Saturday, December 5, 2009

A touch of El Diablo

My last post on Chips and Salsa mentioned an old chain restaurant that is no longer in business, Chi Chi's. The brand lives on in supermarkets where you can purchase salsa, taco seasoning, and corn fritter mix, but when it was a restaurant chain, it was among Sandra's and my favorite places despite the fact that it was a chain.

What was special about Chi Chi's? The taste. I may have fell in love with Mexican food at El Torito, but Chi Chi's always had a fresher taste. I believe that they used cilantro more liberally than in any other place I ate at when I first started on my Mexican kick, and cilantro has this very "fresh" taste that enhances salsa, rice, and most Mexican dishes. This fresh taste made me feel that every dish they made was made solely for me. It's a wonderful way to run a restaurant--freshness is probably a quality that will keep you coming back, and it worked for me with Chi Chi's.

I remember one of the first times that Sandra and I visited Chi Chi's. I believe it was in Sunrise, Florida, in Broward Country up route 27 (this was before I-75 and I-595 were created, and Rt. 84 was "Alligator Alley"). The two of us made quick work of their chips and salsa and we asked the waiter for more. He cheerfully brought us out some more warm chips, but then admonished us: "You should watch out. They expand when they hit your stomach!" Sandra and I were both amused by this, and we've repeated it to each other (and our kids) many, many times whenever we eat chips and salsa.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my other article, I grew up thinking that Mexican food was hot. I've learned since that while you can find some spicy Mexican dishes, you are more likely to find dishes that don't have too much spiciness at all. In fact, corn and cheese really defines the cuisine, with spiciness a distant third.

After I moved from Miami to New England, I found a Chi Chi's was never too far away. The closest was a twenty minute drive, which was close enough for a special meal for Sandra and me.

I remember one day when I was visiting Chi Chi's, they had some new items on their menu, advertised to be pretty spicy. They were touted as Diablo (Spanish for "Devil"), but of the selections, nothing really appealed to me. At the time, I favored Chi Chi's beef chimichangas, and didn't want to order anything that was too different from that. Luckily, I noticed that they also had Diablo Sauce, which could be ordered separately, so I did. It came out with my chimichanga in a small bowl. The sauce was deliciously spicy--a warm, green sauce with meat in it. After a taste, I knew that they had something special, and I dumped most of it over my chimichangas and--voila!--a very good dish became ever better! I left a bit of sauce so that I could dip my chips into it.

From that day, I had a new favorite dish, and until the Chi Chi's near us closed, the Beef Chimichangas with a side order of Diablo Sauce was what I ordered every time I visited the place.

Alas, the place is no more. They closed the restaurants near me quite a few years ago, and the entire chain has since gone out of the restaurant business.

Last spring, I was feeling nostalgic about Chi Chi's and did a Google search to find out whatever became of them. In doing so, I found a Chi Chi's Copycat Recipes site, which I linked in my previous article. Two recipes linked on that sight intrigued me: Baked Chicken Chimichanga Chi Chi's Copycat Recipe and Chi Chi's Diablo Sauce Copycat Recipe. I copied those recipes into my personal recipe collection and did a Chi Chi's Mexican Dinner night with Sandra, including some freshly fried tortilla chips and Chi Chi's Garden Salsa (see previous post). Both Sandra and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although Sandra has never been as fond of the Diablo Sauce as I was; the recipe they gave would have made too much for the two of us.

I include the recipes for the Diablo sauce and the chimicangas below.

Chi-Chi's Diablo Sauce

Source:#131271 (C) 2009 Recipezaar. All Rights Reserved.
Cook Time:35 min
Prep Time:10 min
Yield:Serves 4


1 lb ground pork

2/3 cup chopped white onion

1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies, with juice

10 tablespoons la victoria green chili salsa

jalapeno (x-tra hot)

3 cups water

1 (1 ¼ ounce) package Ortega taco seasoning (Hot & Spicey)

2 tablespoons cumin

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup water

Brown ground pork, onions.

Add diced chilis, La Victoria salsa.

Add 3 cups water.

Add Ortega taco seasoning.

Add ½ tsp salt.

add 2 tbsp cumin.

Combine 2 tbsp corn starch and ¼ cup water and add too sauce.

Continue to simmer till thickened.

Baked Chicken Chimichangas like Chi-Chi's®

Source:Copycat Recipe Site
Prep Time:0:45
Yield:Serves : 8


1 sm. onion - chopped

3 cloves garlic - minced

1 Tbls vegetable oil OR butter OR margarine

2 cups salsa

1 ½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 pinch salt

2 ½ cups cooked, shredded chicken OR turkey

8 12 flour tortillas

1 cup canned refried beans

non-stick cooking spray - as needed

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic in oil/butter until tender; stir in salsa, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt; fold in chicken/turkey; remove from heat and set aside.

Working with one tortilla at a time, spoon 2 Tablespoons of beans down the center of each tortilla; top with a scant ½ cup of the chicken mixture.

Fold the top and bottom of the tortillas toward the center, then roll up the sides.

Secure with wooden toothpicks or pieces of spaghetti noodles if necessary.

Place chimichangas in a 13" X 9" X 2" baking pan, seam side down.

Spray all sides of the chimichangas with a light coating of cooking spray.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp, turning after 10 minutes.

Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Bon Appetit!

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