This easy and flavorful one-pan meal really takes me back. At the ripe age of twelve, I considered myself an expert in after-school snacking.
And once my sister, exactly four years my elder, got her driver’s license, the possibilities for our post-class culinary expeditions were endless.
She would scoop me up in her white Chevrolet Blazer with its navy cloth seats – which soon became studded with sesame seeds after many-a-midday meal adventure – and once off campus, we would cruise to the closest Mexican cafe.
Okay. You got me. It was Taco Bell.
But man, did they make bomb Nachos BellGrande®. This was my regular order, as it was far more complex and substantial than chips and cheese alone, but not quite as close to a full-blown fiesta as, say, three soft tacos and a burrito would be.
My favorite elements of the dish (… do fast-food restaurants serve dishes?) were the different layers of texture involved. There were the creamy refried beans that pooled across the nacho mountain, giving many of the chips a spongy mouthfeel I adored. And there were the crunchy tortilla triangles that stretched over the sides of the container, just missed by the goopy drops of neon cheese sauce and diced tomatoes.
Each bite of beef was perfumed by a subtle smokiness, and it was always fun to decide whether my plan of attack was going to be to go in with bare hands or the plastic spork that was provided alongside my order. I typically chose a three-finger approach, leaving a few fingers clean to brush my bangs out of my eyes.
I’m fully aware that this isn’t an exceptionally elegant culinary tale, but it’s a special food memory for me all the same.
And when I dig into this chicken tortilla casserole, a modernized, Mexican-motivated feast stacked with similar flavors, I can’t help but think back on those mouth-watering after-school moments in the car with my sister – when I may or may not have smudged everything from sour cream to honey mustard on the passenger side window.
Don’t get it twisted, though. This recipe is a far cry from fast food nachos. The addition of succulent shredded chicken spiked with smoky cumin, bold chipotles in adobo, and bright, fresh cilantro makes this one-pan masterpiece a meal to be reckoned with.
The entire cast of characters, chicken included, are cooked in the very same skillet, so every ingredient and its unique components are all wound up together so beautifully in the end.
It starts with juicy chicken breasts that are seared then braised in broth (or beer – hey, it’s your choice), which helps to build the flavor of the dish from the jump.
In a pinch, you could use rotisserie chicken or roasted chicken leftovers if you must, but I strongly encourage you to start from the chicken up without cutting any corners in the cooking department.
Canned chipotle peppers in adobo – those smoked, dried, and rehydrated jalapeños that come in a tangy and vinegary tomato puree – give the sauce a fiery flair. The tangy chopped chilies also add color, while sweet red onions balance out those savory notes.
Nutty sharp cheddar and melty Jack cheese keep everything creamy.
I like to tuck some additional dry chips into the top layer just before broiling, as a nod to the beloved BellGrande® of my youth. This results in some extra-crunchy bites, while others remain gooey and soft.
Thinly-sliced jalapeños and fresh, fluffy cilantro also adult-ify this advanced spin on your standard nachos. Zesty pico de gallo and lime-squirted avocado slices are also top garnish choices, but the final decision is yours.
Just keep your hands off any nearby windows.Print
Crunchy tortilla chips, gooey cheese, and juicy shredded chicken give every bite of this one-skillet Mexican mashup heaps of flavor.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 12 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 small red onion, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
- 4 cups tortilla chips, broken into large pieces, divided
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced (about 1/2 cup), divided
- 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- Hot sauce
- Pickled (or sliced raw) jalapenos
- Lime wedges
- Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the cumin.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 10- to 12-inch oven-safe skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden-brown on both sides, about 3 minutes total. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil to the skillet. Add the red onion and chipotle pepper. Saute until the onion is translucent and very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Season with the remaining salt and pepper.
- Pour in the chicken broth, scraping up any stuck-on brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in about half of the tortilla chips and then nestle the chicken breasts (with their juices) into the broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the broth simmers gently and cook, flipping the chicken halfway through and adding more liquid if necessary, until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F, about 8-10 minutes.
- Preheat the broiler to high.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Shred with two forks when it’s cool enough to handle. Return the shredded meat to the skillet. Add half of the tomatoes, half of the cheddar and Jack cheeses, half of the cilantro, and the remaining tortilla chips.
- Thoroughly combine until the chicken and cheeses are evenly distributed and the chips are moistened, adding a few additional tablespoons of chicken broth if needed.
- Top with the remaining cheese. Place the pan in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and lightly golden-brown, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Divide among plates and garnish with the remaining tomatoes and cilantro, and the sour cream. Serve with hot sauce, jalapenos, and lime wedges.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Tex-Mex
Keywords: chicken, tortilla, casserole, Mexican, Tex-Mex
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep the Aromatics
Canned tomatoes could be used as an alternative to fresh, but you will need to add them all in at once (during step 5) instead of saving some for garnish if you go that route.
Using your hands, break the tortilla chips into large pieces. If they’re too small, they’ll soften and disintegrate into the mixture. For a more homemade alternative to store-bought chips, break out the fresh tortillas and fry them up yourself.
Step 2 – Season and Sear the Chicken
Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the cumin.
In a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pan (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet) placed over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When it’s shimmering but not smoking, add the chicken and cook until it’s golden-brown on both sides, for about 3 minutes total.
It’s okay if it’s not cooked all the way through at this point, since it will finish cooking in the liquid that’s added later.
Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside on a plate that can catch all of the juices.
Step 3 – Add the Aromatics and Deglaze
Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining oil. When it’s shimmering lightly, add the red onion and chipotle pepper. Saute until the onion has softened and the mixture is very fragrant, for about 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Season the mixture with the remaining salt and pepper and then deglaze the pan with the chicken broth, scraping the bottom with a spatula as you pour, to release any brown bits (aka fond) that are stuck on.
You want to remove the fond so it doesn’t burn, and loosening it also incorporates those tasty bits into the liquid and imparts more flavor.
You can also use beer, veggie stock, tomato puree, or even apple cider to braise the chicken in this step.
Step 4 – Add the Chips and Finish Cooking the Chicken
Stir in about half of the tortilla chip pieces, and then make some space and nestle the chicken breasts (along with their juices) into the broth. They don’t need to be completely covered by the liquid, and you can cover the pan with a lid to speed up the cooking process.
Reduce the heat to medium-low so the broth simmers gently and cook, flipping the chicken halfway through, until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes uncovered, depending on the thickness.
If the liquid is evaporating too quickly, you can pour in about 1/4 cup more at a time so nothing burns.
Step 5 – Shred the Chicken, Add the Chips, and Toss
Preheat the broiler to high and prepare any garnishes you want to serve alongside your meal.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Once it’s cool enough to handle, shred it with two forks.
Return the shredded meat to the skillet, and add about half of the tomatoes, half of the cheddar and Jack cheeses, half of the cilantro, and the remaining tortilla chips.
Gently toss and combine until the chicken and cheeses are evenly distributed and the chips are moistened.
Add a few additional tablespoons of liquid at this point if you need to, as well. You want the majority of the chips to be moistened, but some of the ones on top to be partially dry so they get crispy in the oven, like what you would do if you were making chilaquiles.
Step 6 –Add the Remaining Ingredients, Broil, and Serve
Top the mixture with the remaining cheese. Place the pan in the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and lightly golden-brown, for about 2 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes before serving, so everything has a chance to settle and cool slightly.
Garnish with the remaining tomatoes and cilantro, and top with the sour cream. Divide among plates and serve with hot sauce, jalapenos, and lime wedges. Or divide among plates first, and let everyone choose their own toppings.
Pack in the Possibilities
This skillet meal can be personalized to your heart’s delight, and that’s where the fun begins.
For a fully vegetarian version, skip the chicken and reach for canned beans instead.
Try roasted tomatoes for more richness, grilled scallions for a charred, oniony bite, and whisk up this smoky garlic cream sauce to take things from wow to holy wow.
Don’t leave the chips out of the fun! Opt for blue corn for more pronounced nuttiness and some contrasting color.
Chopped raw onions on top add an unexpected pop, and to boost the crunch factor up a notch, I like to top my portion with a pile of shredded green cabbage. How will you play with the texture to tinker it to your liking?
Share your serving suggestions in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
If zesty flavors like bold chilies and pungent cilantro are in your wheelhouse, here are three other Mexican-inspired recipes for you to try next that are known to result in smiles:
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 11, 2014. Last updated on February 8, 2022.
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 Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”