Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce

When I have corn tortillas, there tends to be a usual rotation of dishes to use them in. Tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, and my favorite, enchiladas. I normally favor enchiladas with a salsa verde since I haven't found a good red sauce recipe... until now. These Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce definitely surprised me. They were flavorful, aromatic and so easy to make. No rehydrating dried chiles or even chopping up fresh ones. In fact, the secret to this dish is probably already hiding in your pantry...

There have been other red chile sauce recipes I've tried because they involved using dried or fresh chiles. Using them makes the recipe a little more labor intensive and sadly, the recipes I've tried didn't taste as good after all the extra effort. So when I came across this recipe from Cook's Illustrated, I was surprised that they used chili powder. Interestingly, this pantry staple made these enchiladas pretty darn good. It was a breeze to put together and after making it a couple of times now, an easy shortcut is to use a store bought rotisserie chicken and removing the chicken from the bone, lightly shredding it to use instead of the boneless skinless chicken thighs. This dish also freezes wonderfully and after assembling, you can cover and freeze. To finish cooking from frozen, just bake as directed below and double the bake time. Even better is to allow the dish to defrost before baking.

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce
recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Sauce and Filling:
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 medium onion ,chopped fine (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 cans tomato sauce (8 ounces each)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 can (4 ounces) pickled jalapeƱos , drained and chopped (about 1/4 cup)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , grated (2 cups)

Tortillas and Toppings:
10 corn tortillas (six-inch)
Vegetable cooking spray
3 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 avocado , diced medium
5 leaves romaine lettuce washed, dried, and shredded
2 limes , quartered

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until coated with spices, about 30 seconds.

Add tomato sauce and 1/4 cup water; stir to separate chicken pieces. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and flavors have melded, about 8 minutes.

Pour mixture through medium-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing on chicken and onions to extract as much sauce as possible; set sauce aside. 

Transfer chicken mixture to large plate; freeze for 10 minutes to cool, then combine with cilantro, jalapenos, and cheese in medium bowl and set aside.

Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees.

Place a stack of tortillas in the microwave uncovered and heat for 1 minute or until softened and pliable. Place one tortilla on a flat surface and add a heaping tablespoon of filling down the middle. Fold the sides of the tortilla over the filling to overlap and place the filled tortilla seam side down onto a 9x13 baking dish. Repeat and continue with the remaining tortillas until filling is used up.

Pour the strained sauce over the enchiladas and then sprinkle the cheese down the middle of the enchiladas.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

Uncover and serve immediately, passing sour cream, avocado, lettuce, and lime wedges separately.


  1. These look delicious. I am bookmarking these!

  2. Looks delightful! Can't wait to try this one. :)

  3. Nom nom!I will be making these tomorrow.

  4. Oh my gosh, I just found your blog and I'm drooling over everything. I blog over at and would love if we could do a guest post swap sometimes. Let me know if you're interested.

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  5. I love enchiladas and these look easier than my normal recipe!

  6. My favorite enchilada recipe!