This chicken enchilada casserole is the ultimate comfort food

This chicken enchilada casserole is the ultimate comfort food

One of the unexpected perks of running a food site is that my “office” has more or less become a makeshift wine cellar for yet-to-be-reviewed bottles from across the globe. Recently, I posted about a small case of a half-dozen bottles of various Garnacha spanning the region of Aragon, which I received quite by surprise. One of those bottles remains on the side table adjacent to my desk, which I decided to add to my ‘cellar collection’ because of its very unique label.

The bottle features a bright floral labeling with a pair of prominent trees, and is quite pleasant to behold, betraying the naturalist tendencies of its makers and their ecological philosophies. However, on closer inspection, the label is quite, shall we say, odd. The floral scene fades, and the trees begin taking on amorphous, almost-humanoid shapes, with blank eyes peering out from the label. I’m quite certain there’s a modern-art message behind these ‘trees’ that eludes a humble classicalist like myself. Nevertheless, I now regard the bottle with a sort of fearful Lovecraftian reverence that the winemakers, I’m sure, never intended.

Strange trees aside, I found myself quite envying that floral scene this morning. With ‘autumn in New York’ quite nearing its end, the icy air that greeted me upon waking left me pining for a summer that I had only just begun to fully appreciate. This spurred my mind down culinary avenues I hadn’t considered for quite some time.

At first, I found myself thinking about the sort of food I would want on a chilly day such as this. Then, as the shock of the morning air wore off, and the daze of sleep cleared from my eyes, I began trying to pair food with this New York weather using the Garnacha behind that eerie labeling as inspiration.

chicken enchilada casserole ingredients

Immediately, I thought of simple home favorites such as hardy soups, stews, and various savory pies. However, I wanted to put together something a fair bit less predictable, and found myself reaching back to an old family favorite that I used to prepare on occasion for busy weeknight meals – tortilla lasagna. In that older version, which I used to prepare for my kids, I used tortilla chips, salsa, and sour cream as the base. This time, I wanted to elevate the old favorite a few notches with a coriander and cumin roux and a from-scratch chicken salsa.

For the chicken salsa, I started out by sautéing onions, garlic and jalapenos in olive oil in a large cast iron pan. Then I added in crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, shredded roast chicken, and dark beer.

After preparing a roux spiced with cumin and coriander (as described below), I buttered a casserole dish and began the fun part – layering. First, layer a half-cup of the roux in the bottom of the casserole dish, then arrange four tortilla halves over the sauce. Over the tortilla halves set two cups of the chicken salsa, shredded cheese, and chopped olives. Repeat this layering until you’ve filled the casserole dish, then bake uncovered for about forty-five minutes.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole Step-by-Step

Now, you’re not quite done if you want to do this right, which of course you do. Take the casserole out of the oven, top it with about a half-cup of cheese, then bake for an additional five minutes. Then garnish with sour cream and salsa, and enjoy.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

  • Yields 4-6 servings
  • Recipe type: Main dish
  • Prep time: 10 min
  • Cook time: 45 min
  • Total time: 55 min


  • 2 cups of cooked chicken – shredded
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion – sliced thin
  • 4 garlic cloves – chopped
  • ½ cup dark beer
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Jalapeno’s – diced
  • 5 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 large egg whites – lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese – shredded
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese – shredded
  • 6 corn tortillas, cut in half
  • 6 oz. can of pitted black olives – drained and halved
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Butter for greasing the casserole dish


  1. Preheat Oven 350 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron pan.
  3. Add the onion, jalapeno and garlic and sauté until the onion is soften and the garlic is fragrant.
  4. Add the shredded chicken, beer, red pepper flakes and crushed tomatoes; cook until the pan thickens and most of the liquid evaporates. Remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Combine the flour, salt, cumin, fresh ground black pepper and coriander in a medium size saucepan and gradually add the milk while stirring with a whisk. Place this over a medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
  6. Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the beaten egg whites, stirring constantly, then set aside.
  7. Toss the cheeses together in a bowl and set aside.
  8. Butter a casserole dish.
  9. Place ½ cup of the white sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish.
  10. Arrange 4 tortilla halves over the sauce, followed by 2 cups of the chicken mixture and ½ cup of the cheese mixture, followed by the olives.
  11. Repeat these layers; reserve ½ cup of cheese.
  12. Bake uncovered for 40 – 45 minutes.
  13. Place the ½ cup of cheese over the top and place back in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.
  14. Let the dish rest for 10 minutes before serving.
  15. Garnish with sour cream and salsa.
chicken enchilada casserole

In the end, I couldn’t have been happier with how the enchilada casserole turned out – flavorful and filling, which paired quite lovely with the icy air. Oddly, though, I still couldn’t bring myself to open that eerily labeled bottle of Garnacha…

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