The more I cook with tomatillos, the more I love them. Their tangy and grassy flavor pairs perfectly with green chili peppers making them a foundation for salsa verde or green sauce in Mexican cuisine. Like tomatoes, but not related, tomatillos taste great either fresh like in a raw salsa verde, or roasted and cooked. In this recipe, it is the tomatillo sauce that sets these chicken enchiladas apart.
Chicken Enchiladas with Verde Sauce
Simply put, I love this tomatillo sauce which I adapted from Rick Bayless, Roasted Tomatillo Sauce from More Mexican Everyday. As the title of the recipe link says, “It is a recipe to know by heart.” Once you get comfortable making tomatillo sauce you will want to make it repeatedly. Just like Poblano Chili Cream Sauce, it is easily adapted for recipes with eggs, cheese, or any grilled fish and meats.
Chicken enchiladas with a verde sauce is one of my favorite Mexican foods. Red chili sauces may have a more complex flavor, but I love the fresh and bright taste of fresh chilies when I cook with them. Fresh chilies make everything more invigorating and upbeat. I never feel heavy when I eat a meal prepared with a verde sauce, unless, of course, I loaded it up with extra cheese and sour cream. Normally I add avocado to all my Mexican inspired food, but the roasted tomatillo sauce is so satisfying, I do not miss the avocado.
Making chicken enchiladas is a great way to use up left over chicken as well. A rotisserie chicken from the store is also perfect for chicken enchiladas. You only need a shy 3 cups (750 ml) of shredded chicken to fill these enchiladas. Using precooked chicken frees up your time to make the tomatillo sauce and it is worth it. Sure, you could make a verde sauce from jarred salsa verde, but the taste won’t be as bright or have that personal touch of homemade food.
Additionally, you can fill enchiladas with just about anything that goes well with the sauce. You can easily substitute the chicken with shredded pork, cheese, fish, legumes, or other vegetables.
Chicken Enchiladas Variations
I adapted Rick Bayless’s chicken enchiladas recipe by adding more herbs and spices to the sauce. In addition, I mixed together sautéed onions and poblano peppers with the chicken filling. Originally, I set out to make chicken enchiladas with a verde sauce filled with shredded chicken and poblano rajas, but I pared down my original idea to reduce some of the prep work. Also, Rick Bayless recommends garnishing the enchiladas with raw onion slices. I do not enjoy eating raw onions, so I roasted onion slices and garnished the enchiladas with them instead.
For this recipe I recommend charring and peeling the skins off the poblano pepper. Charring the poblano pepper and removing the blistered skin adds a smoky flavor to the pepper and enchiladas. You can roast the poblano pepper when you roast the vegetables for the tomatillo sauce, but unlike the serrano chilies, it should be peeled, and seeds removed before you chop them up for the chicken filling. Peeling off the skin is not necessary, but it is a nice touch. If you are pressed for time, do not roast the poblano pepper, instead chop it up without peeling it, and sauté the pepper and onions together until soft but not browned.
The sauce carries some heat which I enjoy, but I realize not everyone does. If you are making the enchiladas for your family, or for people who do not like spicy food, substitute the Serrano peppers with half of a poblano pepper and roast it along with the tomatillos. You will need to peel off the skin before you purée the roasted vegetables. The sauce will taste bright from the poblano chili pepper, but the heat level will be significantly reduced.
Vegetarian Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
For vegetarian enchiladas, make the filling with 1½ cups (375 ml) of good melting cheese like Monterey Jack cheese or Cheddar cheese. Sauté a whole onion with a whole poblano pepper, cool slightly then mix with the grated cheese. Assemble the enchiladas as directed in the recipe. Black beans, kidney beans or white navy beans are a nice addition with the cheese and vegetables as well. Some cooked fish like tilapia, mahi mahi, or cod will taste great as a filling for enchiladas with the onions and poblano peppers. However, do not add cheese to fish enchiladas, or for the garnish.
Pointers for Success
Mise en Place – Prepare all the ingredients before you start cooking. This will help with the timing for making the sauce and assemble the enchiladas.
- Gather all ingredients and place the spices near your stove
- Slice and chop the onions then organize in three piles as you need them at three different stages. To save some time, roast the onion slices for the garnish along with the onions for the tomatillo sauce. When they are done, make sure you separate half an onion’s worth of the onion slices before you add the remaining sliced onions to the tomatillo sauce.
- Shred the chicken
- Grate the cheese
- Chop the cilantro
- Place the tortillas in a microwave safe plastic bag and set aside until needed.
- Pull out your baking dish or dishes, and set aside.
Assemble the enchiladas when all the ingredients are still hot from the stove. This cuts back on the cooking time and helps keep the enchiladas from falling apart. The longer the tortillas cook in the sauce the soggier they get.
Use the best quality tortillas you can buy. If possible buy tortillas from a tortilleria or Mexican market.
Microwave the tortillas when you are ready to assemble the enchiladas.
Microwave the tortillas in a plastic bag leaving an opening for some of the steam to escape. My tortillas got soggy after being heated in the microwave and sat in a sealed and steamy plastic bag. Rich Bayless recommends microwaving on high for one minute, but I think it was too long. You may need to experiment with the amount of time you need to heat the tortillas up.
Assemble the enchiladas a minute after you heat the tortillas. Any later and the tortillas will get soggy.
Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
Chicken enchiladas have such a bright and invigorating taste when paired with a verde sauce. Roasted tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic set the stage for the enchilada sauce. The tomatillo sauce is adapted from Rick Bayless, More Mexican Everyday, Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.
There are some specialty ingredients in this recipe. You can find tomatillos at well stocked grocery stores, Asian produce markets, or Mexican markets. The dried spices like epazote and Mexican oregano you can find at Mexican markets or on line. Epazote has a unique flavor that cannot be matched. If you cannot find epazote, add one bay leaf to the sauce then remove it before you assemble the enchiladas.
Bake the enchiladas in one large baking dish or individual dishes large enough to hold 2 enchiladas.
Best eaten right out of the oven.
- 1 lb. tomatillos
- 4-5 garlic cloves peel intact
- 2 serrano chilies or half a poblano pepper for a mild sauce
- 1 white onion sliced across the equator in ½ in thick rings
- ¾ tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 poblano chili pepper charred, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
- 1 white onion divided
- 2 cups (500 ml) Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
- 1 ½ cup (375 ml) chicken stock
- 1 tsp dried Mexican Oregano
- 1 tsp dried crumbled epazote
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- Shy 3 cups shredded chicken
- Handful of cilantro
- 10 corn tortillas
- Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese grated
- ½ cup (125 ml) Crème fraiche
Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
Turn the boiler up high and place the oven rack at the top position.
Take the poblano pepper in the chicken filling section and slice it in half lengthwise then remove the seeds. Arrange the halves on a rimmed sheet pan then add the peeled tomatillos, serrano chilies, garlic cloves, and slice onions rings for the sauce in an even layer. If you want to save some time arrange the onions slices for the garnish (half an onion) on the baking sheet with the onion for the tomatillo sauce.
Slide the sheet pan under the broiler and roast the vegetables until they get nice and charred. Check after 4 minutes and continue if the vegetables need more charring. Each vegetable will brown at different speeds, so you will have to adjust the timing for each one. Once they get browned turn them over and brown the other side. This can take from 8 -15 minutes. If the onions need more time than the other vegetables, remove the browned vegetables and place the tomatillos in the bowl of a blender or food processor and chilies and garlic cloves on a cutting board. Pour off any juices in the pan into the bowl of a blender or food processor. Set aside and continue to brown the onions if needed. Remove when done.
Place the poblano chili halves in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it steam for 15 minutes.
When the Serrano chilies and garlic are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin from the garlic cloves and place the roasted garlic in the bowl with the tomatillos.
Cut off the stem of the serrano chilies and slice down the middle. Remove some of the seeds and pith if you want to turn down the heat., or leave them be. Add the serrano peppers to the tomatillos and blend, or process, the vegetables until smooth. Makes about 2 cups (500 ml).
Pre heat the oven to 400 °F (200°C / Gas Mark 5) with the oven rack set in the middle position.
Heat a 10-inch (25.5 cm) skillet with 2 TB olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 cups (500 ml) roasted tomatillo purée to the skillet and simmer until it slightly thickens. Add the chicken stock and Mexican oregano, epazote, ground coriander, and Kosher salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Simmer the sauce on low, stirring occasionally until ready to assemble the enchiladas.
Meanwhile, remove the poblano halves from the bowl and peel off the skin. Quickly rinse under cold water to remove stubborn skin. Chop the poblano into ½ inch pieces.
If you have not done so already, slice the onion in half across the equator, slice one half into rings and set aside. Chop the remaining half in ½ inch pieces.
In another skillet heat up 2 TB of vegetable oil and add the chopped onion and poblano pepper. Cook until the onions are soft. Add the shredded chicken and ½ cup chicken stock. Stir to mix. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the chicken is warm. Add about 2 TB of chopped cilantro and stir to mix.
Heat up the tortillas. Place the tortillas in a zip lock bag and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Make sue the bag is not closed all the way. Remove the tortillas from the microwave and let the tortillas rest in the plastic bag for a minute.
Assemble the enchiladas.
Set aside a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking pan. Place a tortilla on a work surface and add 2 spoonfuls of the chicken mixture across the center of the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla to cover the chicken filling. Place the rolled-up tortilla in the baking dish. Continue to fill and roll up the tortillas. You should have enough chicken filling for 10 enchiladas. It will be a tight fit in the baking dish. If you have a small baking dish, perfect for two enchiladas, add the last two enchiladas to a separate dish, otherwise fit the last two enchiladas to one side of the row of enchiladas.
Completely cover the enchiladas with the tomatillo sauce and sprinkle grated cheese down the middle of the enchiladas.
Place in the oven and cook until heated through and the cheese is melted, about 5-8 minutes.
If you haven’t roasted the onions for garnish already, heat up a skillet until almost smoking. Add the onion slices, intact, to the skillet and dry roast the onions until browned. After a couple of minutes check to see if the onions have browned, then turn over to brown the other side. When done, remove from the skillet.
Serve immediately with crème fraiche and garnish with the browned onions and cilantro.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is obvious, roast chicken is one of my favorite foods. To me it is pure comfort food at its best. The perfect roast chicken has tender and juicy meat with rich flavors that only roasting can bring. Unfortunately, when my children were young, having roast chicken for dinner was an event because it took so long to make. I wish I knew then what I know now. Those oven-stuffer birds of the 90’s would roast in half the time if I removed the backbone. This technique is also known as, spatchcock chicken. A whole chicken with its back bone removed and laid flat in a skillet or roasting pan.
In the 90’s, I knew about Chicken Under a Brick, but I did not transfer that information to my roast chicken recipes until later. From my years as a cook in a gourmet food store, I learned how to cut up a whole chicken into 8 pieces. I knew the process and was very confident using sharp knives and handling raw meats. For whatever reason, I did not cut up the chicken at home. If I had, those 7 pounds plus oven-stuffer roasters would have made a more frequent appearance on my dinner table. The usual 2 1/2 hours roasting in the oven would decrease to 1 hour 15 minutes. It still takes time to roast a spatchcock chicken, but it is more reasonable. Better late than never.
Prep a Spatchcock Chicken
Like traditional roast chicken, spatchcock chicken lends itself to an infinite variety of seasoning and types of cuisines. It is delicious plain marinated in buttermilk, salt and paprika, or seasoned with Middle Eastern flavors like Za’atar, fennel and preserved lemons. Take a culinary trip around the world with spatchcock chicken by simply adjusting the herbs and seasonings.
No matter what flavor profile you want, chicken tastes best when seasoned with salt, several hours before cooking. If I plan correctly, I will spatchcock and season a chicken with Kosher salt and keep it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. I prepare the chicken during dinner cleanup so I don’t dirty a clean kitchen. Often, I am likely to forget about this step if I wait till the morning of. I admit there were times I forgot. If that happens, season the chicken with salt then leave it to rest at room temperature for an hour. Even that bit of time makes a difference in flavor and tenderness.
I never miss an opportunity to roast vegetables, especially potatoes, with chicken. After a long roast, the vegetables become luscious with pronounced flavor. For this recipe, this extra step is optional. If you roast the chicken in a skillet, roast the vegetables in a separate dish. It will be too crowded in the skillet, and the chicken will steam. Sheetpans are perfect pans for roasting chicken with vegetables.
What is for dessert? Try Double Coconut Pie
Honey mustard spatchcock chicken is a family favorite and so easy to make. All you have to remember is use equal parts honey and mustard. Any additional amounts of herbs and spices is up to you and your taste buds. Personally, I love sage and chicken together and believe it adds earthy notes against the sharp mustard and sweet honey. Also, I like this sweet and savory sauce with some heat from chili peppers. My preference with spicy ingredients is their heat hangs in the background without drowning the other herbs and spices. Sometimes adding a small amount of chili pepper makes the other ingredients more pronounced. Play around with the different herbs and spices and see what you create.
This recipe is also delicious cooked over indirect heat on the grill.
Honey Mustard Spatchcock Chicken
- 1 4-5 lb 2 K roasting chicken
- Kosher salt depending on the weight of your chicken, about 1TB
- 10 sage leaves - divided
- 1/4 cup (63 g) Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup (82 g) honey
- 1/8 - 1/4 tsp ground chili powder or to taste
Optional roasted vegetables
- 8 oz (385 g) small new potatoes cut in half or quartered
- 4 / 6 oz (170 g) shallots, peeled and cut in quarters
- 1/2 (about 216 g) fennel bulb sliced in thin wedges
- 4 garlic cloves cut in half lengthwise
- 12 oz (358 g) grape tomatoes
- 3 TB extra virgin olive oil - divided
- 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt- divided
- 3 sprigs of thyme
How to spatchcock a chicken.
1- Remove the neck and gizzards from the cavity of the chicken. Rinse the inside and outside with cold running water. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
2- Place the chicken on a cutting board breast side down with the legs pointing towards you.
The back bone runs through the middle of the back and is about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches wide.
3- Grab hold of the "tail" end with one hand and cut along a side of the backbone toward the neck with good kitchen scissors. Repeat on the other side of the back bone.
4- If you do not have kitchen scissors, score the skin through to the meat with a sharp chef's knife along each side of the backbone. Turn the chicken upright onto its neck, and slice along the side of the backbone. Cut through the skin, meat and bones down to the neck. Lay the chicken down and open the chicken up like a book, and cut through the other side of the backbone.
5- Once the backbone is removed, turn the chicken over breast meat facing up, and press down on the sternum until you hear a pop and feel the breastbone release and lie flat.
6- Tuck the wing tips under the back of the neck, or trim them off so they do not burn.
Save the backbone for chicken stock.
Prep the chicken
The night before, cut the back bone off the chicken.
Generously, sprinkle Kosher salt all over the chicken on both sides. Slide a sage leaf under the skin and on top of the breast meat on each breast. Repeat for each thigh. Let the salted chicken rest for 30 minutes uncovered on the counter.
Place the chicken in the refrigerator, uncovered overnight and up to 24 hours.
One hour before you want to begin cooking take the chicken out of the refrigerator. Let the chicken come to room temperature.
Putting it altogether
Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C)
While the chicken is coming to room temperature, make the honey mustard sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, honey, ground chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt until combined.
Rough chop, or snip with scissors, 4 sage leaves and add to the honey mustard. Taste and correct the seasonings.
Once the chicken has come to room temperature, baste the chicken on both sides with the honey mustard. Get a good even coat over the whole bird .
Place 4 sage leaves in the center of a low sided sheet pan, or 12-inch skillet,(30 cm) and place the chicken over the sage leaves.
If adding the optional vegetables, put the potatoes, fennel shallots and garlic into a medium bowl. Stir in 2 TB extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Add the prepared vegetables in an even layer around the chicken on a sheet pan. Then scatter the thyme sprigs over the vegetables.
Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile add the tomatoes in the same bowl you used for the vegetables, and stir in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Later, scatter the tomatoes around the vegetables after 20 minutes of roasting.
If you have honey mustard sauce left, baste the chicken with the remaining sauce. Use up all the honey mustard sauce.
Rotate the pan left to right and front to back, and roast for 20 minutes more. Check the chicken and vegetables to see if they are done cooking. The chicken is done cooking when the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh is at 165°F (74°C) and the breast meat is 170°F (77°C), and the juices run clear. There should be no cloudy, pink or blood color in the meat juices. Make sure you check the temperature of both breasts and thighs. The vegetables are done when they are tender in the middle when pierced with a fork.
If the chicken is not done, continue to roast and check at 5 - 10-minute intervals depending on how much more the chicken needs to roast. Often the breast and thighs cook at different rates and one is done roasting before the other. If either part is done and you still have a way to go before the other portion of the chicken is done, cut off the done part and let it rest on a carving board.
If the vegetables are finished roasting before the chicken, remove the vegetables and place in a serving dish or plate. You want the vegetables to be tender, but still maintain its shape. Keep the vegetables warm while the chicken is roasting.
When the chicken is done, place it on a carving board and let it rest for 10 - 15 minutes before cutting it up.
Cut into 8 pieces and place on a platter surrounded by the roasted vegetables. Serve family style.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.