Legends of Chimichanga

What the hell is a "chimichanga?" That's a question I asked myself years ago when I cam upon the veritable dish on the West Coast. To me, it sounded Mexican. And I thought I was right since it's basically a deep-fried burrito. As with most things, I was wrong. Chimichanga is an American dish. It's of the rubric of what is known in the Southwest as New Mexican Cuisine. It's akin to what in hailed in Texas as Tex-Mex cooking. But it's different in that New Mexican Cuisine is a blend of Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, Native American (mainly the Pueblo Indian influence) and Cowboy Chuckwagon traits. As noted, in the Southwest, they love this kind of cooking.

There are numerous claims as to who invented the chimichanga. The earliest claim goes back to 1922 when Ms. Monica Flin, owner of the El Charro restaurant in Tucson, accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep-fat fryer and uttered the Spanish curse word chingada but, being in mixed company, stopped herself and said instead “chimichanga,” equivalent to “what’s-it” or “thingamajig.” Other sources claim that it was John Woody, owner of EL Nido restaurant in Phoenix, who dropped the burrito into a deep fryer in 1946. Others say that its roots are in Pima County, Arizona, and from there the dish spread outward throughout the Southwest. Whatever its genesis, chimichangas have caught on all over the place.


8 flour tortillas (6 inches)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground hamburger beef
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup tomato sauce
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 cup sour cream or 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
½ cup diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped scallions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stack the tortillas in aluminum foil, wrap close, and heat in oven for 15 minutes. Or you can warm in microwave: stack in paper towels, wrap tightly, and warm on high setting 6-7 minutes per tortilla.
2. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large frying pan or skillet. Add meat and cook, stirring, until brown.
3. Add onion, garlic, chili, cayenne, cumin, oregano, salt, and tomato sauce. Cook for 5 minutes or until most of the sauce has evaporated.
4. Spoon ¼ cup meat mixture into the center of each warm tortilla. Fold, tucking in the ends to make a secure fat tube. Fasten ends with wooden toothpicks to completely secure the filling.
5. Add at least 4 inches of vegetable oil to a large pot or deep fryer; and heat oil over medium heat until very hot (375 to 400 degrees F.). Slowly and carefully lower chimichangas into oil, two at a time, and fry until golden brown, about 3-4minutes. Using tongs or spatula, remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
6. Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce, top with a dollop of sour cream or top with cheddar cheese, and sprinkle with tomatoes and scallions.
    Yield: 8 servings.