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
  • 3/4 pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and roughly chopped (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

For the Filling

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

For the Tortillas and Toppings

  • 11 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Smoked paprika
  • 3/4 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 1/3 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 3/4 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, 1-1/2 - 2 minutes. This makes them pliable.
  4. Spoon about 1/3 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.

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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Reviews & Comments

  • Absolutely wonderful!
    Thank you!

    • — Trudy on January 13, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi jen- I am really excited to try some recipes from your website. I made the enchiladas today and I did not care for the tomatillo sauce. I should have realized that as I’m not a fan of them I probably would not like the sauce. In the past I have enjoyed some salsa verde’s and other green sauces. I would follow this recipe though but use tomatoes instead of tomatillo’s.

    • — Kate S on January 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • I loved the filling recipe…..maybe a little more salt. I have made tomatillo (Salsa Verde) sauce in the past and although this recipe does call for cooking it on the stove top….my other recipe had you roasting the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. I think roasting them in the oven just gives them a little more depth. Will definitely make it again.

    • — Cindy Rotermund on December 31, 2020
    • Reply
  • So delicious! This is a favorite. It’s my favorite tomatillo sauce too. If I wanted to make big batches of the stuff and can it, would I need to modify the recipe at all? Perhaps replacing the 1/3c water with vinegar?

    • — Jennifer Gauntt (yes, another Jenn. There are a lot of us) on October 25, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad you like it! I didn’t design this recipe with canning in mind so I’m not sure it would be safe to do that — I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on October 26, 2020
      • Reply
      • Thanks for the advice. I’ll steer clear. No point in surviving 2020 just to poison my family in 2021.

        • — Jen Gauntt on October 27, 2020
        • Reply
        • LOL!

          • — Jenn on October 27, 2020
          • Reply
  • It took me a little longer to put this together, but it was a hit! I also thought it would be hard to make, but after reading the ingredients and preparation, I was ready to take it on. Not hard at all! Definitely will do again.

    • — Elean on October 13, 2020
    • Reply
  • Fantastic!!! A new family staple. Thanks so much!

    • — Rhonda B. on September 17, 2020
    • Reply
  • I just made and ate the tomatillo sauce with some baked chicken.
    Oh my!
    This salsa sauce is amazing! I could’ve eaten the whole thing with the spoon :))
    Thank you so much for the recipe! <3

    • — Ildiko on September 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • Whole family loves these! Do you think I could make a double batch of sauce and freeze it?

    • — Steph Y on August 24, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad you like these! Yes, I do think the sauce would freeze nicely.

      • — Jenn on August 25, 2020
      • Reply
  • Wonderful recipe. Thank you!

    • — Natalie on August 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I’m hoping to serve these to my coworkers and I’ll be baking them in the morning before work. Would a quick minute in the microwave be okay before serving since they will likely cool down to room temperature by lunch time?
    Thanks!

    • — Joanna on July 31, 2020
    • Reply
  • I just made these tonight and they were a big hit! I made my own corn tortillas following Jenn’s terrific recipe and they held together beautifully and tasted fresh and tender. The green sauce was outstanding and cooked beautifully into the tortillas. the chicken remained tender and was seasoned just enough. At first I thought maybe the jalapeños might be too spicy (even though we love spicy) but they added just the right amount of heat, texture and flavor. I can’t wait to make these for company (when we can have company again!) Thanks Jenn for another amazing recipe!

    • — Denise on July 30, 2020
    • Reply
  • We were not expecting much from this but since i had a lot of tomatillos from the garden, I decided to give it a go and so glad I did! It was SO GOOD!!! The 5 yr old ate all of hers and my husband really enjoyed it too! only diff i made was i used cheddar and mozarella in the filling and mozzarella and queso fresco to top it as i was running out of cheese.

    • — Alma on July 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • Just tried this recipe. It was excellent. My family throughly enjoyed it.

    • — Laurel on July 14, 2020
    • Reply
  • Absolutely delicious!! Blew my husband away with my mad cooking skills (thanks to Jenn!) and satisfied my pregnancy craving for Mexican food! Highly recommend!!

    • — Jennifer Sachs on July 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • Super excited to try this, was wondering if there was a cup measurement for the chopped tomatillos? Or a general quantity, obvi size could play a part there too. Thank you! All of ur recipes so far have been simply wonderful!

    • — Martha Noll on June 17, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Martha, So glad you like the recipes! You’ll need 3/4 pound of the tomatillos so I’d recommend using a scale at the grocery store to measure. I haven’t measured them in cups but I’d guess it would be 2.5 to 3 cups. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on June 17, 2020
      • Reply
  • Jenn,
    You’re AMAZING. This recipe is absolutely perfect my husband said it’s better than eating at a Mexican restaurant! (I made this with the Mexican rice YUM) Everyone please support her and buy her book for some more yummy recipes!!!

    • — Lucy on June 4, 2020
    • Reply
    • ❤️ Thanks so much for your support!

      • — Jenn on June 5, 2020
      • Reply

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