What to CookMexican

Unroll Your Tortillas for These Smoky, Repeat-Worthy Chicken Enchiladas

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In my saved-but-never-made file of recipes, enchiladas of all varieties dominate. From black bean and sweet potato to chicken with salsa verde to Tex-Mex chile con carne, enchiladas never sound anything but completely appealing: tortillas fried and sauced, stuffed and rolled, slathered in cheese, showered with cilantro.

If only their assembly didn’t demand so much! From the seemingly complicated sauce-making to the frying of the tortillas to the dipping of each tortilla in sauce to the filling and rolling, enchiladas often feel, for me at least, out of reach.

So when I saw the 35-minute estimated time frame to make the smoky chicken enchiladas in the Wall Street Journal’s “Slow Food Fast” column last weekend, I read on. And when I learned that the enchilada sauce simmers for a mere 7 minutes and that there would be no frying or dipping or rolling, and that a lasagna-style assembly would be employed, I set to work—this preparation I could handle.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Incredibly, a 9x13-inch casserole bubbling with layers of tortillas, chicken, sauce, and cheese emerged from my oven as quickly as promised, and a few days later, on a weeknight no less, the miracle repeated.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Thanks to a few tricks and big-flavor ingredients, the enchilada sauce tastes far more complex than the effort it demands. First, onions and garlic char under the broiler. They then simmer with a can of tomatoes and rehydrated ancho chilies or, for ease, a few chipotles in adobo sauce. In less than 10 minutes, the spicy, smoky sauce is ready to be puréed and layered with shredded chicken, which poaches as the sauce simmers with grated cheese, tortillas, fresh cilantro, and scallions.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

While I consider this sauce to be the essential element here, the rest of the ingredients can be tailored to your liking. Chef Spike Gjerde hopes you will use the best corn tortillas you can find, but I’ve had success with flour tortillas and a mix of corn and flour tortillas, too. (Psst: Have you seen how he makes oyster pie?) I’ve used both cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, though any number of good, melting cheeses could work here. And while I’ve yet to try anything but chicken, I imagine many combinations of vegetables, beans, and meats would take well to this weeknight-friendly but entertaining-worthy, and life-changing-for-the-enchilada-fearing, recipe.

No-Fuss Enchiladas

No-Fuss Enchiladas

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 6 to 8
  • 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into wedges
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • kosher salt
  • 1 28-oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, see notes above
  • 14 corn tortillas, see notes above
  • 9 ounces grated cheese, such as Monterey Jack or sharp Cheddar
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 6 scallions
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Is there a dish you've been wanting to make forever, but avoided, out of fear that it would turn out blah? Let us know in the comments!

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Tags: Tex-Mex, Weeknight Cooking