Chimichanga Recipe: Arizona Comfort Food

Okay. So, I don’t claim that a chimichanga is authentic Mexican food, but it is an Arizona staple. Our state is saturated with celebrated, authentic Mexican food. Most of us are the kind of people who want taco trucks on every corner!  So, next to California, we kind of have the market on Mexican-American food mashups. Thus, I grew up on tacos, tomales, enchiladas, and chimichangas. They are my go-to foods when I need something filling or comforting. But, while I am away from home—traveling, working, writing—a good chimi is increasingly hard to find. Sorry Texas, but your vastly popular, mix-match recipes are too sickly sweet and Americanized for my liking.


The perfect chimichanga should consist of a extra-large flour tortilla filled with slow-cooked, fall-off-the-bone tender, shredded beef and maybe some stewed onions and peppers. It should be rolled with the ends tucked, and then deep fried. Usually, it is served with a spicy salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro. If you’re lucky, it will even have some chopped green onion. It is not and should NEVER be covered in cheese sauce. Whoever came up with that should be ashamed.

When cooked right, the meat inside the deep fried shell should be moist and flavor-packed. Each bite should burst with the warm, savory, almost buttery flavor of the meat, melded seamlessly with the sweet crunch of the golden-brown flour tortilla. As you chew, cold sour cream and guac should wash across your tongue, juxtaposing the steaming heat of the meat. As you swallow, there should be a lingering, mildly acidic lime or tomato taste, wrought from the salsa-cilantro toppings, that cleanses the palate of the sugary buildup left over from the tortilla and sour cream mix.

Cheese sauce, so wrong in every way except as an appetizer dip, should never be paired with a chimi. It smothers everything that is good and comforting and nuanced about the dish. As an Arizona native, I won’t stand for it.

So, a long way from home and surrounded by straight-up tex-mex restaurants as well as Mexican (inspired) menus, which add insult to injury by substituting ground beef for the time-tended shredded beef, I drafted this recipe.

When you eat this, if you want to get super Arizona-native with it, add as a side this pickled veg mix: carrots, white onion, and jalapeños.  So tasty.

*If you click on the link for poblano peppers, it will lead you to a fun, Lucky Peach guide to Mexican chilies.


3 lb marbled beef shoulder pot roast

1 large bay leaf

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

3 minced garlic cloves

1 table spoon of kosher salt

1 ½ cup julienned raw white or yellow onion, about 1/2 to 1 cm in thickness

½ cup charred and then diced red onion

3 large poblano peppers, charred, peeled, and julienned

4 cups unsalted chicken stock (that’s just my preference, you can use beef stock if you want, just not water)

¼  cup pickled jalapenos

Spice Rub for Meat

1 tbl salt

1/2 tbl course ground black pepper

1/2 tbl onion powder

1/2 tbl garlic powder

1/4 tbl crushed cayenne pepper

1 tbl dried oregano


  1. Mix spice rub ingredients together and set aside.
  2. Remove beef from package. Rinse and then dry with a paper towel. Set on clean plate.
  3. Sprinkle spice rub on all sides of the meat. Then, rub spice into meat to ensure that it is covered completely. Wrap meat (not plate too) in plastic wrap, tightly. Place into fridge for at least 1 hour. I usually let it sit for 4+ hours, sometimes even overnight.
  4. After the meat is finished marinating in the fridge, remove and let come to room temperature. If you don’t want to wait that 30 min to an hour, just remove the meat from the plastic and cook.
  5. To cook the meat, prep your nonstick pan or cast iron skillet by adding a tablespoon of olive oil and bringing to high heat. When your oil begins to smoke, add your meat. If you are using a cast iron skillet, drop heat to medium when it begins to smoke as it retains heat and may burn your meat.
  6. Sear all sides of the meat (let each side cook for 1 minute on the high heat) until you see caramel to slightly charred colors forming. You are not cooking the meat in the pan. You are simply cauterizing it to prevent the juices from being leeched out in the crock pot, which would lead to a dry roast.
  7.  Once you have seared all sides, turn off the stove, set pan aside, and remove meat onto clean plate. Let meat sit while you prep the crock pot.
  8. Turn crock pot on to high. Add chicken stock, minced garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, salt, white onion, and pickled jalapeños.
  9. Turn broiler on in oven. Rinse poblano peppers and halve them. Set on foil-lined baking tray, skin up and meat down towards pan. Rinse half of large red onion, cut in half, set on same baking tray. Drizzle olive oil over both pepper and onion. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  10. Place tray into the oven and keep door cracked. This will keep the broiler on to properly char the food. If you shut the oven door, once the temp in the oven reaches 500◦, the broiler will shut off and the food will begin to bake. We don’t want to bake it.
  11. Once the edges of the pepper and the onion are charred, turn off oven, and remove veggies on pan. Let cool about 5 minutes. Once cool, the skin of the pepper should be bubbled and ready to peel off. Remove skin and throw away.
  12. Julienne the peppers. Each cut should leave the pepper slice with a 1/2 cm to 1 cm thickness. Dice the charred red onions. Add to crock pot.
  13. Stir the ingredients in the crock pot so all flavors are evenly mixed.
  14. Add meat to crock pot by setting in juice on top of other pot ingredients. You can scoop some veggies from the bottom of the pot to place on top of the meat. You should see that the broth only comes up on the meat half-way. Do not add more liquid or your meat will be dry. If there is a layer of fat lining one broad side of the roast, place the roast into the pan fat side up.
  15. Let cook on high with lid shut the entire time (do not open to smell it, even though I know you want to). Cook for 4 hours.
  16. When time is up, remove meat from broth, set on clean plate, and let cool. Then, shred. When you put the meat into a container to store it, scoop a cup of the broth from the crock pot and pour that on top of the shredded meat. Mix into the meat some of the stewed veggies. You can use the remaining broth and stewed veggies to make soup or as a Mexican beef broth for another recipe.
  17. When you make your chimichanga, you want to use an extra-large flour tortilla. Fill the center with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of drained shredded meat and stewed veggies. ***If you don’t strain your meat: 1) the tortilla will be too soggy to fry and 2) the juices could leak out as you put the burrito into the hot oil, which will cause the oil to pop and possibly burn you.***
  18. Wrap meat with tortilla and make sure the ends of the burrito are folded closed and tucked inside burrito. This keeps the meat from drying out in the oil.
  19. Heat pan with enough oil to cover burrito on high heat. When oil starts to smoke (or is at 350◦), turn down heat to medium. Use slotted wooden spoon to place burrito in oil. Cook until all sides are golden brown.
  20. Remove and set on paper toil to drain excess oil.
  21. Top with the garnishes of your choice.
  22. Enjoy!

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