When I was in college, on Saturday afternoons a large group of us would celebrate the weekend by going to lunch at the local Tex-Mex restaurant. We’d toast our break with tall glasses of iced tea and salty chips dipped in salsa, and as we were in North Texas, most of us would order the house special—sour cream chicken enchiladas.
Tex-Mex is the large umbrella phrase that covers what people have determined to be Americanized Mexican food, but it’s a very broad term as a Tex-Mex plate found in North Texas will be very different than a Tex-Mex plate found near the Gulf.
This is what I discovered when I went to college in the small town of Sherman near the Oklahoma border. Green sauce was gone, with sour-cream enchilada sauce to be found in its place. Different, yes, but just as satisfying.
The sour cream enchiladas were stuffed with shredded chicken that had been spiced with generous amounts of salt and black pepper, a simple formula that still yielded plenty of flavor. The sauce itself was a creamy blend of sour cream and chicken broth.
Sometimes, a few pickled jalapeños were added, yet they provided more color than fire, as all that dairy mitigated any heat. What this sauce lacked in piquancy, however, it made up for it in creamy comfort and a taste so smooth I’d always order an extra bowl on the side.
My love for these enchiladas is firmly embedded into those four years I was in college—I hadn’t eaten them before and I had rarely eaten them since. While my tastes have changed since those days, I am still a fool for sour cream (give me a spoon and a carton and I’ll be eating myself silly in no time) so I decided to revisit this North Texas classic.
After following what was purported to be a close approximation of this restaurant’s recipe, I was struck by how bland the sour cream sauce was—I couldn’t believe I used to love it so much! I tried punching it up with some cayenne, garlic, and cumin, but it was still too flat for me—it needed some tang.
Because I was afraid lime juice would curdle the sauce, I pureed it with some tomatillos instead. A handful of cilantro was also added for an herbal boost.
I took another bite. This time, I wasn’t bored! In fact, this sauce was a nod to two long-ago favorites as it was the marriage of my Houston green sauce with my North Texas sour-cream sauce.
But I shouldn’t have been too surprised. While I’ve certainly changed since I was 18, why couldn’t my sour cream sauce change as well? And if I do say so myself, we’re both much improved by the changes made through the years.
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Sour cream chicken enchiladas
Ingredients for the filling:
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil
Ingredients for the sour cream sauce:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 fresh tomatillos, husked and cut in half or 1 (10-ounce) can tomatillos
- 2 Serrano chiles, seeded and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Dash cayenne
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Ingredients for the enchiladas:
- 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- 1/2 medium-sized onion, diced
- 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.
- Sprinkle the chicken breasts on each side with the salt and black pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron or ovenproof skillet set on medium heat. When it shimmers, add the chicken and cook on each side for 3 minutes.
- Place the chicken in the oven and bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until an inserted thermometer is 165°F. When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven, keeping the oven on since you'll be using it again.
- Allow the chicken to cool, and then shred it with 2 forks. Taste the shredded chicken and add more salt and pepper if desired.
- Meanwhile, to make the sauce, in a medium pot melt the butter on medium-low. Add the tomatillos and diced Serrano chiles and while occasionally stirring, cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Whisk in the flour, cumin, salt, and cayenne and cook for 1 more minute or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Pour the chicken broth into the pot, and while whisking, cook until the broth has thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and cilantro, then remove from the heat.
- Pour the sour cream sauce into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- To make the enchiladas, pour the oil into a 9×13 baking dish or large cast-iron skillet. To quickly warm the tortillas, place them in the dish (it’s okay if they overlap) and make sure they get covered in the oil. Place the pan uncovered in the oven for 5 minutes or until the tortillas are soft and warm.
- Remove the tortillas from the baking dish and keep them covered. Pour 1 cup of the sour cream sauce into the bottom of the dish.
- To assemble the enchiladas, take each corn tortilla and place in the middle 1/3 cup of shredded chicken, 1 teaspoon of diced onions, and 1 tablespoon of cheese (I’m not usually this scientific but if you’ve never made them before and desire exact measurements this would be it!).
- Roll the tortillas around the filling and place the rolled tortillas seam side down in the casserole dish. Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and cheese and bake for 25 minutes or until the the top is brown and bubbling.
- Serve warm topped with chopped cilantro.