One Whole Chicken, 2 meals Part 1: Chicken Enchilads with Easy Enchilada Sauce

One 5-pound chicken can get you two meals for a family of four: First, today’s recipe for chicken enchiladas with a super easy enchilada sauce and, with the leftover chicken, spicy chicken tinga tostadas (recipe coming next week).

Chicken enchiladas garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced olives, chopped onions and drizzled with sour cream were my family’s comfort food when I was growing up. Mom would make a huge pan of them, enough for leftovers, and sometimes even an extra pan to freeze so we could pull it out and pop it in the oven when the craving struck.

Mom’s enchiladas were so popular, she would sometimes sell pans of them to co-workers for a little extra cash around the holidays. And whenever someone became a new mother, a pan would find its way into their homes.

In our house, California chile powder was used for everything from quick red pan sauces (like today’s homemade enchilada sauce) to ranchero sauce for chiles rellenos and huevos rancheros, and often with the addition of New Mexico chile powder, for moles, chile colorado, and to season soups like albondigas and pozole.

Either singly or in combination, California and New Mexico chile powders was how I learned to cook many of my family’s Mexican recipes. I still do, too, especially when I’m making a mid-week meal after a long day of work and simply can’t afford the extra 30 minutes to deseed, toast, rehydrate and blend dried chiles.

In fact, making this homemade red enchilada sauce the other night reminded me so much of my youth. You know, that wonderful feeling of being home, cared for and nurtured? Yeah, that feeling. Like getting a virtual hug from mom.

It all starts with the chicken

Every Mexican household has a slight variation on how to boil a chicken but they all start with the basics: white onion, garlic, salt and bay leaf. From there, some might add cloves, Mexican cinnamon (canela), cilantro stems, epazote (a bitter Mexican herb), allspice, cumin seeds or black peppercorns. Sometimes I’ll add carrots and celery if I’m using the broth for soup.

Today, we’re keeping it simple: a whole white onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, salt, and whole black peppercorns go into a large stock pot with enough water to cover the chicken by 2 inches. This gets brought to a boil, then the heat is reduced to a simmer. Foam is skimmed off frequently during the first 20 minutes, after which, the amount of foam should dissipate. A 5-pound chicken on medium heat should be falling off the bone tender in about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chicken is cooking, you can attend to the garnishes: Grate the cheese, shred iceberg lettuce, chop onions and cilantro. Place each of these into small containers, cover and keep in the refrigerator until it’s time to garnish.

Once the chicken is cooked, carefully remove to a plate. Strain the broth, tossing out the onion, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns; some of the reserved broth will be used for the enchilada sauce, the leftover can be stored in the refrigerator for three or four days to be used for soups or to cook grains or it can be frozen for future stock needs.

While you wait for the chicken to cool, make the enchilada sauce. It starts with a “roux” of oil, flour and California chile powder. Typically, a roux is equal amounts of fat and flour (by weight, not volume) cooked to the desired color of brown to help thicken, flavor and color classic sauces.

In Mexican pan sauces that start with a roux, it’s usually oil and chile powder though we sometimes add a little flour for more body. We also don’t get particularly finicky about the exact amounts. I proudly come from a family of cooks who used a little of this and a little of that and a tablespoon was a spoon from the mismatched dinner flatware and a cupful was often what ever coffee cup was closest (this makes for a lot of fun in transcribing family recipes!).

"I proudly come from a family of cooks who used a little of this and a little of that and a tablespoon was a spoon from the mismatched dinner flatware and a cupful was often what ever coffee cup was closest."

As soon as the roux has deepened to a dark brick color, in goes tomato sauce, a few spices and chicken stock until you get the consistency of a slightly loose smooth commercial tomato sauce.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Remove the meat from the bones and shred, tearing the meat with your hands or using two forks if it’s still too warm to handle. Don’t shred it too finely – you want to keep some texture to the chicken bits.

Divide the shredded chicken into two bowls, allowing one bowl to cool completely before covering and refrigerating for another meal (like next week’s Chicken Tinga Tostadas!).

A few words on typical Mexican enchiladas

First of all, Mexicans don't use flour tortillas for enchiladas; they get gummy sitting around in sauce. Secondly, I've seen too many recipes that instruct you to fill your warmed tortillas, roll them and then spoon the sauce over, what is essentially, rolled tacos.

Proper enchiladas are made with the tortillas flash fried, dipped into the warm sauce then the tortillas are filled and rolled. The flash frying helps the tortilla stay intact once it’s married to the sauce and the dipping of the tortilla in the sauce ensures that the interior of the enchilada isn’t dry, that extra enchilada sauce coating the inside of the tortilla gives the filling a sumptuousness that a dry tortilla just can't compete with. It really makes the different between an okay enchilada and a memorable one.

OK! Ready to eat? Get to it!

Chicken Enchiladas with Easy Enchilada Sauce

Serves 4 (three enchiladas a serving); plus extra chicken for another use


For the chicken:
1 (5-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded, chicken rinsed
1 large white onion, peeled and cut in half cross-wise so the root and top holds each half together
2 bay leaves
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

For the sauce:
¼ cup canola oil, plus ¼ cup more for frying the tortillas when ready to assemble
¼ cup California chile powder
2 tablespoons flour
8 ounces tomato sauce (I prefer Hunts brand which has no added sugar)
¼ teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Knorr’s chicken bouillon 
1 cup chicken stock, plus more as needed (from the freshly cooked chicken)

For assembly:
12 corn tortillas
Prepared sauce
Prepared and shredded chicken
2 cups shredded Monterrey jack cheese

To garnish:
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Chopped white onions
Chopped cilantro
Sliced black olives
Sliced avocado
Mexican crema or sour cream
Extra enchilada sauce


Cook the chicken: Place everything for the chicken into a large stock pot, covering the chicken with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Occasionally skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the chicken is fork tender. Remove chicken to a plate and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin. De-bone, then coarsely shred the chicken pieces either tearing by hand or using two forks to pull the meat apart. Don’t shred too finely, you want to maintain some texture in the chicken. Divide the shredded chicken into two bowls; allow one bowl to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for later use. Set aside the other half for this recipe. Strain the stock, reserving 1 to 1 ½ cups for the sauce and, once completely cooled,  storing the rest in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

Make the sauce: Heat ¼ cup of oil in a skillet. Once shimmering, add chile powder and flour, whisking to incorporate. Cook until the mixture is dark red, about 1 minute, whisking continuously. Whisk in the tomato sauce, oregano, cumin, garlic powder and bouillon and the stock from the chicken you made in the first step. Use more stock as needed to maintain the consistency of commercial tomato sauce. Turn off heat and set aside.

Prep the tortillas: Heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Using tongs, dip a tortilla into the hot oil and fry for 20 seconds on each side. Remove to a paper lined plate; repeat with remaining tortillas.

Assemble the enchiladas: Have a dinner plate ready. Create a work station with the shredded chicken, shredded cheese, sauce and tortillas in front of you. Dip a tortilla into the sauce, submerging it so it’s fully coated and place the tortilla onto a dinner plate. Fill with a handful of shredded chicken (about 2 tablespoons) and some of the cheese. Either roll or fold the tortilla in half. Repeat two more times on the same plate; then start with a fresh plate until you’ve served four plates with three enchiladas on each. Serve immediately, allowing each diner to garnish with their favorite combination of toppings.

Store any leftover enchilada sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator after it’s cooled completely.

What to do with leftover Enchilada sauce:

  • Smoother cooked ground beef in it to make a filling for tacos.
  • Spoon it over fried eggs.
  • Make it into a ranchero sauce by cooking sliced onions, sliced green bell peppers and chopped tomatoes then adding the sauce and thinning it with some chicken stock to make a soupy sauce to ladle over eggs for huevos rancheros or over stuffed poblano peppers for chiles rellenos.

Until next time … !Buen Provecho!
xo, ani


  1. Pinned to my comfort food board. looking forward to pleasing my husband-and me!-with these recipes. Thanks for the pointer about flash frying the tortillas. Mine always crack and look awful.

    1. I am so pleased! I hope you like this. It's so easy and I think, quite tasty!

  2. We loved it! I used the leftover sauce as you recommended, mixing it with ground beef for tacos another time. The sauce freezes well. I think next time I'll add a little more chicken stock to think it out.


Post a Comment