This delicious dish is also called layered chicken enchiladas, enchilada casserole, or Mexican lasagna. My recipe has layers of tortillas, corn, chicken, tomatoes, some spiciness and a creamy sauce to bind it all. It's great for using leftover chicken and can be made ahead and frozen.
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Originally posted in 2012, I updated this post with new images, text and a tweak in the recipe to make it better!
Going through my grandmother's recipe notebooks, I found a casserole dish made by Chelo, her very Mexican friend, that I ate for the first time decades ago, and still remember how much I liked it!
Her friend visited once a year, brought her corn tortillas in the suitcase and invited us for dinner every time. She made a mean pastel Azteca and left the recipe to my grandmother.
I only tasted hers and I don't know how traditionally accurate it is.
But it's good people, and easy and great to have frozen. Think of it as a different lasagna.
What is Pastel Azteca?
It is a Mexican dish that consists of layered tortillas, cheese, corn, and some type of tomato sauce.
It's all bound by a creamy mixture which varies depending on the recipe but is always delicious. There are many recipes for this dish; I'm sharing mine.
About this recipe
- Easy to make: it comes together quickly, especially if using leftover or rotisserie chicken.
- Make ahead: you can keep it frozen (baked or unbaked) for a month or more or in the fridge for several days, well covered, always with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Reheat at a 350°F/180°C oven until bubbly.
- Versatile: you can add layers of other ingredients, like beans, or spicy it up with your favorite chile. More on variations further down this post.
- Chicken: this is an excellent recipe for using leftover grilled or roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken. But any cooked chicken works. I like a mix of white and dark meat (chicken breasts and thighs), but choose your favorite.
- Tortillas: I'm partial to corn tortillas for their unique flavor, but flour tortillas also work.
- Cheese: many recipes call for Oaxaca cheese, which can be bought online but is not easily available. When I can't find it, I substitute it for mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, or Swiss cheese.
- Cream: any type works fine (whipping, heavy or double).
- Milk: it's used to make the binding cream more fluid. Any type works.
- Mayonnaise is a controversial ingredient, but it's in the original recipe I was given, so I'm sticking with it.
- Tomatoes: any type works. I highly recommend seeding them, which is easy to do.
- Corn: fresh or frozen corn kernels work fine as long as it's cooked. If you have leftover grilled or roasted corn, it's also great to use here.
- Onion: yellow or white. Green onions can also work if that's all you have.
- Salt: I like to use kosher salt when baking. But regular table salt works just fine.
- Chile: I use jalapeños (or jalapenos) if I can find them. But any type that you like in your Mexican food works. Use canned ones, adobo, or ground chile if you can't find them fresh.
- Flavorings: freshly ground black pepper and some dried chile, such as ground ancho or jalapeño.
See the recipe card towards the end of this post for quantities.
Variations & substitutions
- Tortillas: you can use corn or flour tortillas, but the latter has much more flavor, in my opinion, a unique one. But both work.
- Tomato layer: use a can of Mexican salsa, the one you would use for enchiladas.
- Salsa verde (green sauce): if you're a fan of this Mexican salsa made with tomatillos, it also works well and adds spiciness. So make sure you don't overdo it with the rest of the spices.
- Beans or peas: I used to add a layer of peas or black beans, and I still do sometimes. If you want to add one or both, substitute by subtracting an equal amount of corn.
- Spices and herbs: you can easily change the flavor by adding an herb or different spices, especially ground chiles like ancho, jalapeño, serrano chile or cayenne pepper.
How to make this Mexican casserole
- Charr the tortillas lightly; it will give them character and flavor, especially if using flour tortillas. I use a little olive oil. Alternatively, you can fry them until crisp.
- Cook corn, jalapeño and onion until softened and a little browned.
Create a container by placing a layer of tortillas in the bottom of a baking dish and up the sides.
Start layering in the order given, or however you prefer.
Add all ingredients except the cheese. I add them in this order: tomatoes, chicken, corn mixture, and binding cream making sure you cover the edges.
Top with the grated cheese. You can use one layer of tortillas or two, dividing the rest of the ingredients. I usually use just the bottom one because it's easier to assemble.
There's not much science here except having the oven preheated.
When is this Mexican chicken casserole done? Follow the time given in the recipe but check that the top doesn't brown too much. Remove it when it's a nice golden brown and the cream is set.
The binding mixture has no eggs, so it won't set completely. It will still have some jiggling. But it should not be runny.
You might have to lift the cheese layer here and there with a fork to check.
Family style dishes
This Mexican lasagna is baked in a ceramic or glass dish and then taken to the table. It's not removed from the pan. Similar to casseroles or dump cakes.
What type of dish to use
Choose a nice baking dish you like to showcase on the table.
For me, ceramic ones are the best (I use my favorite Emile Henry small ceramic rectangular dish or medium ceramic baking dish whenever possible).
Several rectangular ceramic dishes, porcelain bakeware sets, glass baking dishes, or round ceramic baking dishes also work.
- Organization: read the recipe first and ensure you have ingredients at the correct temperatures, equipment, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier!
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer(like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Chicken: if you have leftover grilled or baked chicken or rotisserie chicken, it's a great recipe to use them.
- Tortillas: you can use flour or corn tortillas, though I highly recommend the latter as they have such a unique flavor. The original recipe used fried tortillas, but I usually heat and char them to make them lighter. You can also drizzle them lightly with olive oil and bake them in the oven; be careful not to burn them.
- Vegetables: I like frozen corn as it is available year-round. Chopped tomatoes because I like the freshness they add. But use leftover grilled corn and a can of salsa; they will make putting together this dish much easier.
- Binding cream: it is essential to bring the whole pastel Azteca together. Adapt if you feel the amount of cream mixture is not enough or you want more. And yes, it uses mayonnaise and it is amazing.
- Reheating: this casserole reheats like a charm and freezes well too. Wrap it well, always. I use plastic wrap and then foil.
- Serving it: it's excellent with a dollop of Mexican cream (crema Mexicana) or sour cream, and avocado slices. A green salad also works.
Related recipes you might like:
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Pastel Azteca (Mexican Tortilla Casserole)
This is a delicious dish that could also be called layered enchiladas, enchilada casserole, Mexican lasagna. Something along those lines. My recipe has layers of tortillas, corn, chicken, tomatoes, some spiciness and a creamy sauce to bind it all. It's great for using leftover chicken.
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings
- 6 large corn or flour tortillas (I use homemade corn tortillas)
- 2 cups cooked corn or frozen, thawed
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes, seeded (about 2 medium)
- 2 ½ cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed (you can use leftover or rotisserie chicken)
- ¼ cup chopped onion
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped jalapeño
For the binding mixture:
- 1 cup cup cream
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Chili powder or cayenne pepper, to taste
- ½ cup grated Mozzarella cheese or Oaxaca cheese (available online)
- ½ cup grated Monterrey Jack or Swiss cheese
- Preheat oven to 350ºF/180°C.
- Oil or butter a glass or ceramic dish, about 8x11 inches.
- Grate the cheeses with a large-holed grater. Or process chunks with the steel blade careful not to turn it into a paste.
- Cook corn with onion and chile in a skillet with a little oil over medium/high heat until softened and slightly browned.
- Heat tortillas in an oiled skillet at medium heat until slightly charred, about 10-15 seconds per side. just until they lose their softness and begin to crisp. Alternatively, you can fry them in hot oil until crisp but not too brown. Or in a medium (350°F) oven.
- Combine the binding cream ingredients in a medium bowl or jar. No need to beat them, simply integrate. It doesn't matter if it's not super smooth.
Assembling this dish:
- Cover the prepared dish with the tortillas creating a sort of container. Start with the sides and then move to the middle. If using crisp or baked tortillas they will most probably brake a little as you try to cover the dish. That is fine.
- Scatter the tomatoes and the shredded chicken on top of the tortillas.
- Add the mix of corn and onion, spreading to cover the chicken.
- Drizzle the binding cream on top, making sure you cover the edges.
- Top with the grated cheese.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and the cream is quite set. It will still be jiggly as it doesn't contain eggs. If needed, bake a little longer.
- Alternative: you can make two layers of each ingredient, lasagna style. Simply divide in half and layer as instructed above.
- Serve it with a dollop of Mexican cream (crema Mexicana) or sour cream and avocado slices. Or a green salad on the side.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
Chicken: if you have leftover grilled or baked chicken or rotisserie chicken, it's a great recipe to use them.
Tortillas: you can use flour or corn tortillas, though I highly recommend the latter as they have such a unique flavor. I usually heat them as instructed in the original recipe below, but you can also drizzle them with olive oil and bake them lightly in the oven.
Vegetables: I like frozen corn as it is available year-round. Chopped tomatoes because I like the freshness they add. But use leftover grilled corn and a can of salsa (the one you would use for enchiladas), they will make putting together this dish much easier.
Binding cream: it is essential of course to bring the whole pastel Azteca together. Adapt if you feel the amount of cream mixture is not enough or you want more. And yes, it uses mayonnaise and it is amazing.
Reheating: this casserole reheats like a charm, and freezes well too. Wrap it well, always. I use plastic wrap and then foil.
Beans or peas: I used to always add a layer of peas or black beans and I still do sometimes. If you want to add one or both of them, substitute by subtracting an equal amount of corn.
Spices and herbs: you can easily change the flavor by adding an herb or different spices, especially ground chiles like ancho, jalapeño, or cayenne pepper.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Main dish
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Mexican
Keywords: pastel azteca, Mexican chicken casserole
It looks super duper delicious and comforting! And what a great way to use up chicken leftover!
Paula Montenegro says
It really is a great and easy dish! Thanks Angie.
Marissa | Pinch and Swirl says
I love that you found this in your grandmother's notebooks. A perfect place to find the best comfort food. This looks just wonderful!
This sounds wonderfully delicious…and something my husband would eat! A family friendly dinner.
Oishii Treats says
I have the same issue with leftovers, I just forget about them and push them towards the back of the fridge. I love the ingredients in this dish I actually have everything in my fridge right now 🙂
Paula,this would certainly be very well received at my house and it would probaly keep them "unhungry" for a little while - seriously, this looks like a perfect family-style dinner, fabulous use of a few delicious hoarded or left-over ingredients! Very creative, Paula!
I too have 4 or so packets of frozen veggies. I think I need to make this.
Laura Dembowski says
My freezer is always packed. I love finding things I forgot about and eating them up. And I'll have a dozen of those peach doughnuts when you make them please 🙂
Bam's Kitchen says
Delicious! I bet it tastes even better the second day and that is a good thing if you are serving yourself. This sounds like a good make a head dish and then can freeze in individual portions and take it out when you need a quick meal.