This tasty variation on traditional Mexican chilaquiles combines layers of fried corn tortilla strips with chicken simmered in a creamy, cilantro-lime sauce and a topping of melted Monterey Jack cheese.
66-inch corn tortillas (see gluten free notes below)
1-1/4lbchicken tenderloins, about 12 pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2cuponion, finely chopped
1clovegarlic, very finely chopped
1cuplow-sodium chicken broth
2tablespoonsfreshly squeezed lime juice
1small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
4 to 5scallions, chopped
1/4cupfresh cilantro, chopped
1cupcoarsely grated Monterey jack cheese
Stack the tortillas, cut them into thin (3/8-inch) strips, then cut the strips in half crosswise.
Add about 1/8-inch of vegetable oil to a large, heavy skillet. Heat over medium-high heat and once the oil is shimmering, add about 1/3 of the tortilla strips. Fry the strips until crisp and golden, tossing them frequently to ensure even cooking.
Transfer the cooked strips to a paper towel-lined plate and season with a pinch of salt while they're still hot. Repeat the process with the remaining 2 batches of tortilla strips, adding a little extra oil if necessary. Set aside and wipe out the pan.
Note: You can cut your prep time for this recipe by using store-bought tortilla chips. Just break up them up a bit and proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and coat a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick spray.
If necessary, trim any white tendons from the chicken tenderloins and cut each one into 4 or 5 bite-sized pieces. Place 3 tablespoons of the flour in a shallow dish (a pie plate works well) and add the cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of black pepper and combine well. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shake off the excess and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan you fried the tortilla strips in and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and pale golden in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté just until fragrant, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Combine well and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the flour takes on a golden color, 2 to 3 minutes more.
Add the chicken broth and lime juice and whisk until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream, then pour the sauce into a measuring cup (2-cup) and set aside.
Wipe out the pan, return it to the stove over medium-high heat and add a little more oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning frequently, until the floured exterior is light gold, 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and jalapeño, cook 1 minute longer, then add half of the reserved sauce. Stir in the scallions and cilantro and remove from the heat.
Scatter half of the fried tortilla strips in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Add the chicken mixture in an even layer and top with the remaining tortilla strips. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top, then sprinkle with the cheese.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.
Tips for Making This Recipe
Chicken tenderloins are best: We use tenderloins in this dish because they stay juicy and tender through the two-step cooking process.
Use fresh corn tortillas: We pan-fry strips of corn tortillas for this recipe for a lighter texture and fresher flavor, but if you want to cut your prep time, you can use store-bought tortilla chips.
Use fresh-squeezed lime juice: When citrus is an important flavor component of a dish, fresh-squeezed is always best.
Add fresh herbs: Cilantro is another important flavor component here and we love to add a sprinkling just before serving to give the dish an extra pop of flavor. If you really don't like it, use fresh parsley instead.
Adjust the heat to taste: We don't like our food too hot, so we just add one jalapeño, and remove the seeds to reduce the heat, but feel free to add another if it suits your personal taste.
Don't leave out the scallions: Green onions add a touch of sweetness and visual appeal to this dish. Add them just before baking to preserve their fresh flavor.
Use a smooth-melting cheese: Monterey Jack cheese is our choice for this casserole, but any cheese that melts well without getting stringy will work. If you want to kick up the heat a little, buy the Pepper-Jack variety.