What Is a Mexican Chicken Casserole?

Dan Harkins

Tortillas have been featured prominently in Mexican cuisine for millennia, dating back to Mayan times — from simple tacos and burritos to more complex quesadillas and enchiladas. This latter recipe is perhaps the most popular way to make a Mexican chicken casserole in 2011, involving a long row of corn or flour tortillas that are wrapped, burrito-like, around a chicken filling and then doused in a red- or green-chile-based enchilada sauce and more cheese before baking. A few different configurations are possible, including one that is lasagna-like and another that takes on a Southern flavor for a decidedly Tex-Mex profile.

Flour tortillas are often used in Mexican chicken casserole.
Flour tortillas are often used in Mexican chicken casserole.

The enchilada started appearing in Mexican culinary literature in the early 19th century, after independence in 1821. It appears to be more of a standard of American-influenced Tex-Mex cuisine, using not just chicken but also shrimp, pork or other meats with equally delectable effects. The distinctive and complex, tomato-based chile sauce needed for this meal is readily available in Mexican and even American markets, typically labeled as "enchilada sauce." Also crucial is that the filling of this Mexican chicken casserole be prepared with a healthy infusion of chiles — from green or red varieties. The word "enchilada" actually means "stuffed with chile," so the more the better.

Mexican chicken casseroles usually start with well-seasoned poultry.
Mexican chicken casseroles usually start with well-seasoned poultry.

Food Network chef Tyler Florence uses five whole green chiles and four chipotle chiles spread across a recipe for 16 enchiladas. Seasoned chicken is grilled or sauteed in broth and chiles, then set aside to be shredded. The leftover broth then forms the foundation for the rest of the filling ingredients like more chopped fresh chiles, tomatoes, garlic, onion and a light dusting of flour.

Once the chicken filling is done, the rest is mere assembly. Enchilada sauce is spread on the bottom of a casserole dish, followed by a row of little burritos of the chicken filling along with other ingredients like refried beans, cheese and some enchilada sauce. This Mexican chicken casserole is then coated in enchilada sauce and a medley of cheeses. The flavors will be well-melded in about a half-hour at 350°F (about 177°C).

Other variations of this Mexican chicken casserole take on a slight different look. One recipe at the My Recipes Web site makes three layers of a cheesy chicken enchilada filling with rows of corn tortillas, all of which is topped with more cheese and crushed tortilla chips. The baking time and temperature is the same for enchiladas, though. Yet another Mexican chicken casserole comes courtesy of Food Network star Paula Deen. This is perhaps one of the more Americanized versions, with the cheese sauce inside the casserole composed of equal parts cream of chicken, cream of mushroom and cheddar cheese soup, with shredded cheddar on top for the final cholesterol-soaked layer.

Robust salsa is a perfect accompaniment to a savory Mexican chicken casserole.
Robust salsa is a perfect accompaniment to a savory Mexican chicken casserole.

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