AMERICA’S BEST CASSEROLE COMES FROM MEXICO
Americans love a good casserole. Tuna noodle, turkey tetrazzini, shepherd’s pie…the list goes on. The appeal is clear: You get a meal from a single dish that bakes unattended. But the truth is most casseroles are stodgy affairs that require a ton of prep work or shortcuts from a can. No thanks.
For us, the ideal casserole would require no more than an hour to get a baking dish into the oven and the results would be remarkable. While we don’t usually think of enchiladas as a casserole, this dish does meet the definition. (Corn tortillas are the “starch” that holds the saucy filling.)
Enchiladas with red sauce start with dried chiles, making them a project. But enchiladas verdes rely on fresh chiles so the prep is easier. The tomatillos and poblanos must be broiled, but otherwise the sauce requires no cooking—it comes together in a food processor. Sure, the chicken must be poached, but this is mostly hands-off work and some poaching liquid ends up flavoring the green chile sauce. Along with the chicken, the filling is simple—just shredded pepper Jack cheese (with flavor already built in) and minced cilantro.
One thing you can’t finesse is the assembly process. The tortillas must be oiled, warmed, filled, and then placed in a baking dish already coated with green sauce. More green sauce goes on top to keep the tortillas from drying out. Covering the baking dish with foil ensures that the tortillas soften and everything heats up quickly. As with many Mexican dishes, the garnishes are not optional. Sliced radishes provide crunch, sliced scallions add allium flavor, and sour cream cools things down. No one will ever call this casserole stodgy.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Broad, dark green poblano chiles have a mild to moderate heat and a deep herbal flavor that make them an ideal choice for this sauce; fresh tomatillos offer an unmistakable tangy flavor.
Traditional recipes dry-roast whole tomatillos and poblanos on the stovetop using a cast-iron griddle-like vessel known as a comal; dry roasting imparts smokiness and concentrates flavor, all the while wicking away excess moisture that makes for a watery sauce. We broil the vegetables for similar results.
Poach the Chicken
We poach the chicken in chicken broth spiked with sautéed onion, garlic, and cumin. The chicken becomes infused with flavor and the broth absorbs meaty flavor and richness from the chicken. When it’s cool, we shred the chicken for the filling.
Puree and Sweeten Lightly
For a sauce with a coarse, rustic texture, we pulse the tomatillos and poblanos in a food processor; a little of the doctored chicken broth thins the sauce. A dash of sugar tempers the tartness of the sauce without making it taste overtly sweet.
The gooey richness of some cheese in the filling balances the bright tang of the sauce and let’s face it—cheese does make this dish very appealing. We shred pepper Jack and add just enough to the chicken for a mildly spicy kick and then sprinkle a little more over the top of the casserole.
Oil, Warm, Then Roll
Traditionally, corn tortillas are dipped in hot oil to make them pliable. We recommend a less messy method: Spray the tortillas with vegetable oil spray and gently bake them for a few minutes. They’ll turn soft and warm and won’t tear or split once you add the filling and roll them up.
We rethink this classic recipe with new ways to char the vegetables and soften the tortillas.
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 30 minutes to poach chicken (when done, reserve ¼ cup broth and refrigerate chicken)
- 20 minutes to broil tomatillos and poblanos and make green sauce (start this while chicken is poaching)
- 10 minutes to shred chicken and combine with cheese and cilantro
- 15 minutes to warm tortillas and assemble enchiladas
- 15 to 20 minutes to bake enchiladas
- Medium saucepan with lid for cooking chicken
- Tongs for handling chicken
- Rimmed baking sheet for broiling tomatillos and chiles and warming tortillas
- Food processor for making green sauce
- Box grater for shredding cheese
- 13 by 9-inch baking dish
- Aluminum foil for covering baking dish and lining baking sheet
Substitutions & Variations
- You can substitute three 11-ounce cans tomatillos, drained and rinsed, for the fresh ones in this recipe.
- If you can’t find poblanos, substitute four large jalapeño chiles (with seeds and ribs removed).
Halve large tomatillos (more than 2 inches in diameter) and place them skin side up for broiling in step 2 to ensure even cooking and charring. To increase the spiciness of the sauce, reserve some of the chiles’ ribs and seeds and add them to the food processor in step 4. Be sure to cool the chicken filling before filling the tortillas; a hot filling will make the enchiladas soggy.
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1½ cups chicken broth
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
- 1½ pounds tomatillos (16 to 20 medium), husks and stems removed, rinsed well and dried
- 3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved, and seeded
- 1–2½ teaspoons sugar
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 8 ounces pepper Jack or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
- Vegetable oil spray
- 2 scallions, sliced thin
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Sour cream
- Adjust 1 oven rack to middle position and second rack 6 inches from broiler element; heat broiler. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in cumin and two-thirds of garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Decrease heat to low and stir in broth. Add chicken, cover, and simmer until it registers 160 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking. Transfer chicken to large bowl; place in refrigerator to cool, about 20 minutes. Measure out ¼ cup broth and set aside; discard remaining liquid.
- Meanwhile, toss tomatillos and poblanos with remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Arrange tomatillos cut side down and poblanos skin side up on aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil on upper rack until vegetables blacken and start to soften, 5 to 10 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through broiling.
- Remove tomatillos and poblanos from oven, let cool slightly, then remove skins from poblanos (leave tomatillo skins intact). Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees. Discard foil from sheet and set sheet aside for warming tortillas.
- Transfer vegetables, along with any accumulated juices, to food processor. Add 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, remaining garlic, and reserved cooking liquid to food processor and pulse until sauce is somewhat chunky, about 8 pulses. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and adjust tartness by stirring in remaining sugar, ½ teaspoon at a time; set aside.
- When chicken is cool, use 2 forks to shred into bite-size pieces. Combine chicken with cilantro and 1½ cups pepper Jack; season with salt to taste.
- Spread ¾ cup tomatillo sauce evenly over bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Place tortillas in single layer on 2 baking sheets. Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with vegetable oil spray. Bake until tortillas are soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Place warm tortillas on counter and spread ⅓ cup chicken filling down center of each tortilla. Roll each tortilla tightly and place in baking dish, seam side down. Pour remaining tomatillo sauce over top of enchiladas and spread into even layer so that it coats top of each tortilla. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup pepper Jack and cover tightly with foil.
- Bake enchiladas on lower rack until heated through and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with scallions, and serve immediately, passing radishes and sour cream separately.
A Better Way to Prepare Fresh Chiles
Many cooks don’t realize that most of the heat resides in the seeds and white ribs that line the inside of every fresh chile. We find it best to separate the flavorful flesh from these spicy components. Once you’ve done this you can mince the flesh by simply cutting the chile into thin strips and then turning the knife 90 degrees to cut across the strips to yield a fine mince. Don’t throw out the seeds and ribs. They can be minced and reserved. Taste the dish just before serving and add some of the minced seeds and ribs if desired. Finally, it’s a good idea to wear gloves when working with very hot chiles. If you don’t have gloves, avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your fingertips and make sure to wash well as soon as chile prep is completed.
1). Using sharp knife, trim and discard stem end. Slice chile in half lengthwise.
2). Use small measuring spoon to scrape out seeds and white ribs along inside of chile. Reserve seeds and ribs if desired. Prepare seeded chile as directed in recipes.
America’s Test Kitchen 100 Recipes
The Absolute Best ways to Make The True Essentials