A life changing phrase uttered at the right time can make such a difference. As a longtime fan of quesadillas – what’s not to like, right? – hearing the phrase from my kitchen manger
“the quesadilla is the Mexican version of a grilled cheese sandwich”
put it all in perspective, cause grilled cheese is pretty awesome too.
We have all probably had a limp anemic version of a quesadilla…it tastes okay, with good ingredients, and fun sides. But there is just something lacking.
That’s right, get that flour tortilla gently crisped and well browned, the cheese fully melted, and voila, a new level of flavor/taste/texture experience.
The humble grilled cheese
In the movie ‘Chef’ Jon Favreau makes a grilled cheese sandwich that has a beautiful golden browned butter exterior that you can hear crunching when they bite into it. The interior is 3-4 different cheeses melted to a perfectly soft texture with a perfect cheese stretch when enjoyed. That is the goal of a great quesadilla.
However, like an excellent grilled cheese, you can add extra filling ingredients beyond cheese. You can enjoy a variety of sauces and such to dip it in or schmear on top of it. The fun part is finding your perfect pairing, the right add-on, to make your quesadilla a great meal, like the tomato soup to your grilled cheese. Or not. They are just fine as a standalone food too.
Another key is to be sure to get the quesadilla cheesy enough. Skimping here is a mistake. Naturally, you don’t want to overdo it to the point that the cheese spills out during cooking or as soon as you cut it. So, finding a good balance is part of the process, but if you are going to err, do it on the side of extra cheese.
Cheese with a good ‘melt’ is important as well. For our example, we were using left over carne asada, a rich flavored beef dish. That, and we had a lot of sharp cheddar cheese on hand, so that was the heaviest layer. We also used some grated Manchego cheese, and some queso Chihuahua. The choices are many, from Oaxaca, a close version to Monterey jack cheese, to queso de bola or Asadero’ there are great cheeses on both sides of the border to fill many quesadillas.
Quesadillas are a great way to outlet leftover chicken, carnitas or, as we did, carne asada. Or something cooked specifically for the quesadilla, like shrimp, fish or chorizo, all work great. The vegetable choices are all over the board too, from grilled onions to beans and corn, avocado or sweet peppers, they’re all right at home.
An important aspect of selecting your fillings is to make sure they are not too ‘wet’. We had made it a point to drain our carne pretty well. Like most of your simmered stewed or braised meats, they can hold a lot of moisture so you need to be cautious. The problem is when that liquid undoes all your work to make it crispy, and the quesadilla gets soggy instead.
Tortilla and shape
There isn’t really a discussion, flour tortilla is the one to use. Some of the newer flour/corn hybrid tortillas could be fun to enjoy, and there is nothing wrong with a tostada, the open-faced crispy corn tortilla dish. But flour is the king for proper quesadillas.
How you choose to shape your quesadilla is mainly based on what size of tortilla you happen to have handy, then what your choices are for cooking the item. We went with the two most common shaped choices to show you. One was using a vary large burrito sized tortilla that we cooked folded in half. This is probably the easiest way to manage well filled quesadillas with a lot of goodies, the folded side helps keep the ingredients contained. We used two ten-inch tortillas to make a round quesadilla as well.
Quesadilla Making Tips and tricks
It is very likely that butter is not traditional for cooking quesadillas. We don’t care, butter is the way to go. That means you have to watch your temperature to avoid browning or scorching. A little lower and a little slower is absolutely just fine, and really tasty. If you haven’t yet, you need to try the same thing with your grilled cheese. With the heat below medium on your stove, or 275-300 degrees in your griddle you will get excellent results.
The whole goal is crispy with tasty gooey cheese interior. Particularly when dealing with round tortillas, it helps to get the cheese pretty well melted on the first side because this will actually help it all stick together better when you flip them over. Of course, if you have a large enough cooking surface, you can put cheese on one tortilla, and your other filling components.
Then right alongside that, cook the other tortilla with a layer of cheese as well. When the cheese has melted, which also means it will stay attached to the tortilla, flip it directly on top of the tortilla with the filling. This eliminates the need to turn over the entire quesadilla. That being said, we did give ours an extra flipping to get a better crunch on both sides.
Cutting your quesadilla with a round shape is pretty much like a pizza, some folks even use a pizza cutter for this. With the folded quesadilla, it is worth it to take advantage of the folded side, leaving some of it on each piece, as opposed to cutting wedges and leaving some without the folded edge.
If you are not putting any filling besides cheese (something we are big fans of since it makes a really good side dish to chili verde or such) you may want to consider adding some spice to flavor it up. Very simply just sprinkle some seasoning on the cheese before adding the upper tortilla. You probably don’t need much more salt than the cheese provides. But cumin, chili powder, cayenne, very light oregano or garlic, can all add nice depth of flavor to a simple dish.
This is where we absolutely love Mexican cooking. From salsa to Pico de Gallo, hot chili sauce to mild green taco sauce, there are phenomenal flavors that can be added. As a vehicle for taste, quesadillas are hard to beat. Then you can serve it with guacamole or crema, or an endless array of saucy blends.
Carne Asada Quesadilla Recipe
- Flour tortillas
- 3-4 Cups Shredded cheese of choice
- 1 Cup Carne asada, left over meats, seafoods or veggies
- 6 Tablespoons Butter divided
- Grate cheeses as needed to prepare
- Lightly warm any meat fillings in microwave
- Preheat cooking surface at medium low to medium
- Coat cooking surface well with butter
- Place tortillas and cover well with cheese
- Add any additional filling
- Top with another layer of cheese
- Place another tortilla on top, or fold the tortilla in half
- Spread a thin layer of butter on the top tortilla surface
- When lower surface is browned, flip over and continue cooking
- When adequately browned remove from heat
- Cut as desired, serve and enjoy