a bit so they hold up better in the sauce.
- Coat the tortillas in the sauce before rolling to infuse the enchiladas with chili flavor.
- Coat the meat in the sauce as well to further season the dish.
- Pour remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas rather than in the bottom of the baking dish. This ensures they don’t get too soggy and fall apart.
- Use the broiler to help things crisp up while baking.
Do you cover enchiladas when you bake them?
Do not cover enchiladas when baking them. Covering them would cause them to steam and get more soggy. Baking uncovered lets them crisp up a bit.
Do you put enchilada sauce before or after cooking?
Add the enchilada sauce before cooking. Tortillas can be dipped in the sauce, and the sauce can be mixed into the filling as well as ladled overtop the rolled enchiladas.
Are enchiladas supposed to be rolled or flat?
Traditional enchiladas are always rolled.
Best enchilada recipes
This authentic beef enchilada recipe from Brown-Eyed Baker uses boneless chuck steak and includes a well-seasoned, homemade sauce that you can’t get enough of.
If you’re looking for a healthier enchilada recipe, try our Weight Watchers Chicken Enchiladas cooked in a homemade salsa verde sauce.
What is a chimichanga?
A chimichanga is an American Tex-Mex dish that is essentially a deep-fried burrito. It consists of a white flour tortilla stuffed with meat (beef or chicken), beans, cheese, and vegetables, which is deep-fried and topped with a variety of garnishes.
Chimichangas are different from burritos not only in that they’re deep fried, but they tend to have fewer fillings. Often a chimichanga contains just meat and cheese, with some veggies, like peppers and onions. More delicate ingredients are added as toppings.
What is traditionally in a chimichanga?
Just like with burritos, the filling ingredients of a chimichanga can vary based on region and the chef that’s preparing it. Common chimichanga ingredients include:
- Tortilla: Large white flour or whole grain tortilla
- Protein: Shredded chicken, ground beef, carne asada, pork, and refried beans are common.
- Vegetables: Sautéed peppers and onions or fresh tomato salsa can be added to the filling.
- Cheese: Shredded Mexican cheeses, such as Monterrey Jack, cheddar, and Cotija cheese are popular filling ingredients.
- Garnish: Common garnishes are fresh cilantro, chopped onions, lettuce, tomato salsa, sour cream, hot sauce, and guacamole.
Note that while some recipes may call for rice as a filling ingredient, rice doesn’t tend to hold up well during deep frying. Likewise, fresh ingredients like herbs and guacamole are best left to use as toppings rather than filling ingredients.
Is a chimichanga always deep-fried?
Yes! Deep frying is what makes a chimichanga a chimichanga. You can make a healthier chimichanga by baking or air frying it instead, but this is not traditional.
What is the proper way to eat a chimichanga?
Chimichangas are served on a plate and topped with garnishes, such as sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. They are best eaten with a knife and fork.
Is chimichanga burrito healthy?
No! Chimichangas are considered the unhealthiest Mexican food. A typical restaurant chimichanga has around 800 calories, more than 30 grams of fat, almost 80 grams of carbs, and nearly 2,000 milligrams of sodium.
To make a chimichanga healthier, you can opt for a large flour tortilla, use lean chicken or vegetarian options for the filling in place of beef, and (while it’s not traditional), bake the chimichanga or use an air fryer instead of deep frying. Serve alongside fresh vegetable salad and sides like salsa or guacamole.
How to make a chimichanga
Making a chimichanga is easy to do at home in just a few steps. In addition to fresh ingredients, you will need a deep pan or deep fryer to fry the chimichanga until it’s golden brown. Here are the basic steps to make a chimichanga:
- Prepare your protein: If using, cook meat and/or beans for the filling.
- Prepare other filling ingredients: Chop and sauté vegetables or make a salsa to add to your chimichanga filling.
- Roll a burrito: Add filling ingredients (meat, beans, veggies, salsa, and cheese) to the center of a large flour tortilla and fold into a burrito.
- Deep fry: Fry the burrito in hot oil using a deep skillet or deep fryer.
- Garnish and serve: Blot the fried chimichanga with a clean paper towel to remove excess oil. Add to a plate with garnish ingredients and enjoy!
How do you fold chimichangas?
Add your filling ingredients to the center of a flour tortilla, being mindful not to overstuff the tortilla. From the sides, tick about one inch of the tortilla edges over the filling ingredients. Fold the bottom edge over the filling ingredients and begin rolling, using your fingers to tuck in the filling as you go.
How do you keep chimichangas together when frying?
To avoid the common problem of a chimichanga unrolling during the deep fry process, you can employ one of two methods:
- Use toothpicks to secure the rolled tortilla before putting it into the oil to deep fry. Remove the toothpicks before eating.
- Make a “glue” using flour and water to seal the loose end of the tortilla before deep frying the chimichanga.
Best chimichanga recipes
The Food Network’s Almost Famous chimichanga recipe pays homage to the now defunct Tex-Mex chain Chi Chi’s most popular menu item. This well-seasoned chimichanga uses shredded rotisserie chicken, refried beans, Monterrey jack cheese, and an aromatic Mexican sauce, ticking all the flavor boxes.
For a lightened-up version, give this chicken chimichanga recipe from Skinny Taste a go. Options to bake or use an air fryer take some of the guilt out of this dish, and fresh pico de gallo and delightful garnish ingredients add a pop of brightness and flavor.
Summary: What is the difference between an enchilada and a chimichanga?
Both dishes offer a mouthwatering combination of tortillas, well-seasoned proteins, vegetables, and zesty garnishes. That being said, there are some notable differences when comparing a chimichanga vs enchilada:
- Type of tortilla: Enchiladas are traditionally made with corn tortillas, while chimichangas are made from white flour or whole wheat tortillas. This is the main difference.
- Filling: Enchiladas have minimal fillings, usually meat (beef or chicken). They can be made vegetarian. Chimichanga fillings vary, as with burritos, but tend to include a mixture of meat (beef or chicken), beans, veggies, and cheese.
- Cooking method: Enchiladas are baked in an oven, while chimichangas are deep fried. This is another key difference.
- Texture: An enchilada is usually soft and submerged in sauce, so it must be eaten with a fork. A chimichanga is a crispy deep-fried burrito. Because it is heartily stuffed and can be greasy, it is also typically eaten with a fork.
- Origin: Enchilada is an authentic Mexican dish dating back to Aztec times. Chimichanga is a Tex-Mex cuisine created in the Southwest of the United States (Arizona) in the mid-1940s.
More Mexican Recipes to Try
Loco for Mexican food, but looking for some healthier options? We’ve got you covered! Check out some of our fresh and delicious Mexican recipes and roundups!
- 25 Delicious Mexican Breakfast Recipes
- 25 Excellent Mexican Soup Recipes
- Chicken Enchilada Pasta Bake
- Spicy Potato Soft Taco
- Weight Watchers Chicken Tacos with Roasted Poblano Salsa
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: Is chimichanga same as enchilada?
A: No. A Chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito made with a flour tortilla, while an enchilada is a baked dish that uses corn tortillas and is smothered in a chili sauce.
Q2: Are enchiladas healthier than chimichangas?
A: Yes. Enchiladas are lower in calories than deep-fried chimichangas. Corn tortillas are also considered healthier than flour tortillas, as they’re made from whole grains.
Q3: Is a chimichanga just a fried burrito?
A: Yes. A chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito with a crispy tortilla on the outside, minimal filling ingredients (meat, cheese, and some veggies), and a combination of fresh garnishes, such as sour cream, salsa, and guacamole on top.