Chicken Enchilada Casserole- If you love enchiladas, but don't have the time or patience to roll them all up, this is the perfect recipe for you! This cheesy and flavorful casserole is stacked like a lasagna, and still redolent with flavor. Since it's made with corn tortillas, it's gluten free also!
When you prepare this slow cooker enchilada casserole, be ready for your whole abode to be inundated with divine aromas, chilis, cumin, bubbly cheese and corn tortillas. "Is it ready yet?", will become the rallying cry in your home!
This is a favorite in the Seasons Two Taste kitchen, the aroma of corn tortilla, melting cheese, and roasted diced green chiles are just so comforting. Comfort foods are kind of a specialty of ours, try our white bean soup, minestrone, or our homemade take on chicken cobbler.
A perfect side dish to go with this southwestern classic would be Mexican street corn quinoa, which is also gluten free, by the way...
A Few Reasons you'll Love this Recipe
- Easy - Anyone who's ever taken the time to make chicken enchiladas the traditional way, (rolling everything up, making the sauce, and then layering everything to bake), can tell you; it takes a long time. When it's finally time to serve, it's either a big struggle to maintain those little rolls, or people just scoop it up anyway! This way, there's no stress or fuss on anyone's part, just scoop and eat. Making the braise in the slow cooker makes it set-it and forget-it easy, you can start this recipe and not have to monitor it for a long time.
- Make Ahead - This chicken enchilada casserole stores and re-heats so well, making it in advance to warm up later is a no-brainer. You know how certain dishes seem to taste better the next day? This is one of those for sure.
- Inexpensive - All of the enchilada casserole ingredients in this recipe are simple, easy to find, and will not break the bank.
- Crowd Pleaser - It's a family sized batch, so that makes it really easy to share at a party, or with any larger group. The ingredients are all very approachable, so kids and most picky eaters will want to dig right in.
- Chicken-We highly recommend the use of boneless skinless chicken thighs here, due to the fat to meat ratio, making the end result much juicier, (we've even used the bone in, skin on pieces, and removed the skin and bones after the initial braise, making the sauce and meat even more unctuous). If you can only find skinless chicken breasts, or if you are concerned about the extra fat, you can use them, they are just not quite as "forgiving" of a long cook time, so be careful to not cook longer than needed. For easy chicken, you can also buy a rotisserie one or some shredded chicken at the store, and just omit the braise step entirely.
- Olive oil-Notice that this doesn't specify extra virgin. It's really not necessary here, as the flavor will be drowned out by all of the other, much stronger ones at play in the recipe. A light olive oil, or even a blend is what we suggest.
- Jalapeño- Depending on the size of the jalapeño or how spicy you want it, you can use more or less here, as well as including or omitting the seeds.
- Cilantro - You can throw the whole sprig with the stems if you want. A nice thing about cilantro is that there really is not a flavor difference between the two, and the textural contrast is negligible, also.
- Cumin - The smoky flavor and aroma of this ground spice contributes a lot to this recipe.
- Chili Powder - Check the name as well as the ingredients in this spice. If it says "chili powder seasoning", it usually contains a lot of unnecessary stuff, like salt. You'll want to look for different names of dried red chiles, or even just one, like ancho, pasilla, etc.
- Oregano - Oregano comes from many different places, and the local environment influences the flavor. If you can find actual Mexican oregano, use this.
- Onion- Yellow onions, with their high sugar content, are best for this kind of cooking. Red or green onions would be more appropriate as a raw garnish.
- Enchilada Sauce- You can see the brand name that we used in the image above. You may use a different kind if you prefer. We also used a combination of red and green. See the section below focusing on the specifics of enchilada sauces.
- Green Chiles- You'll see that we have fresh Anaheims in the picture, as well as canned. You can use canned or roast and peel your own, (instructions below).
- Cheese - Some shredded cheese to make that gooey, melty consistency is vital. We used some sharp cheddar, but Monterey jack, or pepper jack will be scrumptious also. If you have authentic Mexican varieties, (quesadilla, queso fresco, cotija), available in your area, of course those are delicious!
- Cream Cheese - This may not be the most common ingredient for this style of dish, but trust me, the creamy and saucy richness is fantastic in this.
- Corn Tortillas- White, blue, or yellow, it's your choice.
Which Slow Cooker to Buy
Which slow cooker is best? It really depends on what you are looking to do, and of course, how much money you are willing to spend.
We recommend that the "crock", (insert), is removable no matter what, so make sure that is the case, no matter what. If the unit is all one piece, it makes it a nightmare to clean, and you can't pull the insert out to bring your creation anywhere, (which is one of the best things about slow cookers!).
Make sure that the size is a little bigger than what you might typically need, it's always better to under-fill it, than to run out of space.
For a basic slow cooker, we use This crockpot model. It's six quart, and has a great locking lid, making transport a breeze. It's super easy to use, and anyone who knows this brand name can tell you, they last forever! You can even get this travel kit to make moving your goodies around even easier!
Enchilada Sauce 411
Store bought or from scratch? This question is almost as common as "what's your favorite thing to cook", in a chef's life. Believe it or not, the answer many times, is "it depends". There are many times that the ready made products are not just convenient, but also high quality.
Store bought enchilada sauce can be quite tasty, and therefore represent a short cut that doesn't sacrifice quality. We like to use Las Palmas brand, or El Pato. Both of these canned sauces have a great depth of flavor, and also come in red and green, for variety. Make sure to give them a taste test, as your palate is what's important here. They vary in spiciness, as well as richness and consistency.
Making your own enchilada sauce is very simple, but it does require finding good quality chiles, as well as the time and equipment necessary to do so. We feel that it's definitely worth the time and effort to learn to do it, but it's not going to ruin this recipe at all if you don't. This recipe is a great one to use for homemade enchilada sauce.
Red enchilada sauce, or green enchilada sauce? Once again, this is a matter of taste. The red variety is going to have a deep, rich flavor without a lot of heat, usually. The green is going to be more acidic and bright, and often times quite a bit hotter in flavor.
Step One - Season and Sear Chicken
Evenly and thoroughly season the chicken thighs while heating the pan over high to sear them on both sides.
Set aside the chicken thighs as they become properly seared, working in batches so as to not to over crowd the pan
Step Two - Braise in Slow Cooker
Combine all of the ingredients for the braised chicken together in the slow cooker crock.
Pour the sauce over, and set on high to simmer for 4 hours, or until the chicken is fully cooked and tender.
Step Three - Prepare Filling
This image shows all of the ingredients gathered for the filling mixture. The chicken thighs have been strained from the sauce and chilled just enough to handle, and the sauce reserved.
This is a part of any recipe that I particularly enjoy. Getting into the food with my hands and mixing it all up. Use gloves, not only for sanitary concerns, but also it might be a little hot still. Make sure that everything is evenly mixed, while also leaving some of the meat in satisfying, toothsome size bites.
Step Four - Layer and Bake
We then layer everything, sauce, tortillas, filling, cheese, repeat. this recipe should allow for two layers total. Once everything is in the pan, pop it in the oven!
It is finished with the cooking time and bubbly. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to set a bit. This will help with being able to portion out nice pieces.
Roasting Green Chiles
We wrote this recipe using the store bought chiles, as well as some fresh Anaheims. You can also use poblano peppers, which have a milder heat. These chiles have a rather thick skin, that requires roasting to peel off. As an added bonus, the flavor of the roasted peppers is very robust and unique.
Roast the whole chiles over an open flame, using tongs to move them to evenly blister them as shown. If you don't have a gas stove, you can do this in the oven on the broil setting.
After the peppers are done roasting, place them in a tightly sealed container, or a sealed bag for about ten minutes to help the skin come away as they sweat. then carefully pull the skins and seeds from the peppers by hand. It helps to have a bowl of water handy, as the skins stick to hands and fingers.
Once the skins and seeds have mostly been removed, dice the finished chiles to desired size.
This recipe is already gluten free. With a couple of changes to the ingredients, you can make it:
- Vegetarian - Remove the chicken and replace it with veggies. Beans and corn, as well as pumpkin or winter squash will work. If using squash or any other vegetable with a lot of moisture, make sure to cook them first to remove some water so that the casserole doesn't come out to runny.
- Vegan - Do the steps above, and replace the cheese with your favorite plant based substitute.
This dish is luscious on it's own, but why leave it just like that, when there are so many delightful finishing touches you can add?
- Avocado - Either sliced, diced, smashed, or turned into guacamole.
- Lime - the quintessential spark of acidity in Mexican cuisine!
- Onion - red, green, or white
- Cilantro - fresh and green
- Bell pepper - both the color and the sweetness of the red variety
This chicken casserole recipe is so versatile, here are just a few options to get creative and play with:
- Beans - Black beans, kidney, or pinto beans would give this dish a little extra texture, as well as fiber and protein.
- Corn - The sweetness of corn kernels, why not?
- Different Protein - Beef, shrimp, turkey, or even lamb.
- Tomato - This can be a good way to lessen the spiciness level in the sauce, just add some puree.
Use a deep and large enough baking pan to cook this in. You'll want to make sure that there is enough room to accommodate the melty cheese.
Slow Cooker Chicken and Cheese Enchilada Casserole
- 1 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 ktchen knife
- 2 Mixing Bowls
- 1 kitchen tongs
- 1 kitchen spoon
- 1 large sauté skillet
- 1 Rubber Spatula
- 1 pair nitrile gloves or latex
- 1 slow cooker
Chicken for Filling
- 2 lb. chicken boneless and skinless thighs
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1½ each jalapeño depending on the size of the jalapeño or how spicy you want it, you can use more or less.
- ½ cup cilantro you could throw the whole sprig with the stem if you want
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. dried oregano
- 3 each dried bay leaves
- 1 each medium yellow onion large dice
- 1 19 ounce can red enchilada sauce
- 1 19 ounce can green enchilada sauce
Chicken and Cheese filling
- 2 lb. the above recipe, cooked chicken thighs
- 8 oz. diced green chiles you can use canned or roast and peel your own (instructions below)
- 8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 each salt and black pepper to taste
Building the Casserole
- 25 each corn tortillas white, blue, or yellow it's your choice
- 3-4 cup cooking liquid from the above chicken recipe
- 10 oz. shredded cheddar cheese you can add more if you want to
- 1 can pan release spray it makes it easier to get the casserole out of the pan, as well as easier to clean
Cooking the Chicken for the Filling
- Season the chicken thighs on both sides with salt, black pepper, oregano, chili powder, and cumin
- Heat the large sauté skillet on high, add the olive oil
- Add the chicken 3 pieces at a time, as to not crowd the pan
- Sear the chicken, controlling the heat so you don't burn it, turn over creating a brown delicious crust on both sides
- Remove the first 3 pieces and place in the slow cooker, repeat the process with the remaining chicken
- Once all of the chicken is seared, add some of the enchilada sauce to the skillet to deglaze any browned bits.
- When the liquid has come to a boil, pour enchilada sauce over the chicken in the cooker, scraping the pan clean.
- Add all of the remaining enchilada sauce to the slow cooker.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients from this step of the recipe to the slow cooker.
- Set the cooker to high for four hours.
Roasting and Peeling Green Chilis
- Place 3 Anaheim fresh green chilis (or hatch New Mexico chilis, Colorado Pueblo green chilis) in a bowl with about a teaspoon of cooking oil, rub them with the oil
- Turn on your gas burner, using kitchen tongs carefully place the chili onto direct flame moving until charred evenly on all sides, ( if you have electric you could place the chilis onto a roasting pan into a 400℉ oven until the skin begins to char and loosen) .
- Place the charred chilis into a heat safe bowl, and cover with plastic wrap
- Place the bowl in the refrigerator until cool
- Remove the chilis and use you hands to peel the skins off and remove the stem and seeds
- Dice the prepared chilis into small pieces for your filling
Chicken and Cheese Filling
- Remove the chicken thighs from the cooking liquid and place in a mixing bowl
- Add the diced green chilis ( canned or fresh prepared) to the bowl
- Add the shredded cheddar cheese ( 8 ounces) to the bowl along with the cream cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and salt and black pepper to taste
- For this step I put on nitrile gloves and mix it up with my hands, pulling the chicken into bite sized pieces as I go (the chicken will be on the hot side so be careful, that's why I use the gloves)
Building the Casserole
- Preheat oven to375℉
- Spoon about a cup of the cooking liquid into the bottom of the 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan that has been sprayed with pan release
- Place 6 corn tortillas on top of the sauce 2 by 2
- place ⅓ of the filling mixture on top of the tortillas, drizzle with more cooking liquid, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar (from the 10 ounce portion)
- Place 8 corn tortillas on top of this layer and repeat the process of adding so cooking liquid, ⅓ of the filling mixture, and sprinkling shredded cheddar cheese
- Place 6 corn tortillas on top of this layer and repeat the process ending with 6 tortillas on the top
- spoon cooking liquid over the top and the remaining shredded cheddar cheese
- Place casserole in the preheated oven on the center rack
- Bake for 25 minutes, remove from oven
- Cut into desired portion and enjoy!
Storage/Reheating Chicken Enchilada Casserole
This casserole can be refrigerated as is, tightly covered, for up to 6 days. This recipe is great for portioning out in advance. Wrapped in plastic and frozen, it will last for up to 2 months. It can be quickly re-heated in the microwave until 165 degrees in the middle for a quick meal.