We love Tex/Mex food and homemade chicken enchiladas are at the top of the list. This recipe is really more of a process than an exact recipe and you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry – the one exception might be corn tortillas.
There are tons of recipes for making chicken enchiladas so why share mine? Well, because I think they’re truly the best. Also, I’m going to give you the basics of enchilada making so you can make adjustments based on your family’s preferences.
When you understand the process of making enchiladas and aren’t just following a recipe you can make substitutions based on what your family likes and what you have on hand.
One of the things I really like about this recipe is that there’s no waste – we use the water that we boil the chicken in to make the enchiladas sauce.
There’s also no need to buy packets or cans of enchilada sauce or expensive chicken breast. We’re just going to use plain old pantry ingredients.
Cook the chicken for enchiladas
I always start the chicken enchiladas in the mid afternoon by putting a whole chicken in a stock pot of water and letting it cook. I add cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder to the water to help flavor the meat. I cook it on medium low until I can use tongs and remove the chicken leg.
Cook the tortillas so they don’t break
I will usually go ahead and fry up the corn tortillas in the mid afternoon too. If you use corn tortillas you MUST cook them in some way or they will fall apart.
Some people dip them in boiling chicken broth, some steam them in the microwave, but I think the best way to prepare them for enchiladas is to fry them.
I use a small cast iron skillet and fry each tortillas for 10-15 seconds on each side. You want them cooked but not crispy; they need to be pliable enough to roll.
After frying a corn tortillas I put it on a baking rack over a sheet pan to drain. Once it’s full, I put the tortillas I fried first onto a plate and use those spots to drain more tortillas. This way the excess oil drains from all the tortillas.
Some people don’t like corn tortillas so they make chicken enchiladas with flour tortillas. You can certainly do that if that’s what your family prefers. If you use flour tortillas you don’t fry them, just fill and roll.
The enchilada filling
Once the chicken is cooked, I remove it from the stock pot and put it in a bowl to cool before deboning it. I leave the chicken broth in the pot to use for the enchilada sauce.
Normally, deboning a chicken is my husband’s job because he’s more thorough than I am. But if he’s not around I go ahead and do it.
I save the bones and skin to make chicken stock. I keep a ziplock bag in my freezer and just add to it until it’s full.
To make the filling, shred the chicken meat and put it in a large skillet with some of the broth. Add diced onions, tomatoes, and spices such as garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, and cilantro if I have it.
For the tomatoes I’ve used fresh tomatoes, home canned tomatoes, and store bought canned tomatoes. They all work fine. Use what you have.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and let most of the liquid evaporate.
Make the enchilada sauce
While the filling is cooking I make the enchilada sauce.
Basically I just add more spices – cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, salt and pepper to the broth. I’ll also add some tomato – either tomato sauce, paste or dehydrated tomato powder.
Once the sauce tastes right, I thicken it. I prefer to use arrowroot to thicken the enchilada sauce, but if I don’t have it I’ll use non-gmo cornstarch or even flour.
Mix a little of the thickening agent with water and then slowly pour it into the sauce while stirring the sauce. Heat the sauce to thicken it. You want the sauce to be about the thickness of salad dressing, not a dip or gravy.
Turn the heat to low or off.
Don’t worry, there’s a printable recipe below with measurements.
Once the sauce is done it’s time to put everything together and make enchiladas. This is my favorite part of enchilada making.
If I’m making several pans of enchiladas then I ask my family to help roll. If I’m just making enough for dinner, I’ll usually ask one person to help me.
Not that I need the help but rolling enchiladas is one of those activities that invites conversation – similar to cookie decorating. This is why it’s my favorite part of making enchiladas.
Take a prepared tortilla and put a spoonful of filling on it. Fold the side closest to you over the filling and draw the filling back towards you. Then roll the tortilla. This will create a tight enchilada.
Lay the enchilada seam side down in a baking dish. You can pack the enchiladas in tight. Once all the enchiladas have been rolled and put in the pan, pour the enchilada sauce over them.
Some families like a little sauce, some like a lot. The enchiladas will soak up some of the sauce, so if you like a lot of sauce, cover all the enchiladas and gently wiggle the pan to let the sauce settle. Add more sauce if needed.
Top with grated cheese and diced onions.
Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are bubbly.
What to do with leftover sauce or filling
Because this isn’t an exact recipe, you will probably have some left over enchilada sauce and/or filling.
Both of these freeze well, so you can freeze them to use later.
If you only have filling leftover, you can use it with flour tortillas as chicken tacos. Sometimes I add black beans to this mixture if there’s not enough for a meal.
My favorite thing to do with leftover enchilada sauce and filling is to use it the next evening to make enchilada soup.
To make enchilada soup, put the leftover sauce and meat in a stockpot and add vegetables such as summer squash, corn, and carrots. If I don’t have summer squash in the garden, I usually have some dehydrated summer squash that I can use.
Garnish with grated cheddar cheese and cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.
How to freeze chicken enchiladas
Sometimes I’ll make several pans of enchiladas and freeze them for later. The key to freezing enchiladas is to freeze them without the enchilada sauce.
I put the plain enchiladas in a pan, cover them and freeze them.
I put enough sauce for a pan of enchiladas in a freezer safe container and label it.
If I’m making enchiladas for a crowd, I can make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then thaw and cook them on the day I’m serving them.
To thaw frozen enchiladas, put them in the refrigerator the day before to thaw. Do the same with the enchilada sauce.
Once they are both thawed, cover the enchiladas with sauce, garnish with grated cheddar cheese and diced onions and bake.
- Oil for frying
- 20 corn tortillas
- Whole chicken
- 4 tbsp garlic powder
- 4 tbsp onion powder
- 4 tbsp cumin
- 2 cups diced or stewed tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Dried or fresh cilantro (optional)
- 3-4 cups chicken broth
- Tomato powder or tomato sauce
- Cornstarch or flour to thicken
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup diced onions
Put about 1 inch of oil in skillet and heat over medium high heat.
Fry tortillas in hot oil for 15-30 seconds on each side (don't let them get crispy)
Put the cooked tortillas on a plate with paper towels or on a cooling rack with a sheet pan underneath to drain.
Put chicken in large stock pot and cover with water.
Add 2 tbsp each cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder to the water.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium.
Cook until the chicken is falling off the bones (about an hour).
Remove the chicken from the broth and put it in a bowl to cool enough to debone.
Save the broth for making the enchilada sauce.
Make Chicken Enchilada Filling
In large skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and add meat and garlic.
Add 1 cup broth to meat and garlic.
Add 2 tbsp each cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Add salt and pepper and cilantro (if using)
Cover and let simmer while you make the enchilada sauce
Make Enchilada Sauce
Taste broth to see if you want to add more spices.
Add 1 cup tomato sauce OR 1/2 cup tomato paste OR 1/4 cup tomato powder
Mix 1 tbsp arrowroot, cornstarch or flour with 1/2 cup water and blend well.
Pour thickener into sauce and heat to thicken. If it's not as thick as you want it, make another batch of thickener and add it to the sauce.
Making Chicken Enchiladas
Take a cooked corn tortilla and put a spoonful of meat mixture on it.
Take the side closest to you and lay it over the mixture and pull it towards the edge, you should have the beginnings of a tight roll.
Finish rolling it up and put it in a baking dish (9x13) with the seam side down.
When pan is full cover with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.
Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F degrees.