Chicken enchiladas are especially flavorful when made with homemade sauce and self-grated cheese. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Lots of people, especially young ones that I know, really enjoy putting together a supper of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas or stuffed quesadillas, using flour or cornmeal tortillas as a vehicle for meat and vegetables the way I remember my mom using noodles or potatoes in casseroles. I love tacos and happily stuff them with leftovers or freshly acquired burger, chicken or plain old refried beans.

Enchiladas have been a bit beyond my ken, so I thought it time to look more closely at how they are constructed because pictures of them look so delicious, and I know my household would like a dose of Tex-Mex from time to time. What I learned was that there are quickie versions and others that call for a little more effort.

Essentially, the main distinction among versions seems to lie in the sauce needed to bake the stuffed tortilla with. You can buy red or green enchilada sauce. Apparently tomato sauce with some added seasonings works, too. Still another way calls for a roux of flour and oil, with broth added to make a sauce seasoned with onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper.

For the chicken portion of the recipe, picking up a rotisserie chicken speeds the process, or maybe you have leftover roasted chicken to use. Cooking chicken breasts or thighs in a pressure cooker (instant pot, maybe?) or just in a pan on the stove produces the needful. No matter what, you shred the cooked chicken to fold into the tortillas with cheese, top it with the enchilada sauce, more cheese, and then 20 minutes of baking later, supper is ready.

Here’s what I did. I started with four chicken thighs, bone-in, because I had them. You can certainly use boneless if you prefer, or chicken breasts if you rather. I salted some water and put the thighs in it and brought it to a gentle simmer to poach them. About a half hour later, I pulled them out, let them cool, removed the skin and bones and put that back into the poaching liquid to cook a little longer. I shredded by hand, but you can use two forks to pull the meat apart.

The sauce took a quarter of a cup of olive oil and an equal amount of flour and in a large sauté pan, I cooked them together until it was bubbly, added chopped onion along with some pureed garlic, plus oregano, cumin, chili powder and some black pepper. I used the poaching liquid as my broth and added two cups of it to the roux, stirred it until it was smooth and added a little more broth to keep it thin enough to spread. I tasted it, and because I used salted poaching liquid, I thought it was fine. You might need to adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Once I went through the process, I thought, gosh, I ought to keep some cooked shredded chicken on hand all the time to turn into tacos—drop into the shell, add cheese, salsa, shredded carrot or chopped tomatoes, some lettuce, maybe sour cream; or onto a quesadilla—warm the tortilla on a pan, spread some shredded chicken, add cheese, fold it in half or top with another tortilla, serve with sour cream and salsa. You get the picture.

About the cheese: By now, you know I believe in Grate Your Own Darn Cheese. This recipe often calls for Tex-Mex cheese mixes, which usually consist of Monterey Jack, yellow cheddar, and sometimes mozzarella, all easily found in grocery stores. Here in Maine, we have cheese producers who add red pepper to Jack cheese, so you can easily add a little zip. If you pick up pre-grated cheese, remember the manufacturers add anti-clumping cellulose. Ugh. Grate your own and think of it as burning calories so you can eat more cheese.

One big variable here depends on the size tortilla you use. I had 8-inch flour tortillas, and had I used all of the ingredients, I would have ended up with 10 enchiladas. If I had used larger tortillas, obviously I’d produce fewer ones. My six enchiladas fed three of us, but one of us ate half of them. Plan accordingly.

I made enough enchilada sauce to assemble another supper. If you like this dish well enough to have it often, making a larger batch of sauce to have on hand makes it easy to toss together supper in a half hour or so. Because the sauce has no milk, it’s fine for special diets; and if made with vegetable broth, it would work with vegetable fillings for vegans.

My enchiladas were mild, some pepper Jack but nothing any hotter. If you like heat in your food, you can raise the temperature with chopped jalapenos or chilis in the enchiladas, or by adding red pepper to the sauce. Maybe a little heat would be welcome these chilly January days.

Chicken Enchiladas

To bake the enchiladas, fold the flour tortillas around the filling and place them face-side down in a pan, side by side. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Makes enough for ten enchiladas with 8-inch flour tortillas

4 chicken thighs or 2 breast halves or a combination

Lightly salted water or chicken broth to cover

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup flour

2 ½ cups broth

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, pureed, or more to taste

1 teaspoon cumin powder, or to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder or to taste, optional

2 cups grated pepper Jack or cheddar

8-10 small flour tortillas or fewer large ones

Put the chicken into the salted water or broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, test to see if it is thoroughly done and cook a little longer if necessary.

When done, remove from the cooking liquid, which you can use as a broth for the sauce.

Shred the chicken, removing bones and skin if necessary. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, put the oil and flour and stir over a medium heat, adding the onion, garlic and spices when the oil and flour mix is bubbly, and cook briefly stirring.

Add two cups of the broth and stir to make a sauce, adding more broth to keep the sauce loose enough to spread. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Warm the tortillas briefly while wrapped in foil or a dampened towel.

In a baking pan, spread a couple spoonfuls of the sauce.

Sprinkle shreds of chicken down the center of the tortillas followed by some shredded cheese.

Fold the tortillas around the filling, and place them seam-side down in the baking pan.

When the pan is full, spread more enchilada sauce over the top of the tortilla rolls, and sprinkle more cheese over that.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the oven until bubbly and golden on top.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...