Do you love chicken enchiladas as much as we do? Here’s one of our favorite chicken enchiladas recipes!
To make them, you first dip the tortillas in red chili enchilada sauce before rolling them up into enchiladas. This way the tortillas all get well coated with the sauce, and when you bake the enchiladas, the sauce will bake into the tortillas to infuse them with flavor.
These enchiladas can work for an easy mid-week meal, and can be made ahead, chilled in the refrigerator if making a day or two ahead, or frozen if longer. Leftovers can be easily reheated (we love having leftover enchiladas for breakfast).
All you need to make the enchiladas are corn tortillas, already cooked and shredded or chopped chicken meat, some grated melty cheese like cheddar or Monterey Jack, and red chili enchilada sauce.
You can either use canned enchilada sauce or make your own from scratch. (It’s easy!)
How to cook the chicken for the enchiladas? The most straightforward way is to poach skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts (we prefer thigh meat, more flavor) in salted water (instructions below). You can also use any leftover cooked chicken meat, or meat from a rotisserie chicken.
Garnish the enchiladas with plenty of chopped red onion, fresh cilantro, shredded ice berg lettuce, sour cream and guacamole.
Tips for success
- Always soften tortillas first before attempting to roll them into enchiladas. If you are avoiding fat, you can soften the tortillas in a microwave, but I recommend lightly frying the tortillas in a little oil, because the flavor will be so much better. We give an approach below on how to stack the tortillas while frying them to help distribute the oil so only a small amount is needed for each tortilla.
- Pick sturdy yellow corn tortillas when you make enchiladas. White corn tortillas work well for making soft-shelled tacos, but they tend to fall apart when you soften them and dip them in sauce for an enchilada recipe. Yellow corn tortillas are sturdier, hold up better for making this casserole, and have more flavor.
- If making homemade enchilada sauce, simmer the sauce first. Heating the chili powders and cayenne in a little oil first will help release the flavor of the chiles.
Red Chili Chicken Enchiladas RecipePrint
- Olive oil, canola oil, or rice bran oil
- 12 corn tortillas (thick and sturdy)
- 2 14-ounce cans of red chile enchilada sauce, or 3 cups homemade enchilada sauce*
- 2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded or chopped**
- 2 cups grated cheese (about 1/3 lb)
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 5 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tbsp of cornstarch mixed in with 3 Tbsp of water to form a slurry
- 1 medium red onion, chopped, soaked in a mixture of half seasoned rice vinegar and half water
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Thinly sliced iceberg lettuce seasoned with salt and vinegar, no oil
- Sour cream
- Sliced avocados or guacamole
** If you don't already have cooked chicken meat, you can poach 1 pound of raw boneless, skinless chicken (preferably thighs) in 2 quarts of water with 1 Tbsp of salt. Put chicken in cold salted water, turn on heat, let come to a simmer, simmer for one minute, turn off heat, cover, let sit in residual heat for 10 minutes. Remove from pot, let cool, shred or chop.
1 Prepare the enchilada sauce: (if making homemade, otherwise use canned and skip to the next step). Heat the oil in a sauce pan on medium high heat.
Stir in the chili powder and cayenne. Let cook only for half a minute (if longer the chili will burn), and add the water and tomato paste. Whisk until smooth.
Add the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and cornstarch slurry. Let come to a simmer and remove from heat.
Taste for heat. If you want it spicier, add more chili powder or cayenne. Note that the tortillas and chicken will absorb some of the heat, so allow for that and let it be a little bit spicier than what you want in the finished dish.
2 Mix in 1/4 cup of the sauce with the cooked chicken. Set aside.
3 Prepare the tortillas: Traditionally, one would dip the tortillas in some sauce and then lightly fry them in a little oil, and then roll them up. It's a great way to infuse the tortillas with the chili sauce, but it's really messy and many tortillas are not sturdy enough to handle this treatment without falling apart.
So, instead, we soften the corn tortillas first, and then dip them in the sauce before rolling them. To soften them, and give them a little flavor from browning, I'll show you my mother's method for cooking the tortillas without using a lot of fat.
Heat a tablespoon of oil (a high smoke point oil is preferred such as peanut oil, canola oil, or rice bran oil) in a small saucepan to coat the pan. Place a tortilla in the skillet and heat for a few seconds, until the tortilla begin to show some air bubbles.
Use a metal spatula to flip to the other side for a few more seconds. Then add another tortilla on top of the first to soak up some of the excess oil. Flip them both together and add yet another tortilla.
Keep adding them wherever there seems to be some excess oil. The idea is to heat the tortillas and soften them with the minimum amount of oil.
As the tortillas become soft and heated, remove them to a paper towel to soak up even more excess oil. When you find you need more oil in the pan, add it.
4 Assemble the enchiladas: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use an 9x13-inch pyrex baking dish. One by one, dip a tortilla in the enchilada sauce and place in the baking dish. Place 2-3 tablespoons of chopped chicken in each tortilla. Sprinkle with a little cheese.
Roll up the tortilla. Place in the baking dish and repeat until all dozen of your tortillas are neatly placed in rows in the casserole dish.
Cover the tortillas rolls with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
I recall often eating these chicken enchiladas with very little cheese on them. (My mom, bless her soul, has no recollection of the chicken enchiladas without the sprinkled cheese. But she's in her 80s and sometimes doesn't remember these things. Or she remembers later and doesn't remember that she ever forgot them in the first place. But heck, I'm in my 50s and my memory isn't what it used to be either.)
5 Bake: Place in the oven and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
Use a metal spatula to serve.
Serve with thinly sliced iceberg lettuce that has been seasoned with vinegar and salt (no oil), chopped red onions that have soaked for at least half an hour in vinegar and water, guacamole or avocado slices, and sour cream. Garnish with cilantro.
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