Cheesy Baked Enchiladas with Kick-Ass Red Chili Sauce
The BEST cheese enchiladas aren't rolled - they're layered. Easy cheese enchilada casserole requires just three ingredients: corn tortillas, a ridiculous amount of cheese, and a kick-ass red chili enchilada sauce. Layer it up with or without chicken for super easy cheese enchiladas with very little fuss.
I absolutely love cheese enchiladas with red chili sauce. I mean... I LOVE them. As such, I am picky about the cheese enchiladas I choose to eat. Because that's how it is with things we love.
The red chili sauce must be amazing and made from chilis, not tomato paste. In other words, none of that canned stuff. Incidentally, here's the ingredients list of one of the most popular brands of canned red enchilada sauce:
It's really just watered down tomato paste with some chili pepper seasoning and a bunch of other crap, reminding me why I cook so many things from scratch.
Call me crazy, but I'd like my red chili sauce to be made from... oh, I don't know... red chilies.
The big problem with that is that it's a giant pain in the you-know-what to make red chili enchilada sauce when you start with actual red chilies. They have to be toasted, soaked and then pureed.
The process takes a long time, is kind of messy, and fills the air with eye-stinging chili oil. I've done it. The red chili sauce was delicious. And I don't ever want to do it again.
Enter Frozen Red Chili Puree.
This stuff is genius. I've purchased a few different brands, mostly dependent on what my local market happened to have in it's freezer case. As long as the ingredient list looks something like this - Chile Peppers, Water, and maybe some salt - you're golden.
Here's the brand my local supermarket is stocking at the moment:
I generally purchase one bag of hot and one of mild and mix them together for a spice level that's on the medium-to-hot side. When coupled with layers of corn tortillas, cheese, and sometimes chicken, I think it's the perfect amount of spicy red chili awesomesauce.
Starting with red chili puree makes amazing homemade red chili sauce a weeknight possibility.
Melt some butter and add some flour to make a roux that will thicken your red chili slightly. Then just add the red chili puree, some spices, and broth or water and let it simmer for a while. That's it.
The recipe below makes more red enchilada sauce than you'll need for this cheese enchilada casserole. If you're making this dish as a part of Winter Weekly Meal Plan #1, you'll use that extra enchilada sauce in tortilla soup and stuffed poblano peppers later in the week, putting you waaaaaay ahead of the game. 🙌
If you're not making this dish as a part of that meal plan, freeze the leftover enchilada sauce. I like to divide leftover red chili sauce into little baggies with about 12-oz of sauce in each. It's really awesome to have on hand if you're making tacos, burritos, or huevos rancheros, or to add a nice kick to pretty much any kind of soup.
This is the kind of Chicken Enchilada Bake where the chicken is optional
If you have some already cooked chicken on hand, such as leftover roast chicken, use it. If you don't, or you would just rather eat some cheesy enchilada goodness that's unencumbered by chicken, go for it.
Another fabulous option is to toss some leftover Pork Carnitas in there. I make Carnitas in the Instant Pot ALL the time because they are: #1. DELICIOUS, and #2. can be used throughout the week to make all sorts of other meals. Like enchilada casserole.
And, of course, if you'd rather roll your enchiladas instead of stacking them, be my guest. Rolled enchiladas, with their centers of melted cheese are (as previously stated) one of my favorite things in the world.
But, layering everything into a casserole dish is So. Much. Easier.
Weekly Meal Plans that include Chicken Enchilada Bake:
- Weekly Winter Meal Plan #1: Reserve 1 ¼ cups of the enchilada sauce in two portions: 1 cup for tortilla soup and ¼ cup for stuffed poblanos peppers.
More Recipes You Might Like:
- Black Bean Enchiladas with Creamy Tomatillo Sauce
- Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
- Tequila Lime Vegan Cauliflower Tacos
- Slow Cooker Green Chili Baked Burritos
- Easy, Cheesy, Chicken Enchiladas Verdes
- White Chili and Chorizo Tamale Pie
- Grilled Flank Steak Tacos with Pico de Gallo
- Cuban Chicken and Rice
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #alittleandalot on Instagram.
For the Red Chili Sauce:
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 ½ tbsp granulated sugar (plus more to taste)
- 1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
- 6 tbs butter
- 6 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 48 oz frozen red chili puree, thawed (I use one 24 oz bag mild and one 24 oz bag hot)
- 3 cups chicken broth or water
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
To Assemble and Serve Enchilada Casserole:
- 16–18 corn tortillas
- 2 ½ to 3 cups red chili enchilada sauce
- 22 oz grated Colby Jack, or Sharp or Medium Cheddar cheese
- 1 – 2 cups shredded roast chicken (optional)
- Sour Cream (for serving)
Make the Red Chili Sauce:
- Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, onion powder, sugar, and salt to a small bowl and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, until the flour is beginning to brown slightly.
- Add the minced garlic and spice mix and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute longer.
- Add the red chili paste and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the paste has darkened and thickened a bit.
- Stir in the water or broth and Worcestershire sauce and let simmer, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more sugar and salt if desired.
Assemble and Bake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
- Spread about ¼ cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish. Add a layer of 5 or 6 corn tortillas over the sauce, their edges overlapping. I usually tear a few in half so that I can place the straight edges along the straight edges of the pan.
- Sprinkle with ¼ of the cheese and ⅓ of the chicken (if using). Pour about ⅓ of the sauce over the cheese.
- Repeat layering so that you have three layers of tortillas, cheese and chicken, and sauce. Over the top layer, add the remaining ¼ cup of cheese.
- Set the pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese on top is completely melted and the sauce is bubbling up around the edges of the pan. Check on the enchilada casserole a couple of times while baking and if the cheese is starting to brown, spray a sheet of aluminum foil lightly with non-stick spray and lay it loosely over the top of the bake.
- Let sit about 10 minutes before serving.
Enchilada sauce freezes well. I suggest freezing it in small portions so that you have the option of using a small amount to flavor something like tacos or soup.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 987Total Fat: 65gSaturated Fat: 32gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 184mgSodium: 2611mgCarbohydrates: 57gFiber: 6gSugar: 8gProtein: 47g