Spicy, tangy chicken enchiladas are on the menu today! My chicken enchilada recipe uses slow cooked chicken breast, rich tomatillo sauce, fresh cilantro and lime, and three types of salty cheese: queso fresco, Monterey Jack, and sharp cheddar. One bite of these enchiladas will send you over the edge in the best possible way. If you pair these enchiladas with a Hot Honey Mojito (mocktail OR cocktail), your taste buds will thank you.
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What Do You Put Inside Enchiladas?
There are so many variations on enchiladas. Some people like to load their enchiladas up with meat (usually chicken or beef), rice, cheese, and vegetables. Other people like to keep it simple and make their enchiladas using just meat and cheese. The beauty of enchiladas is that they are flexible and you can harness your creativity when making them!
My recipe for chicken enchiladas calls for a more simple chicken/cheese filling. However, if you have a can of black beans or some leftover rice, you could definitely add these ingredients to your filling and it would taste amazing.
Do You Have To Fry Tortillas For Enchiladas?
The traditional way of making enchiladas requires you to coat the tortillas in enchilada sauce and then lightly fry them in oil. The purpose for this step is to ensure the tortillas can stand up to the filling and not disintegrate (which often happens with corn tortillas).
However, do you HAVE to fry tortillas for enchiladas? Nope!
This is not a traditional enchilada recipe, so I am taking some liberties with preparation. I wanted to find a healthier, quicker, and easier way to prepare the tortillas. Instead of frying them, I like to spray them with olive oil and microwave them to soften them! This works like a charm and you aren't left with weak or soggy tortillas!
A Quick Look At The Recipe
So, this recipe includes traditional flavors and non-traditional preparation techniques.
Tomatillo Sauce: The Star Of The Show
First, let's address the elephant in the room: what the heck is a tomatillo?!
Contrary to popular belief, tomatillos are not little tomatoes! They are sometimes called "husk tomatoes," but they do not have the same characteristics and flavor as tomatoes. According to BonAppetit.com, "Tomatillos have a slightly more acidic, slightly less sweet flavor than ripe and unripe tomatoes. Overall, the flavor is more vegetal and bright, and the interior texture is denser and less watery."
Tomatillos are usually cooked but they can also be served raw, typically in salsa form. They are bright green and very tangy when they are raw. In this tomatillo sauce, the tomatillos are roasted, which results in a less vibrant green color and a beautiful sweet and sour flavor.
To prepare the tomatillos for this enchilada sauce, you must remove them from their husk. You will notice a slightly sticky film on the exterior of the tomatillo. This sticky film is easily removed with warm water. I like to cut the tomatillos in half before I roast them.
Y'all, this tomatillo enchilada sauce is a game-changer. It packs huge flavor and it is very easy to prepare. First, I roast tomatillos, onion, whole poblano and jalapeño peppers, and a whole bulb of garlic. Then, everything is blended together. A sauce is born. And let me tell you - the flavor is out of this world!
Slow Cooked, Shredded Chicken
In SO MANY enchilada recipes, the sauce is the star and the rest of the ingredients are understudies. They don't get a ton of attention and that is just not right! I want my enchilada filling, specifically the chicken, to be a solid supporting actor in this culinary production.
My preferred way to prepare the chicken in this recipe is by slathering the chicken in an amazing spice blend and slow cooking it for 8-10 hours. The result is tender and spicy chicken that announces its presence when you take your first bite.
You could also prepare the chicken in an Instant Pot - combine the spices but don't mix them with the chicken broth. Add the broth first to the Instant Pot, then the chicken and then sprinkle the chicken with the spice blend. Cover and select Pressure Cook for 20 minutes. Voila!
If you are running short on time or if you don't have a slow cooker, fear not! You can use a shredded rotisserie chicken or boiled and shredded chicken as a substitution in a pinch. So you don't lose the flavor of the spices, though, I would recommend preparing the spice blend in the recipe and sprinkling a couple of tablespoons over the shredded chicken before stuffing your enchiladas.
A Trick For Shredding Slow Cooked Chicken
Of course you can shred chicken by hand with two forks. However, I have found a way to shred chicken in about 30 seconds that doesn't require any elbow grease.
Are you ready for this? Remove your chicken from the slow cooker or Instant Pot and place it (with its juices) in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer set to low, shred the chicken. Voila! Your chicken is ready!
Let's Talk Cheese
I like using a combination of cheeses in this recipe:
- Shredded Monterey Jack: Gooey with a little bit of spice; I sprinkle Monterey Jack inside and on top of the enchiladas before putting them in the oven.
- Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Also gooey and melty; I like the sharpness of cheddar mixed with the Monterey Jack and sprinkled inside and on top of the enchiladas to make a warm, melty cheese blanket on my enchiladas.
- Crumbled Queso Fresco: Salty, crumbly cheese sprinkled on top after the enchiladas come out of the oven.
You could also use cotija cheese, if you prefer! I would not recommend using a cheese that has a strong flavor profile (like feta or bleu cheese).
Garnishing Makes Things More Beautiful
When making this chicken enchilada recipe, don't forget to garnish! In addition to crumbled queso fresco, I garnish my enchiladas with a squeeze of lime juice, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions, and a drizzle of Mexican crema.
My essential tools when making this recipe include the following:
Chicken Enchiladas With A Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
For The Slow Cooker Chicken
- 1.5 lbs. chicken breast
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper
- ½ cup chicken broth
For The Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
- 1 bulb garlic with ends cut off
- 1 tbsp. olive oil extra virgin
- 2 lbs. tomatillos (8-10 tomatillos) husked, rinsed with warm water, cut in half
- 1 large white onion cut into 1" chunks
- 2 fresh poblano peppers seeded, cut in half
- 1 fresh jalapeño seeded, cut in half (keep seeds if you want to make the sauce spicy)
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. smoked paprika
- 3 tbsp. olive oil extra virgin
For The Enchiladas
- 12 corn tortillas
- 8 oz. shredded cheese I prefer Monterey Jack and Cheddar - you can do 4 oz. of each or use a blend
- olive oil spray
- ½ lime juiced
- 3 green onions chopped
- 4 oz. queso fresco crumbled
- 3-4 tablespoon Mexican crema
- 3 tbsp. cilantro chopped (optional)
Prepare The Shredded Chicken In A Slow Cooker
- In a bowl, whisk spices and chicken broth together.
- Using a spatula, spread mixture on top and bottom of chicken breasts and place in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours OR on high for 4-6 hours.
- When chicken is finished cooking, remove the chicken breasts and shred with 2 forks or with hand mixer (see blog post for instructions). Set aside to cool slightly.
Prepare Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
- Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
- Place whole garlic bulb on a small sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil (1 tbsp.). Wrap aluminum foil around garlic (cover completely) and place in oven.
- Arrange tomatillos (cut side down), onion, poblano peppers, and jalapeño on a sheet tray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Drizzle with 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and toss together.
- Place sheet tray in oven and roast for 20-25 minutes at 400°F/200°C.
- Remove vegetables from oven and place them in a blender. Carefully remove and unwrap garlic from aluminum foil. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the blender (leaving the outer husk out). Blend the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Assemble The Enchiladas
- Spray each corn tortilla on one side with olive oil and place them in a stack on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave tortillas for 2 minutes. Be careful taking them out - they will be hot! Set aside until they are cool enough to handle.
- In a 9"x13" casserole dish, spread enough tomatillo sauce to completely cover the bottom of the dish (about ¾ cup).
- Assemble enchiladas: On each tortilla, place 2-3 tbsp. shredded chicken and 1-2 tablespoon shredded cheese. Roll and place in casserole dish. Repeat with all 12 tortillas.
- Once all 12 enchiladas are in the dish, spread remaining sauce over enchiladas and then sprinkle remaining shredded cheese on top. Bake in the oven at 400°F/200°C for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
- Remove enchiladas from oven. Squeeze ½ lime over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the top of the enchiladas with chopped green onion, crumbled queso fresco, chopped cilantro, and then drizzle the top with Mexican crema. Serve immediately and enjoy!