The Best Pollo Rojo Enchiladas (Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce)

You are about to enjoy chicken enchiladas in a whole new way when you try this delightful recipe.

Vertical image of enchiladas on a dish with more in a casserole next to a spatula, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

I know it may seem easier to make enchiladas from the canned sauce that you can simply buy at the store, but trust me, you can’t get the kind of flavor that we have on offer here from a can.

Making enchiladas is something that I only got into as an adult. This dish was never a staple in my house when I was growing up. But it was a staple with my roommates in our apartment in Rome when we were studying abroad.

One of my roommates was a girl from Texas, and she knew how to make enchiladas like nobody else. Since we were in Rome, enchilada sauce wasn’t an ingredient that was easy to access.

So, the first time I tasted this dish, it was made completely from scratch.

Vertical image of a casserole of baked enchiladas on a towel next to a metal spatula.

I remember the moist chicken, the spicy sauce, and the cheesy topping like it was yesterday… We all gathered around for our first meal together and this is what she brought to the table.

From that night on, we begged her to cook whenever we were all planning to eat dinner together.

When I returned from Europe, I thought I would try my hand at making the dish for myself.

I’m not gonna lie – it was a total disaster.

I didn’t look up a recipe, because I thought I had watched her make them often enough to know what I was doing. The enchilada sauce was a premade one that I bought at the store, and I definitely underestimated how much I would need.

The result was a crusty burned top, with dry chicken and no flavor.


Vertical image of a plate with three wrapped tortilla shells covered in sauce and cheese on it next to a fork and casserole.

Ever since then, I have made my own from scratch no matter what. I make sure to take the time to create each of the elements carefully, with delicious results.

You can try to take a shortcut and doctor up a canned option, but I’ve found there’s really nothing you can do to make this dish as rich and flavorful as it is when you make your own.

This particular recipe is my favorite when it comes to making enchiladas entirely from scratch.

Of course, when I say entirely from scratch, I’m not implying that we are going to be making the tortillas by hand, or milking a cow to make the cheese… Just so we are clear, and I am not scaring each and every one of you off from the get-go (or inciting a comment war).

The sauce is made easily with a stunning combination of spices, bringing just enough heat to linger on the back of your tongue with every mouthful.

Vertical image of a fork holding a bite of chicken, tortilla shell, red sauce, and cheese.

The chicken cooks in the liquid so that it really absorbs all that flavor, and stays nice and moist.

Finally, you fill tortillas, and top the casserole with more sauce and cheese. These baked enchiladas are pure deliciousness, and they will become a staple of your weekly dinner rotation after you make them for the first time.

It’s a great way to shake up a Taco Tuesday with something tasty, or to simply celebrate getting through the week.

Just make sure that you bring out the margaritas for added refreshment!

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Horizontal image of a spatula holding a single enchilada in front of a casserole dish.

Pollo Rojo Enchiladas (Chicken Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce)

  • Author: Meghan Yager
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes


Pollo rojo enchiladas are made with chicken in red chili sauce that provides the best kind of kick to amp up your usual weeknight dinner routine.


  • Cooking oil spray
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups shredded extra sharp white cheddar, divided
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tsp minced fresh cilantro, divided
  • 12 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 450˚F. Grease a 9-by-11-inch ceramic or metal baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, jalapeno and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until vegetables are softened, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar. Cook uncovered for 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered.
  4. Nestle chicken breasts in sauce, reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160˚F, about 12-20 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your chicken and the temperature of your simmer. Remove chicken from sauce and set aside.
  5. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain sauce into a medium bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to remove all liquid. Place solids left in the strainer in a large bowl.
  6. Season sauce with salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste.
  7. Shred chicken with two forks. Add it to the large bowl with the solids from the strainer, along with 1/4 cup strained sauce.
  8. Add 1 cup shredded cheese and 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro to the chicken mixture. Stir well to combine.
  9. Wrap tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave for 30-45 seconds on 50% power, until pliable.
  10. Spread tortillas out on a clean work surface and spoon 1/3 cup chicken mixture down the center of each. Roll up and place seam side down in the greased baking dish.
  11. Lightly spray tops with cooking spray. Bake uncovered for 5-7 minutes, to make tortillas crunchy.
  12. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 400˚F. Pour sauce evenly over enchiladas and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
  13. Remove foil and bake 5 more minutes, until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: enchilada, chicken, red sauce, casserole

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Vegetables, Mince Cilantro, and Measure Remaining Ingredients

Horizontal image of assorted fresh herbs, cheese, cut vegetables, and chicken breasts on a wooden surface.

To save some money as you shop for groceries, buy a whole chicken and learn how to break it down at home to get all the essential parts you need, like boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Peel the onion and finely chop it. Say goodbye to those onion slicing tears with our tips!

Seed the jalapenos and finely chop them. For a less spicy dish, you can remove the seeds.

Peel and mince both garlic cloves. I love to use my garlic press for this.

Mince enough cilantro leaves to have a lightly packed 1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons for garnish.

Measure out all of the remaining ingredients as listed on the ingredients list.

Preheat oven to 450˚F. Grease a 9×11-inch ceramic or metal baking dish with cooking spray.

Step 2 – Make Sauce

Horizontal image of a hot red sauce in a pot.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Once it’s hot, add the onion, jalapeno and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, until softened. Stir the vegetable mixture occasionally.

Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar. Cook uncovered for 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato sauce and water.

Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

Step 3 – Cook Chicken

Horizontal image of chicken breasts in a red sauce in a pot.

Add the chicken breasts to the sauce. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the poultry is cooked through.

This will take about 12-20 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. The chicken should register 160˚F internal temperature on a meat thermometer.

Horizontal image of two cooked chicken breasts covered in a red sauce.

Remove chicken from the sauce and place it on a cutting board.

Step 4 – Finish Sauce

Horizontal image of straining a red chili sauce.

Strain the sauce into a large bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Press the solids down with the back of a spoon so all liquid is removed.

Transfer the solids to another large bowl and set aside.

Season the sauce with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Step 5 – Shred Chicken

Horizontal image of shredded chicken mixed in a red sauce.

Shred the chicken using two forks. Stir it into the solids in the large bowl.

Add 1/4 cup of the sauce, 1 cup shredded cheese, and 1/2 cup cilantro. Stir to combine.

Step 6 – Assemble

Horizontal image of a tortilla shell and shredded chicken in the middle.

Wrap the tortillas in damp paper towels. To make them pliable, warm them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds.

Place one tortilla on a clean flat work surface. Add about 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture into the center and roll up the tortilla. Place it seam-side down in the prepared baking dish.

Repeat with remaining tortillas and chicken. Spray the tops of the tortillas lightly with cooking spray.

Step 7 – Bake

Horizontal image of white shredded cheese on top of tortilla shells covered in red sauce.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the tortillas are crunchy.

Remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 400˚F. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the top of the enchiladas to cover the tortillas completely, then sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese.

Horizontal image of a casserole dish full of wrapped tortilla shells covered in red sauce and melted cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an for additional 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving with a sprinkle of the remaining cilantro.

Horizontal image of a spatula holding a single enchilada in front of a casserole dish.

A Wide Variety of Toppings to Choose From

When it comes to toppings, I am the queen. For this recipe, all you have to do is sprinkle on some chopped fresh cilantro, but you can also shake things up a bit.

Horizontal image of three wrapped tortilla shells covered in sauce and cheese on a plate with a fork.

I like to top my enchiladas with some sour cream and hot sauce whenever I feel so inclined. You can also add more shredded cheese if you love it oh-so-much. Serve with lime wedges, and you can customize your rolled delights any way you want.

Do you need more inspiration from south of the border for dinner? Try these delicious Tex-Mex and Mexican-inspired dishes:

What toppings do you like on your enchiladas? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to come back to rate the recipe when you try it.

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on October 4, 2010. Last updated: January 4, 2021 at 17:51 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Meghan Yager

Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.

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