My friend, Sandy told me about Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce, a dish she had at one of our local restaurants. And I tried it and went a little nuts over it myself. Then the restaurant sadly started to go downhill and I decided I just was going to have to make these beautiful, cheese filled enchiladas, with this fresh, tangy Ranchero Sauce and the luscious shreds of braised pork at home.
If you are a fan of Mexican or Southwestern food, this is a dish you’re going to want in your repertoire. Any enchiladas can be a bit or work when they’re done right, but keep this recipe in mind any time you make something like braised or pulled pork and save a little just for this. Then you’ll have a leg up!
About Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce:
If you’re not familiar with Ranchero, it’s what’s called a “garden sauce.” It’s a simmered fresh, flavorful tomato, onion and bell pepper (although some Ranchero doesn’t have the bell peppers) concoction. Ranchero Sauce isn’t generally hot or spicy, but part of its hallmark flavor is just a hint of tanginess. That comes from a touch of sugar and a dash of vinegar. Ranchero Sauce can be quickly cooked or long-simmered, the veggies can be left chunky or blended till smooth.
If you follow me (and if you don’t, I hope you’ll consider it, by email, on facebook or twitter – the sign-ups are on the right) you know I love me some Ranchero Sauce. I make it up on its own using this recipe for Simple Classic Ranchero Sauce to use for all kinds of dishes and sometimes I freeze some to have on hand. I’m a fan of my Huevos Rancheros, Chile Rellanos and this longtime family fave Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce.
That Rancheros Sauce is the perfect thing napped over these Enchiladas filled with their marvelous blend of white cheeses. And of course, the braised pork just sets everything else off and takes these Enchiladas to the next level. But, shhh, I have a secret. The Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce are great without the Braised Pork, too. I like to finish the enchiladas off simply with just a sprinkle of queso fresco and a little green or red onion. My son is a fan of a good amount of colby jack cheese melted on top for more some gooey deliciousness. You can’t go wrong with either and garnish however you want.
Making The Braised Pork for Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce:
If you were to make a little braised pork just for this recipe it would certainly complicate things up. Besides, you can’t really make a little braised pork. It’s against the laws of nature. Whenever I make braised pork, and item that is slowly cooked to luscious shreds I’ve learned to stash away some of that precious pork in the freezer. Then I can make recipes like this or pulled pork sandwiches for lunches.
Here are four recipes to get you that braised pork. There’s a classic Slow Cooker Pulled Pork, this old school Slow Cooker Pulled Pork or Brisket, Instant Pot Pulled Pork, and a family fave from when I lived in the Southwest, Mexican Shredded Beef or Pork. Honestly, if that’s too much work at the point you want to make this, you could pick up some pulled pork from your store deli. Just sayin’!!
Making Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce:
The filling is super easy, you just mix together the cheeses. And of course you can make Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce with just about any cheese you want. I like to use an equal amount of Queso Fresco and either Mozzarella or Jack with a little bit, say a half cup, of sharper cheese, a little shredded Romano or Parmesan.
That sounds weird for a Mexican dish, but unless I can find a Mexican cheese at a great price, I’m looking for a balance, texture, and taste to compare to some of the greatest cheese enchiladas I’ve had. You can get Queso Fresco pretty much everywhere these days but it can be pricey. If you can’t get it, and you like a project, you can Make Your Own Queso Fresco or use Cream Cheese or Ricotta instead.
The mozzarella or Jack is masquerading as Asadero, a beautiful Mexican melting cheese, and the Romano or Parmesan? They’re thrown in for a little extra flavor and bite and are a substitution for any of the harder, more flavorful Mexican cheeses.
I like to condition my tortillas, then dip them in the sauce, roll, fill and bake them. The enchiladas turn out to be the most wonderful texture with some of that ranchero sauce baked right into them. Then when I serve them, I knap more of the sauce over the top. If you want, the sauce can be added on top of the enchiladas before they bake and when they are hot and bubbly you can add a little grated Cheddar, Colby or Jack and pop them back in the oven until the cheese is melted. There’s a third way, too. Bake the enchiladas plain and when they’re beautifully done, sprinkle with cheese and pop them back in the oven, then once the cheese has melted, you can serve by knapping the Ranchero over the top.
Conditioning Tortillas for Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce:
You want to condition your tortillas so they don’t dry out, crack and/or get soggy and if you don’t condition, all three of these things can happen at the same time! A conditioned tortilla, when after being dipped in the sauce won’t fall apart as it’s rolled and absorbs just the right amount of the sauce. The finished enchiladas are just a beautiful thing. Check the photo above of the enchiladas just out of the oven.
There are several ways to condition tortillas and I usually choose the messiest, hardest & most time consuming one because I’m me, lol, but also it’s the best. Directions are in the recipe.
Even I can’t always work that in, so there are a couple shortcut methods; they aren’t perfect but will get the job done if you’re just interested in throwing down dinner for the family. You can spray the tortillas and toss them into a hot pan until they aren’t crisp but have firmed up a bit. You can also spray both sides, lay them on a rack and bake for a few minutes until the edges have crisped up just a bit. Some people spray and put a stack of about six of them at a time and microwave for about a minute or just spray the tortillas and don’t heat them at all. To me, those last two methods are the worst.
Saving Money on Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce:
This is not the cheapest of my enchiladas to make but they are outstanding and they’re not an especially expensive meal. If you’ve brought your pork roast at a decent price, that’s really dirt cheap. I have those buying tips on those four recipes linked above. The Ranchero Sauce can be made with canned tomatoes and green bells save over the colored ones, so that’s not outrageous by any means.
Tortillas are cheap; check several areas of the store. Ours are usually in the refrigerator section, always on an endcap and also in both the international food area and another area that has Mexican food. Compare prices. Do get a quality preferably a locally made tortilla. Sometimes the cheapest ones don’t hold up as well. Extras can be wrapped and frozen but only for a short time. Thaw overnight in the fridge. I like to make Homemade Tortilla Chips or Chilaquiles with any extra.
The real cost is the cheese so shop carefully for that. I’ve only used a partial package of the Queso Fresco, and garnish with a bit more. The rest can be frozen but the texture will never be the same. Queso Fresco doesn’t keep for too long so use it up quickly. You can shave about four bucks off this recipe by making your own Queso Fresco.
Watch your garnishes, too! They can add up quickly. It’s key that you have a use for any leftover garnishes (as well as any of the remaining items like the tortillas and cheese) because so many of your typical ones will probably use just a bit of the item. I often garnish with yogurt instead of sour cream because I more often have it in the fridge. If you use lettuce, have a big salad the next day.
Three Cheese Enchiladas with Braised Pork & Ranchero Sauce
- 12 corn tortillas
- 6 ounces of Queso Fresco, plus extra for garnish
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano
- 3 to 4 green onions, thinly sliced, save a bit out for garnish
- 1 recipe of Ranchero Sauce (add an extra teaspoon of vinegar and an extra pinch of cayenne)
- two to three cups braised pork (see body of text above for links)
- Oil for the tortillas, enough to come 1/4 inch up the sides of a skillet; may need a little more
- Garnishes of choice, red or green onion, additional cheese, sour cream, avocado or your favorites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grate and mix cheeses, add green onions, set aside. It works very well to place in something like a cake pan, level off, and divide by tracing lines through it so you’ll easily be able to portion out the amount for each enchilada. It should work out to about 1/3 cup but can vary depending on the size of the grate. Heat Ranchero sauce gently to just warm in a large skillet.
Prepare a 9 x 13″ casserole by coating with cooking spray and cover the bottom with about 1/2 cup of sauce.
Set up a work station for assembling the enchiladas. You’ll want to condition several tortillas, stack them, then move to the work station where you’ll dip the tortillas and turn them in the sauce and add to a plate, then fill with cheese, roll, and place in casserole, seam side down. Generally, 10 enchiladas will fit down the length of the casserole and 2 along the side. If tortilla begins to crack as you roll, try rolling from a different edge, keeping the crack to the inside of the roll.
This works best if all the components are snugged close together and in order. You’ll need a place to set the plate with the conditioned tortillas, the sauce next so have a trivet ready for the hot skillet, a plate to place the dipped tortillas on (where you’ll fill and roll) with the cheese right there, then the casserole.
To condition tortillas:
Heat about a quarter inch of oil over medium-high heat in a skillet just large enough to hold tortilla. Test for readiness by dipping an edge of the tortilla in the oil. If small bubbles form around the tortilla, the oil is hot enough. Have a plate large enough to hold the tortillas. You’ll stack them on the plate as they are done.
You’ll condition six tortillas, then dip, fill and roll. Using tongs if possible, lightly fry each tortilla in a skillet with oil until the edges of the tortilla just begin to crisp and tortilla takes on a bit of a golden color, but tortilla doesn’t become totally crisp. The tortilla should be pliable and bendable but the edges a bit firm. See photo, below.
Place one tortilla in oil, immediately turn it over and fry for a few seconds. When the edge begins to firm up and the tortilla shows a few bubbles, turn again and fry for a few seconds more. Tortilla should only have a slight crispness and still be quite flexible. Pick up and allow excess oil to drain. Stack on plate. Work quickly. When six are done, move the plate to your work station, turn the stack of tortillas over so you start with the tortilla you conditioned first and move through the assembly process above. Repeat with the next six tortillas..
When pan is filled, cover pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and warmed through. Uncover for five minutes and allow to crisp up a bit if desired.
While enchiladas are baking, warm remaining sauce until hot. Heat the shredded pork and ready your garnishes and sides, if using. Remove casserole from the oven, place two tortillas and shredded pork on each plate. Add a good spoonful of Ranchero sauce over the enchiladas, garnish as desired.
To prepare family style:
After the enchiladas are in the casserole dish, pour remaining sauce over the top. Cover as before, baking 15 to 20 minutes, uncover bake an additional five until enchiladas are heated through and sauce is bubbling on the edges.
If you wish to use a “melting” cheese, like a Colby, Cheddar, Colby Jack or Jack cheese on the top, add it after the enchiladas have cooked for the 15 to 20 minutes, remove the cover and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until sauce is bubbling on the edges and cheese is melted.
Why Cook at Home?
Just for kicks, I visited the restaurant mentioned above; I wanted to make sure my recipe was “spot on” and compare the two. The restaurant has gone downhill had risen meal below, with a few chips included, was barely edible – cost $10.99. With a 75 cent to go surcharge, and tax it equaled $12.56. Plus, I always put a little something in the tip jar, even for to go orders.
So one reason to cook at home is quality. I never mind paying a decent price for a decent meal when it’s in my budget to dine out. It is not uncommon or me to go to restaurants and leave, disappointed because I know I could have done better. Cooking at home is a game changer.
Over the years I’ve noticed restaurant meals are generally about 4 times the amount of making the same item at home, except for salads, beverages, and desserts. Those are usually 10 times the amount. Just think, if I were out with 5 friends, this dish for the six of us would come to $70.63 plus drinks, plus tip. I’m guessing we wouldn’t get out of there for less than a hundred and twenty bucks. Made at home, my equivalent, not including the rice, which they didn’t serve was $13.00. That means the restaurant price was closer to 6 times the amount.
If you cook at home, not only is your quality often better, you’ll save more than you might guess. Get used to knowing the cost of your ingredients and the approximate cost of your meals. You might be surprised at what’s cheap and what isn’t, and you’ll also know if the restaurants you frequent are reasonable or not and at least have an inkling of what to order to get the best bang for your buck. Hint. It’s not the salad!
Post and recipe updated January 2019