Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

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Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa Verde Sauce! Served with chopped onion, Mexican cheese, sour cream, and cilantro..

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Do you ever cook with tomatillos? They look like little lanterns, with their green papery husks.

Sometimes people mistake them for green tomatoes (doesn’t help that their Spanish name is “tomate verde”); they are nightshades, like eggplants and peppers, and therefore distant cousins of tomatoes, but the taste is quite different.

The tomatillos I grow in my garden here in Northern California ripen in September and October, but most of the tomatillos we get from the market come all year round from Mexico. When my tomatillos are ripe, I make a large batch of Mexican salsa verde, perfect for tortilla chips, great with eggs, and awesome in these enchiladas!

For these chicken enchiladas, we are boiling the tomatillos to make the sauce, but you could easily roast or pan fry them.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

The filling is made with shredded meat from chicken thighs; the deeper flavor of the dark meat holds up much better to the chile and tomatillo sauce than chicken breasts.

I made these for dinner recently and even the kid, my nephew, went for seconds. Not a smidgen of sauce was left on any of our plates.

Photos and recipe updated Oct 4, 2017, first published 2008

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes Recipe

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  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6

A shortcut for this recipe is to use already prepared bottled salsa verde which should be available at any market that carries Mexican foods. Use 3 cups. You can also use rotisserie chicken instead of poaching your own.

Packaged tortillas vary in their thickness and quality. Thicker corn tortillas will hold up better to frying than thin ones, which can tend to fall apart.

Ingredients

Chicken:

  • 1 1/3 pounds skinless chicken thighs, boneless or bone-in (1 3/4 lbs if bone-in)
  • 2 clove garlic, halved
  • 1/4 onion
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Tomatillo Salsa:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatillos, papery husks removed, rinsed
  • 2 serrano chile peppers, top cut off to expose interior and to remove stems
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, stems included
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Enchiladas:

  • 1 tablespoon of high smoke point cooking oil such as canola oil, peanut oil or rice bran oil
  • 12 corn tortillas (use sturdy yellow corn tortillas)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Mexican Cotija or Queso Fresco cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion for garnish
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, including stems for garnish

Method

1 Poach chicken thighs: Put chicken thighs in a medium sized saucepan and just cover with water. Add the halved garlic, 1/4 of an onion, and and 2 teaspoons of salt to the water.

Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to very low to maintain the heat at just below a simmer, and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is just barely cooked through. Remove chicken thighs to a separate bowl and let cool enough to touch.

2 Make tomatillo salsa verde: While the chicken is cooking, put the tomatillos and serrano chile peppers in a separate sauce pan and cover them with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the tomatillos are cooked, and have changed color, but are not mushy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer tomatillos and serrano chiles to a blender. Add 1/4 cup of the tomatillo cooking liquid to the blender, as well as 2 cloves of garlic, a half cup of chopped onion, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and about 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. Add one teaspoon of salt.

Purée until blended, 15 to 30 seconds. Taste for heat. If not spicy enough add another chile pepper (doesn't have to be cooked). Add more salt to taste if necessary.

You should have 3 cups of salsa.

3 Shred chicken meat, toss with salsa verde: Remove the cooked chicken meat from the bones (if using bone-in thighs).

Shred the meat with a fork or knife. Put the chicken in a bowl and add 1/2 cup of the tomatillo sauce to the chicken. Taste the chicken; if it needs salt, add a little.

4 Soften the tortillas: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add a tortilla to the pan and let it sizzle for 10 seconds or so. Use a metal spatula to flip it to the other side. Let it sizzle for a few seconds. Place another tortilla on top of this one (to soak up the excess oil) and flip again.

You can keep going, stacking corn tortillas on top of the tortillas that appear to have excess oil. This way the new tortillas absorb some of the excess fat from the other tortillas.

When the tortillas are heated through, remove them to a plate lined with paper towel. Add a more oil to the pan as needed, and continue to heat through and soften all of the tortillas.

4 Roll up tortillas with chicken: Preheat the oven to 250°F. Scoop a spoonful of chicken into the center of the tortilla and roll up the tortilla. Place the rolled tortilla seam side down in a casserole dish and repeat with all of the tortillas.

5 Cover with foil and warm in oven: Cover the rolled tortillas with foil and keep warm in a 250°F for 10 minutes.

6 Heat salsa and smother the rolled tortillas with it: Place the tomatillo salsa in a small saucepan and heat on medium high heat until simmering. Remove warmed rolled tortillas from the oven and smother with the salsa.

Let some of the sauce go between the rolled up tortillas so that it gets to the bottom of the pan.

7 Add sour cream and garnishes: Top with crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion, and chopped fresh cilantro.

Thin the sour cream with a tablespoon of water and drizzle all over the top of the enchiladas. (Don't skip the sour cream! It's essential to balance the sharp acidity of the salsa verde.)

Serve immediately.

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Showing 4 of 38 Comments

  • Debbie McCarrick

    Elise, this was a wonderful recipe. Simple, yet tasted delicious. I went out and picked tomatillos from my garden and dinner was ready in no time. Next time I am going to try to use less oil for the tortillas so I can keep the calorie count under 200 each per enchilada. My son enjoyed them too! Thanks for a winning recipe to put in my arsenal!

  • Sandy S.

    Once again you hit it out of the ball park Elise! Love this tomatillo salsa!! And the enchilada recipe!! As long as I can get tomatillos it’s my new ‘go to’ recipe. I like the broiler method for doing the tomatillos. And thank you for reminding me that I really like poached chicken! I don’t know why I forget about poaching chicken? It’s so easy and tasty and tender. You have added some welcome zip to my fall meal planning! Thanks so much!

  • Marc

    The timing of this recipe was perfect for me. Tomatillo season is coming to an end and I had some tortillas in the refrigerator, so this was last night’s meal. I complicated some parts — oven roasting the tomatillos and reducing the sauce — but followed the chicken instructions exactly. It turned out great!

    I use the oven to softening tortillas: after preheating the oven to 300 F, I brush tortillas with oil and build stacks of 3 on a baking sheet. After a few minutes in the oven, they are pliable. It probably takes as much effort as the skillet method, but for me it’s more of a passive activity — they won’t burn or overcook. It might also be better for thinner tortillas because there is less handling.

    A chile substitute I like is swapping in a puree of canned chipotle chiles in adobo for the fresh green chile. The chipotle give a nice smokiness to the sauce. For a recipe like this, 1-3 teaspoons is a good guess. It’s handy because I always have a bag of puree blobs in my freezer — carefully labeled because they look like tomato paste and I don’t want to make that substitution!

  • Bethany

    These are my favorite enchiladas, and surprisingly not common at Mexican restaurants. This is how my mom makes them, but she uses canned (or homemade by a friend) salsa verde. East of Texas, pre-made salsa verde is impossible to find. All of your recipes for making your own have changed my life! Thank you!

  • Jody

    Question: I wonder if you could make a sauce using green tomatoes instead of tomatillos? I have tons of them from the garden. Looks like a great recipe I shall try out.

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