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Do I Have to Fry the Tortillas for Enchiladas? (7 options!)

My family loves Mexican food but we don’t always need some of the high fat that can come with it. So I was wondering do I have to fry the tortillas for enchiladas?

Enchiladas do not have to be made by frying tortillas. Alternatives to frying include softening the tortilla on a comal or griddle on a stove top, steaming, or spraying with oil, and baking for a few minutes. The goal is just to get them soft enough to roll without cracking.

Enchiladas are made with corn tortillas, which are tough unless fresh. The tortillas must be softened to prevent cracking when being rolled, which is why they are usually quick fried.

So here, we’re reviewing all the alternatives to frying and answering all the top questions that can come with those methods.

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How do you heat corn tortillas so they don’t break?

Here are 7 methods for softening a corn tortilla so it won’t break or crack when rolling:

  1. Warming on a griddle, dry skilled, or comal over medium-low heat on a stove top burner
  2. Steam in a steamer
  3. Steam in a microwave oven
  4. Bake in a warm oven
  5. Spray the tortillas with oil and bake in an oven on a baking sheet (better than just baking)
  6. Just dip the tortilla, one at a time, in heated enchilada sauce in s skillet on the stove top
  7. And, of course, frying for a few seconds in hot oil

Don’t worry. I’ll get into greater detail on those methods below.

As we discussed, traditionally you would dip that corn tortilla into a skillet of hot oil or a deep fryer for a quick fry. In Mexico, when the other ingredients are ready to roll the enchiladas, the corn tortillas are quickly fried.

When I say quickly, I’m talking about 8-10 seconds, flipping often with tongs, until they just start to crisp up and darken in color.

You don’t want them to get crisp like tortillas chips; remember we’re trying to make them easier to roll.

Then after pulling the tortillas out of the hot oil, you would traditionally coat both sides in a red or green chile sauce that was heated in a skillet. With tongs, gently coat both sides and now you’re (literally) ready to roll.

The frying gives us 3 benefits that you just don’t get if you don’t heat them at all.

First, it allows the tortilla to soak in the red chile sauce without falling apart.  Next, it deepens the flavor. The sugars naturally occurring in the tortilla start to caramelize and break down the proteins.

Lastly, it allows us to roll them without them cracking or splitting down the middle (something all enchilada makers have likely experienced at some point). But don’t worry too much about the oil. The tortillas don’t actually soak up a ton of oil since they aren’t super absorbent to begin with.

How do you soften corn tortillas without frying them?

The best way to soften corn tortillas without frying them is by wrapping a stack of corn tortillas in a damp (but not soaking) paper or cloth towel. Then simply put the wrapped stack in a large ziplock bag that is unzipped and microwave for 1 minute.

But if you don’t have or don’t want to use a microwave, here are a few additional methods.

Using a comal

There are a few alternatives to frying them in oil.

The first, and probably what I would do, is to warm them on a comal. A comal in some parts of Mexico would be made of clay. I used to have a clay one I loved that eventually got dropped and broke. Unfortunately, the clay ones can be very hard to find.

So cast iron comal to the rescue.

Cast iron ones are easy to find in great cooking stores, Mexican markets, and of course on Amazon. They season easily (which you do with all cast iron), and clean up easily. Essentially a comal is a flat cast iron disc with a handle. Not a skillet because the sides just come up maybe 1/8 of an inch and the surface is totally flat. Most often they are about 8″ around.

Set the comal on a stovetop burner with the heat somewhere between 25-50% of the full heat. Place a stack of tortillas on the comal (with no oil) and occasionally flip and rotate the tortillas to keep them heated evenly without burning.

No comal? You could also wrap a stack in foil and place them in an oven-proof dish and bake on a medium temp of around 325°.

Steaming the tortillas

Steaming is another popular alternative to frying or warming the tortillas. When I say “popular”, I’m also talking chiefly about the US as I doubt many in Mexico would do this.

The big downside I see is that by definition, steam adds moisture (ie: water) to the tortillas. This has a tendency to make them fall apart more, and no one likes mushy enchiladas.

If you must steam, the keys would be to not steam them for too long.

So I would wrap a stack of tortillas in a clean cloth towel. You can put them in a steamer if you have one or damp the towel lightly (before putting the tortillas inside) and then microwave for about 1 minute.

Let me be clear, here, while this can work, it’s my least favorite way to make enchiladas. But it is an alternative to frying the tortillas for enchiladas.

Spray and Bake

I would definitely use this method over steaming.

It actually combines aspects of traditional frying tortillas for enchiladas as well as heating on a comal. Using a baking sheet, spray the pan and then lay the tortillas flat on the pan. Spray with spray oil, flip and spray the other side and then heat in an oven at 325° for about 5-8 minutes.

It’s ok if the tortillas touch or overlap a little, but don’t stack them.

When done, proceed with dipping them in the red chile sauce and continue. Another variation on this method is used by renowned Mexican food chef Rick Bayless (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting one of my cookbooks of his signed).

He sprays one side the tortilla with oil and then stacks them, placing them on a baking tray and putting into the oven at 350° for about 3-4 minutes.  Then remove and wrap in a clean cloth towel, removing one at a time to fill and roll.

Can you use flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas for enchiladas?

Flour tortillas, while not traditional, do work well for enchiladas instead of corn tortillas. Flour tortillas, however, should not be fried as corn tortillas typically do.

So the good news is you don’t need to dip them in hot oil. (thanks calories!)

The (possible) bad news is it’s not technically an enchilada at that point, but more of a burrito (typically not cooked) or chimichanga (more often deep-fried). Both of those, however, are really more US inventions than true Mexican food.

So purists would not call them enchiladas if you use flour tortillas.

That being said, that doesn’t mean they will taste bad, it’s just not authentically Mexican food at that point. The foodie equivalent of using flour tortillas instead of naan bread for Indian food or some fresh herb other than basil to make a pesto with.

Do flour tortillas get soggy in enchiladas?

Flour tortillas can get soggy when used for enchiladas if too much sauce is poured on top or if the baking dish the rolled enchiladas get placed in is cold or at room temperature. So preheat the dish first and sauce sparingly when using flour tortillas.

So while they can get soggy, it’s an easy fix.

You can even use a basting brush to brush the sauce lightly on top instead of pouring it on. And preheating the glass baking dish that you bake the enchiladas in will help the tortillas to start crisping instead of getting mushy.

How do you roll corn tortillas without them breaking?

Corn tortillas must be softened before being filled and rolled to avoid them cracking or breaking. Soften them by dipping in hot oil, steaming, or heating on a griddle. Then, after softening, quickly dip them in heated enchilada sauce and immediately fill and roll before they cool.

No matter which method you used to soften the tortillas (frying, steaming, heating), the trick is to dip them in the chile sauce fairly quickly and then fill them and roll them.

So timing is the key here.

Thus, we need to make sure all our ingredients to stuff the enchiladas with are ready. Get the filling prepped, the cheese grated, and the red chile sauce heated in a skillet on low heat. Then make sure your glass baking dish is on standby and that you coated the bottom and sides with a little of the red chile sauce.

Then, and only then, are you ready to fry the tortillas and start to make your enchiladas.

Can you use uncooked tortillas in enchiladas?

When not using cooked tortillas for enchiladas, only use freshly made corn tortillas as store-bought corn tortillas will crack and break without cooking them to soften them first. Corn tortillas made that same day should be pliable enough to roll without softening.

And if you plan to use flour tortillas, it’s totally fine to not cook those before rolling.

But as I mentioned above, at that point it’s really not enchiladas from a traditional standpoint. It’s more like a mini-baked burrito which is an American invention.

But it will still be delicious!

How do you keep tortillas from breaking when making enchiladas?

Avoid tortillas breaking when rolling for enchiladas by first softening them by dipping in hot oil, baking, or steaming. Then dip the tortillas briefly, one at a time, in warmed enchiladas sauce in a skillet, and then fill and roll immediately.

Tortillas break when rolling for enchiladas when they haven’t been softened enough.

Typical store-bought corn tortillas are kind of like shoe leather. They are pretty rough and crack when you bend them. Obviously if filling and rolling to make enchiladas, we don’t want them to break!

So while there are a variety of ways to soften them before rolling, it’s crucial to pick one of those methods before turning those tortillas into enchiladas.

Final thoughts

In this article, we explored the world of enchiladas and specifically how to get the tortillas soft enough to roll without cracking.

The short answer was no, you don’t have to fry the tortillas for enchiladas, but frying probably gives the best flavor and gets you the best results.

Frying also has the least likely chance of the tortillas cracking or splitting. Lastly, it helps minimize mushy enchiladas (although that could still happen if you leave them frying too long).

BUT there are some alternatives to cut the calories and fat that come with frying anything, and we explored all the alternatives and the pros and cons of each.

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

Photo credits:

Mmm… enchiladas by jeffreyw is licensed by CC2.0

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Jeff Campbell