Easy cheesy chicken enchilada bake! Layer upon layer of deliciousness bakes into a creamy, cheesy mess of perfection. Serve over rice or in tortillas!
This is one incredible little dish of messy, wonderful, cheesy chicken enchilada perfection.
There is so much to love, it’s hard to know where to start. First of all, I have to mention that this glorious, flavorful casserole can be served in a hundred different ways.
over rice (or quinoa or cauliflower rice)
rolled up in enchiladas or burritos or tacos
straight up on its own
Also, the flavor from easy pantry ingredients is out of this world delicious. And other than a quick saute step (it’s important and I’ll tell you why in a sec!), it’s really, really easy to assemble and throw in the oven.
Already Dreaming of Leftovers
My husband, who ate this as a late night dinner hours after the rest of us, kept excitedly declaring how delicious it was the entire time he was eating it.
After about the 6th time, our eyes met in unspoken, somewhat hostile confrontation as we both realized there was going to be some serious infighing over the leftovers. #eachmanforhimself
He’s right, though. This cheesy chicken enchilada bake is otherworldly good. The flavors and layers build on each other to form one of the most spectacularly delicious casseroles of 2020.
I have to thank Haley, my valiant hair wonder woman, who typed up her recipe the last time I went to get my hair cut and handed it to me as I was walking out the door. It was one of those recipes I knew I’d make almost immediately. And I loved putting my own spin on it to amp up the flavors just a bit.
Let’s Talk About The Green SAuce
An important component of the recipe is the green sauce. Green salsa. Green enchilada sauce. Green guacamole salsa.
There are a lot of options here. My favorite variation is to use salsa verde (green salsa) on the bottom and the Herdez creamy green guacamole salsa on the top. Mild or medium, your choice.
The reason for the saute
If precooking or sauteing ingredients prior to throwing them in a casserole has you super annoyed, let me assure you that I always look for an out when a recipe calls for this step. So I feel you on this one.
But the quick saute of the peppers and onions is pretty important. Not only does it add a bit of extra flavor, but it also gives the vegetables a perfect fajita-type texture after the saute + oven cooking.
Same goes for the chicken. You’ve already dirtied a skillet for the veggies – so put it to good use and brown the seasoned chicken super fast on each side. Again, not only does this add flavor, flavor, flavor BUT it also seals in the juices of the chicken making it more tender after oven cooking (and makes the casserole less watery).
Layer Layer Layer
Once the vegetables and chicken get the flash-in-the-pan treatment, it’s all about the layers.
onions + peppers
more green sauce
At this point, you’ll cover and bake the casserole for 20-30 minutes. Less time for chicken breasts, more time if using chicken thighs. Then, uncover, smother with cheese, and return to the oven until bubbly, golden, and perfect. Sidenote: it makes me sad to say this, but you could easily leave this cheese-less if that’s your preference.
The trick, really, for baking this enchilada wonder is to time it just right so the chicken is perfectly cooked. Over cooking can make the chicken tough and dry.
Chicken thighs tend to be a bit more forgiving when over cooked – they also take longer to cook through fully. When using chicken breasts, I cook this casserole for 20 minutes covered with an additional 10 minutes uncovered and that seems to be perfect for my oven.
Each oven will differ in exact time and temperature (especially when taking into consideration the thickness/type of chicken used).
Meatless option: I think you could easily leave out the chicken and add another can of beans or chickpeas.
This chicken enchilada bake is cheesy and saucy and just so crazy good. As it rests, out of the oven, the sauce thickens up just a bit.
And there is plenty of sauce to make this the perfect dish for serving over rice.
Don’t be afraid to scoop all the way to the bottom to get your hands on those amazing peppers and onions and also fully access the available sauce.
Although this doesn’t fall into the category of a dump-and-go recipe, I think the quick first steps are very much worth it.
We loved the flavors so much, it doesn’t even seem like a hassle. It seems imperative. Important. Necessary. Which makes me happy to do it.
slow cooker suggestion
I haven’t tried it yet, but I think this could transition extremely well to a slow cooker meal. Follow all the steps in the recipe except layer the ingredients in a greased slow cooker instead of a baking dish. Maybe 4-5 hours on low? Yes, I’m liking that idea quite a lot.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or chicken breasts (I use thin cut)
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 medium bell peppers, cored and sliced into strips
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
1 can (15-ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese (or a combo)
Fresh, chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use coarse, kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch (or similar sized) baking dish. Spread one cup of the salsa verde (or guacamole salsa) in the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine all the seasoning mix ingredients. Pat the chicken dry. If using chicken breasts, cut them into thinner strips (similar to chicken tenderloin size or slightly larger). Sprinkle the seasoning mix evenly over the chicken (both sides). Set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet or saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until the onions and peppers start to soften, 3-4 minutes (they’ll cook a bit more in the oven). Spread the onions and peppers over the salsa in the pan.
Return the skillet to medium heat and add a drizzle of oil if the pan is dry. Add the chicken in a single layer (may need to do this in two batches) and cook for 30 – 60 seconds per side for some quick browning action – don’t overcook (the chicken will cook longer in the oven). Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a single layer over the vegetables.
Sprinkle the black beans over the chicken. Pour the remaining one cup salsa over the beans. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes (bake for 35 minutes in this step if using chicken thighs).
Uncover, sprinkle with cheese, and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Add time, as needed, for the chicken to fully cook through.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with fresh cilantro, and let rest for 10-15 minutes. The sauce will thicken as the casserole rests. Serve over rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, etc OR serve in tortillas (or roll up in burritos or enchiladas). Serve with additional toppings/garnishes as desired: avocados, fresh lime wedges, sour cream, additional cheese, tomatoes, etc.
Salsa Verde: this recipe is pretty adaptable for what kind of sauce to use. The best variation I’ve tried is salsa verde (I use Trader Joe’s brand) on the bottom of the dish and the creamy guacamole salsa (Herdez brand) over the top. I think green enchilada sauce could work equally well, too.
Slow Cooker: I haven’t tried it yet, but I think this could transition extremely well to a slow cooker meal. Follow all the steps in the recipe except layer the ingredients in a greased slow cooker instead of a baking dish. Maybe 4-5 hours on low? Yes, I’m liking that idea quite a lot.
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Recipe Source: adapted from a recipe my resident hair expert, Haley M., gave me