Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

There’s not much better than an old school Chicken (or turkey) Enchilada: the tortilla wrapped around a creamy filling, napped in an easy Ranchero Sauce. Finished with a sprinkle of cheese, these are truly delicious. The sauce, flavorful (but not hot) gives a sharp contrast to the enchilada, itself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chicken Enchiladas Rancheros

Chicken Enchiladas Rancheros

While by no means a “diet” or “healthy food, this fresh garden ranchero sauce on an enchilada shaves hundreds of calories per serving over the white, sour cream and green chili enchiladas that are so popular today. Ya gotta love those – pure comfort food (and I make those, too) but these are outstanding and sneak in a few veggies.

Purists (you know who I mean – the ones that order their chilis, grind them up themselves, and I’ve been there myself) would argue for days over this ingredient or that in the sauce, perhaps, especially over the use of bell peppers and the chili powder…I’m going to answer ahead of time: It’s delicious, it’s fast and it’s easy. And I don’t care. *smiles and takes another bite…*

Plus, I’m gonna make up for all that and show you the best way to make your tortillas so they stay beautiful and don’t get soggy. You’ll want to use this hint anytime you make any enchilada recipe. It takes a few minutes – but it’s Soooo worth it.

This is a very cost effective meal, especially if you pick up your ingredients on sale and serve it with a budget side like refried beans. Grocery store cheese is the cheapest option, but think about the fact that more flavorful Mexican cheeses will allow you more “bang for your buck,” a bit more flavor for a smidge more cost, if budget allows.

Ranchero Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (the other half goes inside the enchilada)
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped, or use poblano, charred, skinned and chopped, or a small can of green chile peppers
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon vinegar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion and bell peppers if using (no need to saute Poblanos or the canned chiles, just add them when the onions are done) in oil until softened. Slowly stir in the tomato sauce and stock along with chili & cumin.

Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring now and then. This sauce should still be quite loose because the tortillas will be dipped in them.

Add the sugar, vinegar if using and salt & pepper to taste. Simmer a minute or two longer to blend the flavors.

Note on Sauce: Many Ranchero sauces contain just a touch of vinegar which lends a slightly sweet/sour vibe. If you’d like, add about 1/2 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar to the sauce. Increase sugar to 2 teaspoons.

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of milk, half and half or cream
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened or a soft Mexican cheese such as a Queso Fresca
  • 4 ounces jack or cheddar cheese, or a mix (Colby Jack is fine, just not as flavorful)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded turkey or chicken (about 15 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional depending on the saltiness of the broth and cheese)

Place all cheeses (room temperature if using cream cheese) in a bowl. Gradually add milk of your choice, blending. Add onion and stir in. Add shredded poultry and mix together well, breaking up the poultry as it is mixed. (If the poultry is warm, this may be easier.) Taste, add the salt if desired.

Note: The onions inside the enchilada are not cooked, so don’t go overboard on them; if there are too many, they will overwhelm the filling. Other than that, all these ingredients can be played around with a bit – add more cheese or not as you desire. Changing the volume may change the amount of filling in each enchilada.

Assembly:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons (or so) of oil
  • 1/2 cup (or more) shredded cheddar cheese, or cheese of your choice. Preferred would be a crumbled Queso Fresca, Cojita or a mild Feta.

Prepare a 9 x 13″ casserole by coating with cooking spray and covering the bottom with about 1/2 cup of sauce.

Heat about a quarter inch of oil over medium high heat in a skillet just large enough to hold tortilla. Test for readiness by dipping an edge of the tortilla in the oil. If small bubbles form around the tortilla, the oil is hot enough. Lay out a large plate to place the tortillas on after their dipping and prior to being rolled. (hint: make this an “assembly line” of the oil, the sauce, the large plate and then the casserole.

(see photo, below, on color and texture of tortilla when it should be removed from oil)

Working with six tortillas at a time, and using tongs if possible, lightly fry each tortilla in a skillet with oil (about 1/4 inch deep) until it just begins to crisp and takes on a bit of a golden color, but doesn’t become totally crisp: place tortilla in oil, immediately turn it over and fry for a few seconds. When the edge begins to firm up and the tortilla shows a few bubbles, turn again and fry for a few seconds more. Tortilla should only have a slight crispness and still be quite flexible.

Immediately lay the tortilla in the skillet with the sauce and turn over, making certain both sides are coated in sauce, without a lot of excess. Remove and lay the tortilla on a plate. Repeat with the next five tortillas, stacking each on top of the previous one. With tongs, gently turn the tortilla stack over. (You will repeat, shortly with the next six, after these are rolled.)

Place a scant 1/3 cup of filling on the top tortilla in the stack, roll and place in the casserole, seam side down, overlapping slightly. Repeat with the next five tortillas. If tortilla begins to crack, try rolling from a different edge, keeping the crack to the inside of the roll. Repeat process with the next six tortillas.

There should be enough room in the casserole dish for a row of 10 and two tortillas in the space on the side. When pan is filled, cover with what sauce remains, making sure that the edges have a bit of sauce on them. (While a spoon works, it is often easier to resort to clean hands.)

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and warmed through. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese and bake three to five minutes longer. If not using cheese, uncover and let tortillas crisp up a bit, about the same amount of time.

Depending on the type of cheese used, it may be sprinkled on when serving, instead. Placing cheese in a strip down the middle always makes it seem like “more.”

Garnish as desired.

from the kitchen of www.frugalhausfrau.com

This tortilla is just right - a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.

This tortilla is just right – a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! Do not discount the savings!
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Nutrition:

Per Serving: 271 Calories; 16g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 950mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

When using cheese to top a casserole, use a better, stronger cheese. Then rather than sprinkling it over the top, try adding it judiciously. Here in this casserole, I left the edges “nude” and sprinkled all the cheese down the middle. That means a lot less cheese is used but there still is that melty, stringing cheese goodness we all love – only a lot less of it. The same amount would have been “lost” had it been evenly sprinkled over the top of the whole casserole.

Put Your Own Spin on It:

Vary the cheeses in this – jack would be good, or if you have access to some great Mexican cheeses, by all means use them. Serve with refried beans.

My Pay Off:

This makes 12 enchiladas – if your family is smaller, you could certainly freeze and then reheat 1/2 of them – since they keep so well in the fridge, we generally have part in the beginning of the week, and the rest for a second meal later.

Recipe originally priced November 2011 for $5.46, repriced March 2014 for $4.16 – the difference? I’ve gotten much better at recognizing and shopping good sales on cheese!

Helpful Links:

If you came to this recipe looking for a way to use leftover turkey or chicken, be sure to check out the link below for 12 Days of Turkey. You might want to see the sister post for 12 Days of Ham, too.

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6 thoughts on “Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

  1. I’m saving the ranchero sauce for the weekend (hopefully) to make a Mexican casserole dish. I’m still confused between the details of ranchero and enchilada sauces. And even salsas/tomato sauce or salsa roja as there seem to be so many variation.

    • FrugalHausfrau

      If it helps, I am too! I think breaking them down into a couple different classifications helps.

      Usually I see enchiladas with “enchilada sauce” which is usually a play off of a mole sauce. So they can be very simple from a pantry type sauce made with ground spices cooked for a few minutes to toasted and ground chilis and can have a few or a lot of additions and can be cooked for an hour or more. But those are almost all smooth and all all seem to have a dried chili base of some sort.

      OR they’re made with a fresher salsa or garden type of sauce, but salsa just means sauce. Those are usually chunkier and could be a ranchero like this, or a salsa roja, which is a lot like Rancheros, or a chili verde with green chilis (poblanos usually) or even a spinach sauce. I’m sure there’s many more of these chunkier sauces I’ve never heard of made with all kinds of vegetables.

      But in Mexican food, I see the same or similar fillings and sauces used for all kinds of things from enchiladas to burritos, to tamales, etc. so that complicates (or simplifies depending on how you look at it) even more!

      Don’t you think part of the confusion it comes from the fact that Mexico has so many distinct regions with all their different ways and styles & even though some share the same dishes they all have their own local touches. But we tend to think Mexico as being one country as if Mexican food from Baja might be the same as food from Yucatán…That’s why I tend to scoff when I hear someone say the lived in Mexico for six months and blah blah blah…isn’t “authentic” and so on…

      I know I tend to think of Canadian food as being one region, too, when different areas are vastly different in their food cultures! Sadly I just tend to think of fish stews, meat pies and poutine, lol!!

      • We tend to learn about the food of a particular country from the immigrants who have opened restaurants in our area. A very limited exposure to a country’s cuisine. I don’t know much about the various regional cuisines of Mexico but I HAVE been exposed to a few Italian regional cuisines. There are dishes we’ve never heard of and would be amazed by.

        Early in my attempt at Mexican cooking I bought a can of enchilada sauce … pricey and I realized that it was a puree of dried chilis that had been soaked and then thickened with a roux. I haven’t bought enchilada sauce since.

        We’ve lived in Canada for over 50 years and I only tasted poutine about 5 yrs ago. I still haven’t had tourtiere, or fish stew. I HAVE had Nanaimo bars (tooth-rottingly sweet) and butter tarts. Oh, and real maple syrup which isn’t a dish but a nice condiment which my nephew insisted on. Before that, I used to buy Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup. 🙂

        • FrugalHausfrau

          So true! Btw, I have always wanted to make Nanaimo bars and we do have butter tarts, here, too. I had to laugh about Aunt Jemima…I love good maple syrup but it’s pricey and the folks used a whole jug (and it was pretty good sized) in one sitting. I was horrified!! Those were 20 dollar pancakes!! I have always wanted to tap my maples. Actually, I should be doing it right now! I might have to check into it…

          • I use a LOT of that $8 jug of real maple syrup too but I switched over the first time my nephew came over and was HORRIFIED … HORRIFIED to be served Aunt Jemima syrup with his French toast. (I was so embarrassed.)

            It’s not an easy process to tap and make your own maple syrup, I hear.

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