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Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

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Light and fresh chicken enchiladas filled with tender, smoky chicken and cheddar cheese in a tangy tomatillo sauce.

My whole family loves these chicken enchiladas. They take a bit of time to make, but you can make the sauce and filling ahead of time, then assemble and bake the enchiladas another time for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Most chicken enchilada recipes call for dark meat because it stays moist. This is important because the chicken is cooked twice: once in preparing the filling and then again in heating the assembled dish. However, I like to use chicken tenderloins; they’re much easier to prep than dark meat and, unlike boneless breasts, they stay tender even if slightly overcooked. Plus, tenderloins are usually sold in convenient one-pound packs, which is exactly how much you’ll need.

tomatillos

The sauce for this dish is made with tomatillos. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they look like small green tomatoes covered by a papery husk. They’re related to tomatoes but have a distinctive tart flavor. (Note that they are not the same as green tomatoes, which are simply unripe tomatoes.) You can find them in most grocery stores.

jalapeno

Finally, this recipe calls for three jalapeño peppers, which I know seems like a lot. Don’t worry, as long as you remove the fiery ribs and seeds, the enchiladas won’t be spicy. When you taste the sauce on its own, it will have a little kick but once you put the dish together it will be mild enough even for young children. If you’d like more heat, throw in some of the seeds. (Always wear gloves and/or wash your hands very well after working with jalapeños, and keep your hands away from your eyes!)

How to make chicken enchiladas

Begin by making the tomatillo 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).

cooking-onions-and-garlic

Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, sugar, salt, cumin and 1/3 cup water.

raw-tomatillo-sauce

Simmer until the tomatillos are soft.

cooked-tomatillos

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

blended-sauce

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

seasoning-chicken

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

cooking-chicken

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

shredded-chicken

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

cooked-onions

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

adding-cilantro

That’s your filling.

filling

You can make the dish ahead of time up to this point.

To assemble the enchiladas, begin by smearing 3/4 cup of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

spreading-sauce-in-baking-dish

Next, brush each tortilla on both sides with oil.

brushing-tortillas-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.

stacked-tortillas

Spoon the filling down the middle of each tortilla.

ready-to-roll

Then roll tightly with your hands.

rolling

Place the enchiladas side by side, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over top.

pouring-sauce-over-top

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

enchiladas-sprinkled-with-cheese

Bake until sauce is hot and bubbling and cheese is melted, 15-20 minutes.

baked-enchiladas

Sprinkle the enchiladas with smoked paprika — it makes them look pretty but also adds more delicious smoky flavor.

chicken-enchiladas-tomatillo-sauce

Serve immediately with shredded lettuce, sour cream, sliced avocado, and lime wedges. Enjoy!

chicken-enchiladas-with-tomatillo-sauce

Note: My starting point for this recipe was a similar version in Cook’s Illustrated. I made a lot of changes, but the tomatillo sauce is very similar to the original recipe.

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Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Light and fresh chicken enchiladas filled with tender, smoky chicken and cheddar cheese in a tangy tomatillo sauce.

Servings: 4
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

For Tomatillo 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 the Tortillas and Toppings

  • 11 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces (¾ cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Smoked paprika
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 1 small heart of romaine lettuce (or 5-6 leaves), shredded
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 lime, sliced

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. (The nutritional information below does not include the sour cream, romaine lettuce or avocado used to top the enchiladas.)
  6. Note: If you touch the seeds of the jalapeño pepper, just be sure to wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: 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 (4 servings)
  • Serving size: 2 3/4 enchiladas
  • Calories: 991
  • Fat: 66g
  • Saturated fat: 18g
  • Unsaturated fat: 1g
  • Carbohydrates: 61g
  • Sugar: 9g
  • Fiber: 9g
  • Protein: 41g
  • Sodium: 2070mg
  • Cholesterol: 126mg

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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Comments

  • Jenn,

    Wow! So awesome – everyone loved these. Great tip on prepping the tortillas, they didn’t split open at all. Flavors were so well balanced: sweet, spicy, smoky, acidic. I was secretly hoping for leftovers but was ‘sadly’ disappointed! (Actually I was left with about 1 ½ C of filling left over; not sure how, I used 1/3C in each of 11 tortillas. Lunch bowl for tomorrow).

    Daryl

    • — Daryl on November 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • Fabulous recipe! I, like you, prefer chicken tenderloins in most chicken dishes, but removing the tendon is tedious and I usually destroy the tenderloin in the process. Found a great tip to remove ..Grab tip of tenderloin with needle-nosed pliers. Place tendon between a fork’s prongs and pull down. The tendon pulls right out, leaving the tenderloin basically untouched. Works wonders!

    • — Kristen Buchanan on October 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Really delicious, I added a little bit of heavy cream and cooked the Salsa Verde a bit to make it a little more savory. I love how versatile this recipe is.

    • — Jacob on August 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi! I have shredded chicken thighs which I slow cooked into submission. Was wondering if I would use it here and what modifications you would recommend to make it work.

    Thank you!

    • — Shannon C on August 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Shannon, Yes, I think you could use that chicken if you toss it thoroughly with the cumin, smoked paprika, and salt called for in the recipe. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on August 22, 2022
      • Reply
  • Really enjoyed it, but we only had 1 jalapeño. Would have preferred a little spicier. We also added some leftover black beans, more for nutrition.

    • — Brent on August 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • I love your recipes as is, but for those in need of a time saver, a pouch of Frontera green enchilada sauce works in a pinch!

    • — Marissa on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • Cant wait to bake this dish! Never made tomatillo sauce. Could you please tell me the corn side dish next to the finished tortillas,looks so good.

    • — Chris on June 22, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Chris, that’s not an actual recipe of mine — it’s just a combo of corn, red pepper, black beans, and cilantro. I have a black bean salad in my second cookbook that would go nicely with these. If you’d like the salad and don’t own the cookbook, let me know and I’ll email it to you. This would also pair well with the Mexican Rice. 🙂

      • — Jenn on June 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use store bought salsa verde ? First ingredient is tomatillos.

    • — Asra on June 8, 2022
    • Reply
    • I think it would be better with the fresh, but you could probably get away with it.

      • — Jenn on June 8, 2022
      • Reply
      • UPDATE: used store bought – came out great. Though I am sure your fresh sauce is much better. I just don’t have access to tomatillos and don’t have time.

        • — Asra on June 8, 2022
        • Reply
        • So glad it came out well with it — thanks for taking the time to follow up!

          • — Jenn on June 9, 2022
          • Reply
  • So good! Made it and took to my mom and sister’s. Well worth the steps. I’ll make again but use more jalapeños (I only used one because of their aversion to heat).

    • — Denise H. on May 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • You lost me at microwave

      • — BD on June 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • Made this dish tonight, as a different take on the usual chicken enchiladas I usually make with red sauce. We loved the tomatillo sauce; just wished there was more!
    Thanks Jen, for another delicious meal. I NEVER worry about trying a new recipe of yours for company. ALWAYS a hit!

    • — Jenny on February 5, 2022
    • Reply

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