If I could urge you to make one meal in your slow cooker this month, these chicken enchiladas would be it! We don't eat enough enchiladas in my house, mostly because my brain equates rolling enchiladas with too much work for a weeknight, but these slow cooker enchiladas are layered, not rolled, and each layer is stacked with delicious flavor.
For this easy weeknight dinner, you'll make a fragrant, possibly life-changing enchilada sauce (you can do this the night before), then cook some chicken in the sauce and layer this beautiful mess between tortillas and cheese in your slow cooker. You'll come home to this fragrant casserole, full of tangy, spicy sauce, tender chicken, and oh-so-satisfying cheesy goodness. Let's dig in.
What to Expect with Slow Cooker Chicken Enchiladas
There is a lot to love about chicken enchiladas in the slow cooker, but let's start with the sauce. I realize that making enchilada sauce at home seems a bit silly when you can easily buy a can of reasonably good stuff at the grocery store. What you're getting at the store is mostly flavored tomato purée, but this homemade version is full of vegetables!
These vegetables get puréed with the rest of the sauce, which ultimately makes these enchiladas easier to build and eat — no vegetables tearing up the tortillas or falling out in this recipe! But most importantly, this enchilada sauce is incredibly delicious and can be made days in advance.
Unlike its oven counterpart, there is no rolling in slow cooker enchiladas. Instead the sauce, chicken, and cheese are layered in the slow cooker, and the result is an enchilada-like casserole that isn't mushy but has distinct layers and flavors in each bite.
Key Steps for Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- Make the enchilada sauce in advance. Over the weekend or the night before, I make the enchilada sauce and cook the chicken in it. Sometimes I even make double batch and freeze half. The flavor improves just a bit as it sits, and that way I'm not messing with an immersion blender before work in the morning.
- Cook the chicken in the enchilada sauce. Chop a few chicken breasts, dunk them into the still-warm enchilada sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes. Now you can store the chicken in the enchilada sauce or build the enchiladas in the slow cooker right away.
- Double up the tortillas in between layers. When it's time to layer the tortillas, cheese, and enchilada sauce in the slow cooker, sprinkle the cheese between two tortillas as you layer them with the saucy chicken. This layer of cheese between the tortillas will prevent the sauce from turning the tortillas to mush even during the long, slow cooking.
Serving and Reheating Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole
These slow cooker chicken enchiladas cook on low heat for eight hours. Once done, the cheese and sauce will be bubbly and the chicken incredibly tender. You can scoop the enchiladas out right away and serve with cilantro, sour cream, or diced red onion.
I want to leave you with one last tip for this slow cooker enchilada: If you have any leftovers, cut them into portions once they're cold from the fridge. Reheat them in a cast iron pan a little oil until super crispy. You could even serve these glorious leftovers with a fried egg — you'll be so very glad you took the time to make that enchilada sauce!
How To Make Slow Cooker Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
- For the enchilada sauce:
yellow or sweet onion, diced
green bell pepper, diced
red bell pepper, diced
ancho chile powder
1 (28-ounce) can
- For the enchilada layers:
1 1/2 pounds
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
shredded mild cheddar cheese
shredded Monterey Jack cheese
chopped fresh cilantro
Serving options: Sour cream and finely chopped red onion
Measuring cups and spoons
Chef’s knife and cutting board
4-quart pot or saucepan
Immersion or regular blender
4-quart slow cooker
Make the sauce:
Cook the onions and peppers for the enchilada sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan until shimmering. Add the onion, bell peppers, cumin, and chili powder and sauté until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato purée and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
Purée the enchilada sauce. Remove from the heat. Blend the sauce directly in the pot with an immersion blender or transfer to a regular blender and blend until smooth.
Layer the enchilada:
Cook the chicken in the enchilada sauce. Return the enchilada sauce to the pot if needed and place over medium heat. Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and enchilada sauce from the heat. At this point, you can cool and then refrigerate the chicken in the sauce overnight or for up to 5 days.
Layer the tortillas, chicken, cheeses, and sauce in the slow cooker. Coat a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Combine the cheeses together in a medium bowl. Place a tortilla in the bottom of the slow cooker. Top with about a cup of chicken and sauce and spread evenly. Top with another tortilla, then sprinkle with about 1/4 (1/2 cup) of the cheeses. Repeat the layering (tortilla, cheese, tortilla, chicken and sauce, tortilla ... ) until all of it is used up; you should end with a layer of cheese on top).
Cook on low for 8 hours. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 8 hours. The cheese and sauce will be bubbly and the chicken tender. Sprinkle with the cilantro.
Serve. Serve scoops of the finished casserole with sour cream and/or finely chopped red onion if desired.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Make ahead: The sauce and chicken can be made, cooled, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.