Chicken enchiladas are one of the most popular casserole dishes in my hometown. This predilection is understandable since enchiladas are wonderfully comforting and a great way to feed a crowd of people. Growing up, beef and bean enchiladas appeared regularly on our dinner table and I still think there are few things more filling or comforting. These days, I prefer chicken to beef and I don’t fry the tortillas in oil before filling them as my mom did (they do taste better that way, but it just takes so long!). But these differences aside, enchiladas are definitely still a favorite at our dinner table and the recipe below is my tried and true favorite. This recipe is almost extremely versatile since any kind of sauce can be used (red, green, canned, jarred, homemade) and just about any filling (beans, vegetables, beef, pork, etc.).
Here I’ve chosen to use chicken and red sauce in this version because I wanted to compare these enchiladas to a frozen variety that I found in the freezer section. The frozen enchiladas are made by Stouffer’s and have a shredded chicken filling with a red sauce, are served over mexican rice and topped with cheese sauce. I couldn’t quite figure out how to copy that configuration exactly, so I just made my regular recipe with a chicken and cheese filling and red sauce. Although homemade enchiladas are delicious, they are a bit time consuming with all the shredding, slicing, filling and rolling so I wondered if frozen enchiladas could possibly be an easier alternative that I would consider using. Here’s my favorite enchilada recipe with a description of how it compared to the frozen variety:
- 1/2 Tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed and thinly sliced
- 3 cups red enchilada sauce, canned or homemade (recipe follows)
- 12 corn tortillas
- 2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken (from a roasted chicken or about 1 pound chicken breasts, broiled)
- 2 cups Colby Jack cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 375º. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temp.
- Pour about 1 cup enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch dish and spread to coat the dish evenly. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add one tortilla to the skillet and heat for a few seconds on each side or until it is soft and pliable. Quickly layer 1/4 cup shredded chicken, 2 Tablespoons shredded cheese and 2 Tablespoons of the onion and pepper mixture down the middle of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla up and place, seam side down, in the casserole dish coated with enchilada sauce. Repeat until all 12 tortillas have been used and casserole dish is full.
- Pour the remaining 2 cups of enchilada sauce on top of the enchiladas and spread evenly so all the tortillas are well covered. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Place dish in the preheated oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. Sprinkle chopped cilantro and green onions over the top just before serving.
- 2 Tablespoons canola oil
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic, pepper, flour and tomato paste and stir create a thick paste. Slowly whisk in the broth continue whisking until the sauce is smooth. Stir in salt.
- Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. If any lumps of flour remain, strain sauce through a fine mesh seive before using. Taste for seasonings and add extra salt if needed.
I did use homemade sauce in this recipe because I wanted these to truly be made from scratch enchiladas for the sake of comparison. However, I often resort to using the canned stuff if I don’t have the time or inclination for simmering up a batch of sauce. Either way works, but I would recommend trying homemade sauce at some point, it really is wonderfully flavorful and quite easy to make.
So, for the taste comparison. Unsurprisingly, the homemade enchiladas won by a landslide. The frozen enchiladas were described as “dry”, “bland” and “chewy”. We really couldn’t even taste the chicken or distinguish where the tortillas ended and the filling began. The box claimed that these enchiladas had chicken and “vegetables” but all we could see of vegetables were some small flecks of red and green. While the frozen enchiladas weren’t inedible by any means, they certainly did not come close to the melty, saucy, flavorful goodness of homemade.
I was also surprised by how long the frozen enchiladas took to cook. While they can be prepared in the microwave very speedily, I was worried that preparing them that way would make the comparison too uneven. Microwaved frozen food rarely has an edible texture. Cooking them in the oven took 1 hour and 15 minutes, much longer than homemade enchiladas. Even with preparing the sauce from scratch, the homemade enchiladas took just about the same time as frozen, although that does include a lot more hands-on preparation time.
Considering the cost of chicken, cheese and produce these days, I was expecting the homemade enchiladas to be more expensive than the frozen. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were almost identical in price with the homemade enchiladas costing only a few cents more per serving.
Bottom Line: Frozen enchiladas were dry, flavorless and lacking in spice. They also took a long time to bake and cost almost as much as enchiladas made from scratch. Homemade enchiladas are definitely worth the extra effort and a small additional cost.