Cinco de Mayo Spicy Chicken Enchiladas Recipes are in high demand and this Three Cheese Chipotle version is topping the ‘popular list!‘
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Spicy Chicken Enchiladas Recipes: Three Cheese Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas
Mexican cuisine and its Tex-Mex progeny are among America’s favorite ethnic foods. They’re also super easy to assemble and definitely ‘on-budget’ if you’re feeding a crowd!
Today’s Three Cheese Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas is a colorful and delicious finished dish. It holds its position at the tippy top of the Best Spicy Chicken Enchiladas Recipes of All Time most popular list!
The basis for the enchiladas begins with warmed corn tortillas and a single shredded chicken breast. You could of course, use flour tortillas if preferred, and leftover rotisserie chicken is also a great option if on hand.
In lieu of homemade enchilada sauce, I am using three varieties of cheese combined with chipotle peppers in adobe to create a masterful sauce to top the enchiladas. Monterey Jack, Smoked Gruyere, and Cheddar cheese offer up smokey yet mild cheesy goodness to offset the chipotle’s heat.
Sour cream, green chilies, guacamole, green onions, and fresh cilantro are offered tableside for extra va va voom and garnish. I like to serve with seasoned black beans over rice for a delicious dinner on busy weeknights.
Do You Have What’s Needed for a Batch of Three Cheese Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas? Check the List!
- vegetable oil
- a large chicken breast
- Kosher salt
- black pepper
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- dried oregano
- smoked paprika
- corn tortillas
- chicken stock
- a large sweet onion
- fresh garlic cloves
- a can of chipotles in adobo
- heavy cream
- a sachet of dry ranch seasoning
- unsalted butter
- all-purpose flour
- sour cream
- Monterey Jack cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- smoked Gruyere cheese
- fresh cilantro
- green onions
How This Recipe Came About…
I did not grow up familiar with Mexican food or Tex-Mex of any kind. We just didn’t have all that many Mexican restaurants in New Jersey.
Upon moving south however, Mexican cuisine was not only prevalent, but rather exclusive in some parts of the Lowcountry. And for me, well I owned maybe a jar of chili powder which represented the extent of my knowledge of Mexican cooking.
The more I engaged with new friends in my community, the more often I was introduced to this favorite cuisine. It seemed like every backyard barbecue I was invited to join offered up somebody’s version of a favorite chicken enchilada recipe or appetizer involving refried beans.
I finally asked a dude who came bearing a potluck masterpiece one day if he would mind giving me his easy chicken enchiladas recipe. It seriously bowled guests over the moment he placed the warm casserole down on the buffet.
He referenced it being called creamy buffalo chicken enchiladas and said his ex taught him how to make them. I did some tweaking at home to incorporate smoke on two fronts, giving an already creamy and cheesy dish a subtle smoky nuance in every forkful.
How Do You Keep Enchiladas from Getting Soggy?
There are a couple of tricks you can pull from your sleeve when making enchiladas of any kind. Both will prevent your enchiladas from becoming soggy and the tortillas from breaking down.
In the recipe card, I specify corn tortillas. A lot of the time, I hear folks say they do not like to use corn tortillas because they get soggy and fall apart.
Frying Corn Tortillas in the smallest amount of vegetable oil before you fill them is key to the finished product retaining its shape. The hot oil sears the tortilla creating a short-lived barrier between the wrapper and the sauce intended for it, and even plays a roll in crisping the edges up deliciously.
Baking the Enchiladas Without Sauce also aids in maintaining the integrity and shape of the enchiladas. In this method, I specify baking the casserole filled with enchiladas for 30 minutes, fewer than 20 of which are without the cheesy chipotle sauce.
Instead, I keep the sauce warm while the casserole bakes, pouring it over the enchiladas ONLY for the final 5 minutes. Then, I set the oven to broil to brown the cheese sauce slightly before removing from the oven to serve.
Are Enchiladas Better with Corn Tortillas or Flour Tortillas?
Yellow corn tortillas hold up well in enchilada recipes as compared to flour tortillas. That, and flour tortillas simply do not have that authentic Mexican flavor that this finished dish requires.
That said, there are those who will blast me for suggesting that flour tortillas are not as good, but to each his own. If you are a seasoned enchilada eater and enjoy flour, stick then by all means with flour.
If, however you are trying this for the first time, take my recommendation and purchase YELLOW CORN TORTILLAS for this recipe. Something magical happens to corn as it heats and there simply is no comparison with flour tortillas.
How Do You Roll Enchiladas Without Breaking the Tortillas?
As I mentioned earlier in this post, we’re going to gently fry the corn tortillas in a scant amount of vegetable oil to get them pliable. You will not be browning them or even crisping them, you’ll just want them oiled and hot enough to roll.
Another way I have observed corn tortillas being softened is to moisten the corn tortillas with a bit of store-bough enchilada sauce. Brushing both sides with sauce using a pastry brush, they absorb just enough sauce to make them pliable and prevent cracking as they are being rolled.
Since this recipe does not use jarred enchilada sauce, you’d need to purchase it in addition to the ingredients listed above. However, you will see in the below recipe card, I walk you through frying versus applying enchilada sauce, so there is no need to purchase UNLESS you prefer NOT to fry.
In Terms of Spicy Chicken Enchiladas Recipes, Just How Spicy Are These Enchiladas?
Purchase a tiny can of chipotles in adobo sauce. There are as many as eight peppers in each can.
I dump the can into a freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid and fish out just a single pepper. I dice it super fine and am sure to incorporate a tablespoon or so of the adobo sauce with it.
That is as far as I go. I have eaters who are not hot and spicy and a single chipotle pepper is heat enough for us in this spicy chicken enchiladas recipe.
That said, you’ve got an entire can! My recommendation is to taste as you go!!!
An amount of the finely chopped pepper and adobo sauce will be incorporated into the hot chicken filling, while another amount will be stirred directly into the warm cheese sauce. Taste as you go to address the need for additional heat even if it means adding in several small additions.
How to Make Three Cheese Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas?
Preparing the Chicken
Heat your oven to 450°F and spray a aluminum foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Place a large chicken breast on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a mixture of Kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, some dried oregano, and the key ingredient, smoked paprika.
Bake the chicken uncovered in the FULLY PREHEATED OVEN until the internal temperature reads 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. This process takes about 20 minutes but can vary from oven to oven.
Remove the finished breast from the oven and wrap it loosely right in the foil it baked on. Allow it to rest for 8 to 10 minutes before grabbing two forks and shredding the breast right on the foil.
Softening the Yellow Corn Tortillas
Begin by adding vegetable oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Ensure the oil is shimmering before adding a couple of the yellow corn tortillas the pan.
Fry them on each side for just about 30 to 45 seconds before carefully transferring to a plate. Finish all of the tortillas this way, adding teaspoonfuls of oil to the skillet as needed.
Assembling the Enchiladas
Heat oven to 350°F. Use cooking spray to coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch casserole or glass baking dish.
To the skillet used to fry the tortillas, add a tablespoon of oil and a single large chopped sweet onion. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the onion is softened and then toss in several cloves of chopped garlic.
After the garlic becomes fragrant, add the shredded chicken, half of the finely chopped chipotle and adobo sauce, half a cup of chicken stock, and half a cup of heavy cream. Allow the mixture to bubble before adding a couple tablespoons of dry ranch seasoning and whisking to incorporate.
TASTE! If you need additional heat, increase the chopped chipotle and adobo sauce by teaspoon increments until you are where you need to be for your eaters. Keep in mind you will have chopped chipotles in the cheese sauce, too so add sparingly.
Making the Cheesy Enchilada Sauce
In a separate large saucepan, melt some butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted and begins to foam, sprinkle some all-purpose flour over the surface and cook, whisking for several minutes until the mixture is crumbly in texture and appears golden in color.
Whisk in the remaining chicken broth and the other half of the chopped chipotle pepper and adobo sauce. Reduce the heat slightly and whisk in heavy cream, some sour cream, and additional ranch seasoning.
It’s at this point that you will load the sauce with cheese; 3/4 cups of Monterey Jack, 1/2 cup Cheddar, and 1/4 cup smoked Gruyere.
TASTE! If you need additional heat, increase the chopped chipotle and adobo sauce by teaspoon increments until you are where you need to be for your eaters. Keep in mind that you have already added chopped chipotles to the chicken filling, so add sparingly.
Assembling for the Bake
At this juncture, toss all of the remaining shredded cheeses together in a large bowl and place beside your prepared casserole dish. Place a tortilla in one hand and use the other to spoon some chicken mixture in a line right down the center of each tortilla.
Top with a pinch of cheese and roll the tortilla around the filling. Place enchiladas seam side down in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Pro Tip: Use a spoon to ‘draw’ a line in the pan, halving the chicken mixture. Then, halve each half. From each quadrant, equally spoon one third of the filling into each tortilla. Portioning the chicken ahead of filling the tortillas ensures each enchilada is more or less filled evenly and there is no filling remaining.
Bake the enchiladas for 15 to 18 minutes. If the tortillas smell toasty, with a few browned or darkened spots, you’re doing it right.
Pull the casserole from the oven. Pour the still warm cheese sauce over the enchiladas.
If any shredded cheeses remain, sprinkle them over the sauce. Pop back into the hot oven to heat for 5 minutes. Turn your oven’s broil feature on and allow the cheese to bubble and slightly brown, about 3 to 5 minutes more.
Serving These Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
Plate up a couple of enchiladas and be sure to spoon some extra cheese sauce atop each. Then garnish with fresh cilantro or chopped green onion. I also like to offer diced red onion, sour cream, and homemade guacamole tableside.
Modifying the Norm to Make It Not Entirely Average…
Have leftover chicken from previous chicken recipes or a grocery store rotisserie? Measure out 2 1/2 cups of the already conveniently cooked stuff and add it in lieu of the shredded chicken breast in the first part of this method.
Swap out smoked shredded short rib or ground beef with a pinch of taco seasoning added to the mix for hearty beef enchiladas. Beef enchiladas are a great way to use up leftover short rib, smoked brisket, or even shredded pork shoulder.
Alternate or additional toppings can also include warm or hot salsa, a cup of buffalo wing sauce, or mild and slightly salty queso blanco. Be imaginative, but taste as you go to ensure a quality and tasty finished product.
Chicken Enchilada Recipe with Three Cheese Chipotle Sauce
- large skillet
- 9 x 13-inch baking dish
- aluminum foil
- baking sheet
- cooking spray
for the shredded chicken
- 1 (8 to 10) ounce chicken breast
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika hot or sweet
for the enchiladas
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
- 12 8-inch yellow corn tortillas
- 2 cups chicken stock homemade if available
- 1 large sweet onion diced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic fresh; chopped
- 1 can chipotles in adobo sauce finely chopped; NOTE: I use a single chipotle for this recipe, but you can go as hot as you like given each can contains 6 to 8 chipotles; freeze any unused chipotles in their sauce
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 ounce (a single sachet) dry ranch seasoning divided
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese shredded
- 1 cup Cheddar cheese shredded
- 1/4 cup smoked Gruyere cheese shredded
- cilantro fresh
- green onions fresh, chopped
cook the chicken
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. In a small bowl, combine Kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and smoked paprika. Mix well. Dry chicken very well with paper toweling and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with spice mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165°F and the juices are running clear. Remove from the oven and wrap in the foil it was baked on to let rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Use two forks to shred the chicken breast into very fine shreds, rewrap loosely in the foil, and set aside. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F.
for the enchiladas
- Spray cooking spray to coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch casserole or glass baking dish. Set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Ensure the oil is shimmering before adding tortillas the pan. Fry for 30 to 45 seconds, then flip and fry another 5 to 10 seconds. Remove to a plate and continue with the remaining tortillas. Do not brown or crisp the tortillas; they need only to be pliable for rolling.
- To the same skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and again bring to a shimmer of medium heat. Add in the onions and sauté for 2 to 3 until softened. Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the shredded chicken, half the finely chopped chipotle and adobo sauce, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and the heavy cream. Bring mixture to a bubble. Add 2 tablespoons of dry ranch seasoning and whisk to incorporate. TASTE! If you desire additional heat, increase the amount of chopped chipotle and adobo sauce in 1 teaspoon increments. Keep in mind you will have chopped chipotles in the cheese sauce, so add sparingly.
- In a separate large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle flour over the surface and cook, whisking for several minutes until the mixture is crumbly in texture and appears golden in color. Mixture will smell nutty, and the raw flour smell will be gone. Whisk in the remaining chicken broth and the other half of the chopped chipotle pepper and adobo sauce. Reduce the heat slightly and whisk in heavy cream, some sour cream, and additional ranch seasoning. Add 3/4 cups of Monterey Jack, 1/2 cup Cheddar, and 1/4 cup smoked Gruyere cheeses and whisk to incorporate. TASTE! If you desire additional heat, increase the chopped chipotle and adobo sauce by 1 teaspoon increments. Keep in mind that you have already added chopped chipotles to the chicken filling, so add sparingly.
- Toss all of the remaining shredded cheeses together in a large bowl and place beside your prepared casserole dish. Place a tortilla in one hand and use the other to spoon some chicken mixture in a line right down the center of each tortilla. Top with a pinch of cheese and roll the tortilla around the filling. Place enchiladas seam side down in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining tortillas. Bake the enchiladas for 15 to 18 minutes. If the tortillas smell toasty, with a few browned or darkened spots, you're doing it right.
- Remove the casserole from the oven. Pour the cheese sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle any remaining shredded cheese over the sauce. Place back into the oven for 5 minutes. Turn your oven's broil feature on and allow the cheese to bubble and slightly brown, about 3 to 5 minutes more.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro or chopped green onion.