Chicken Enchiladas – Once Upon a Chef

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Get ready to fall in love with these chicken enchiladas. Brimming with smoky, tender chicken and gooey cheddar cheese, all smothered in a tangy tomatillo sauce, they promise comfort in every bite.

Chicken Enchiladas

My whole family loves these chicken enchiladas. While they do require some time to prepare, you can make the sauce and filling in advance. This way, you can assemble and bake the enchiladas later for a quick and easy weeknight meal. The sauce is made from tomatillos—those small, green fruits nestled in a papery husk. Contrary to their appearance (and their nickname “Mexican green tomato”), tomatillos are not tomatoes at all. Their bright, tangy, and acidic taste is key to many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes—they are the star ingredient in salsa verde.

It’s important to note that the chicken is cooked twice in this recipe: initially when preparing the filling and once more upon heating the assembled enchiladas. To ensure the chicken remains succulent through both cookings, I recommend using chicken tenderloins. They’re naturally tender and forgiving, even if slightly overcooked, plus they’re typically available in convenient one-pound packs—the exact amount you’ll need.

Table of Contents

“These were amazing. My family wants me to make them again and my college son asked me to make and freeze some that he can take back to college.”

Steve

What You’ll Need To Make Chicken Enchiladas

chicken enchiladas ingredients.
  • Onion and Garlic: The foundational aromatics of the dish.
  • Tomatillos: These small, green fruits, encased in a papery husk, are the key ingredients for creating the sauce for the enchiladas. They lend a bright, tangy, and fresh flavor that contrasts beautifully with the richness of the filling.
  • Jalapeño Chiles: Add a spicy kick that complements the tanginess of the tomatillos.
  • Chicken: The protein base for the filling. Tenderloins are ideal for ensuring the filling is juicy and flavorful.
  • Cumin and Smoked Paprika: This spice duo adds depth and a smoky undertone to the enchiladas.
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Adds rich, tangy flavor and a gooey, cheesy texture.
  • Corn Tortillas: The traditional choice for enchiladas, these small tortillas hold up well to the sauce and baking. They contribute a slight sweetness and subtle corn flavor.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Sauce

Cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft (no need to chop them too finely since it all gets puréed in the end). Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, sugar, salt, cumin and 1/3 cup water.

tomatillos, jalapenos, onion, and garlic in pot

Simmer until the tomatillos are soft.

cooked tomatillos and vegetables in pot.

Then, transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until completely smooth. Set the sauce aside and start the filling.

blended tomatillo sauce in blender.

Step 2: Make the Filling

Season the chicken with the cumin, smoked paprika and salt.

seasoned chicken tenderloins in bowl.

Sauté the chicken in olive oil until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side, then set aside to cool.

cooking chicken tenderloins in skillet.

Once cool, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Tenderloins all have a tough tendon running through them; just remove it.

shredded chicken in bowl.

In the same pan that you cooked the chicken in, cook the onions until soft.

cooked onions for filling.

Remove the pan from the heat, then add the shredded chicken along with the cilantro and shredded cheese.

filling mixture in skillet.

Step 3: Assemble the Enchiladas

Spread 3/4 cup of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

layer of sauce in baking dish.

Next, brush each tortilla on both sides with oil. Stack them on a plate and microwave until hot and steamy, about 2 minutes. This makes them pliable; if you skip this step, they’ll shred to pieces when you roll them.

brushing tortillas with oil.

Spoon the filling down the middle of each tortilla. Then roll tightly with your hands. Place the enchiladas side by side, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over top.

rolled chicken enchiladas arranged in baking dish.

Spread the sauce evenly over the tortillas, then sprinkle with more grated cheese.

enchiladas covered with sauce and cheese in baking dish.

Bake until sauce is hot and bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle the enchiladas with smoked paprika—it makes them look pretty but also adds more delicious smoky flavor—and cilantro, if you like.

serving the chicken enchiladas.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I make the enchiladas less spicy?

To reduce the spiciness of the enchiladas, there are several adjustments you can make. First, when preparing the tomatillo sauce, remove the seeds and veins from the jalapeño chiles, as this is where most of the heat resides. If you’re particularly sensitive to spice, you can reduce the number of jalapeños used in the recipe or substitute them with a milder green chile, such as poblanos. Additionally, the cooling effects of dairy can help balance spiciness, so serving your enchiladas with a dollop of sour cream can make them more palatable if you’re looking to tone down the heat.

Can I make chicken enchiladas ahead of time?

Yes, the enchiladas can be assembled up to one day ahead of time, tightly covered with foil, and refrigerated until ready to bake. Allow a few extra minutes in the oven if baking from cold.

Can chicken enchiladas be frozen?

Yes, the enchiladas can be frozen after baking for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat, covered in foil, in a 325°F (165°C) oven until hot.

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Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Get ready to fall in love with these chicken enchiladas. Brimming with smoky, tender chicken and gooey cheddar cheese, all smothered in a tangy tomatillo sauce, they promise comfort in every bite.

Ingredients

For The Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a chef’s knife
  • ¾ pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and roughly chopped (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

For the Filling

  • 1 pound chicken tenderloins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

For Assembling

  • 10 to 12 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces (¾ cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Smoked paprika

For Serving (optional)

  • Cilantro leaves, sour cream, shredded lettuce, avocado, lime wedges

Instructions

For the Tomatillo Sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, sugar, salt, cumin and ⅓ cup water; bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tomatillos are softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until completely smooth. Set aside.

For the Filling

  1. Place the chicken tenderloins in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the cumin, smoked paprika and salt. Toss with tongs until the chicken is evenly coated with the spice blend.
  2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan until shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook until just done, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate to cool. Do not rinse the pan. Add the onions and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces. (All tenderloins have a tough tendon running through them; just remove it.) Add the shredded chicken to the pan with the onions, along with the chopped cilantro and shredded cheese.

To Assemble

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread ¾ cup of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  3. Pour the oil into a small bowl or ramekin. Using a pastry brush (or your hands), brush both sides of each tortilla with oil, then stack them on a plate and microwave until hot and steamy, 1½ – 2 minutes. This makes them pliable.
  4. Spoon about ⅓ cup of the filling down the center of each tortilla. Roll each tortilla tightly and place side by side in the baking dish, seam side down.
  5. Pour the remaining chili sauce over the top, and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly over each tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese down the center of the enchiladas. Bake until hot and bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the smoked paprika down the center of the enchiladas and serve immediately with sour cream, lettuce, avocado and lime wedges.
  6. Note: If you touch the seeds of the jalapeño pepper, avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands well afterward.
  7. Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The enchiladas can be assembled up to one day ahead of time, tightly covered with foil, and refrigerated until ready to bake. Allow a few extra minutes in the oven if baking from cold. The cooked enchiladas can be frozen for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost them in the refrigerator for 24 hours and then reheat, covered in foil, in a 325°F oven until hot.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 668
  • Fat: 44 g
  • Saturated fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 44 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Protein: 27 g
  • Sodium: 707 mg
  • Cholesterol: 82 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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