I LOVE SAVORY, spicy, satisfying enchiladas—especially when someone else makes them. They’re just too much work for me on a weeknight.
But do they need to be? I challenged myself to create a streamlined recipe for fresh, tangy baked green chile enchiladas with melty cheese, one that I could pull off even after a long and taxing day at work.
Cooking through a handful of existing recipes revealed a range of supposed shortcuts; some were acceptable, and some were definitely not. In a side-by-side tasting of enchiladas made with shredded rotisserie chicken and chicken that I’d poached or roasted, my tasters barely detected a difference in flavor—there was my first acceptable shortcut.
The sauce proved to be a trickier challenge. Store-bought green enchilada sauce (salsa verde made with tomatillos, green chiles, onions, and cilantro) was out, as tasters found that it was too acidic for the more balanced flavors I was after. Homemade enchilada sauces had more subtlety, but many of these recipes called for fresh tomatillos, which I had a hard time finding out of season. Other recipes yielded tight, dried-up sauces or out‑of-balance flavors.
I turned to canned tomatillos (which are always available) and bolstered them with fresh poblano and jalapeño chiles. To add an extra layer of complexity to the mix, I broiled the chiles and tomatillos with an onion and some whole garlic cloves to enhance the tomatillos’ pleasant bitterness and concentrate the flavors of the chiles. This hands‑off process gave me time to shred the chicken.
While many recipes called for painstakingly scraping off the dried, blackened skins of the chiles and tomatillos, I skipped this step and simply dumped the broiled vegetables into the blender. In a smooth puree, the skins weren’t bothersome; in fact, they added lovely charred notes. I threw in a bunch of cilantro—stems and leaves—for a punch of fresh flavor.
A bit of water helped the sauce stay fluid throughout cooking, and a teaspoon of sugar kept sourness in check. I rolled right into enchilada assembly. In a surprise twist, tasters preferred sharp cheddar cheese to milder Monterey Jack for the final essential ingredient.
Bright, flavorful, totally satisfying enchiladas after a long day at work? Challenge accepted, success achieved.
GREEN CHILE CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
Serves 4 to 6
For more heat, reserve the jalapeño seeds and add them to the blender in step 3. Don’t spend a lot of time chopping the cilantro stems and leaves for the sauce; chop them just enough to measure them, and then let the blender do the bulk of the work. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatillos, drained
3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved, and seeded
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges through root end
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, halved, and seeded
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 (2½-pound) rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded, meat shredded into bite-size pieces (3 cups)
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups), divided
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro Sour cream Lime wedges Avocado Finely chopped onion
1. FOR THE SAUCE: Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Place tomatillos, poblanos, onion, jalapeño, and garlic on prepared sheet. Drizzle with oil and toss gently to coat. Arrange poblanos and jalapeño skin side up. Broil until poblanos, jalapeño, and tomatillos are blistered and blackened and onion wedges are dark at edges, about 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through broiling. (Vegetables may appear to be burning, but they are not.) Let vegetables cool on sheet for 15 minutes.
3. Turn off broiler and heat oven to 400 degrees. Transfer broiled vegetables and any accumulated juices to blender. Add water, cilantro, cumin, oregano, sugar, salt, and pepper and process until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed (you should have about 3½ cups sauce).
4. FOR THE ENCHILADAS: Spread ½ cup sauce in bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Combine chicken, 1½ cups cheddar, and 1 cup sauce in bowl. Stack tortillas and wrap in damp dish towel. Microwave until hot and pliable, about 1½ minutes.
5. Arrange tortillas on counter and place ¼ cup filling in center of each. Distribute any remaining filling evenly among tortillas. Roll tortillas tightly around filling and place seam side down in prepared dish.
6. Pour remaining 2 cups sauce over enchiladas and spread evenly with back of spoon. Sprinkle with remaining 1½ cups cheddar and cover dish with foil. Bake until enchiladas are heated through and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.
7. Uncover and let cool for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with sour cream, lime wedges, avocado, and onion.
TO MAKE AHEAD
After dish is covered with aluminum foil in step 6, unbaked enchiladas can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, bake enchiladas as directed, extending baking time by 15 minutes.
Great enchiladas require great sauce.