Spicy Chicken + Tortilla Casserole

Pastel azteca is a Mexican-style casserole made of layers of fried corn tortillas, salsa, melted cheese, sour cream, meat and or vegetables.  As far as I can find there is not much information regarding the origin of this dish, but I’ve always imagined it as the invention of a 1950’s Mexican housewife.  This is a dish that while completely Mexican, reminds me of the cheesy, satisfying casseroles my parents used to make during the brisk fall and winter months in Chicago.

This recipe comes from friend and restaurant owner Valentina Zarco Perelló.  After trying Valentina´s pastel azteca on several occasions I asked if she could teach me her recipe.  She invited me to her restaurant, Fando & Lis, in Mexico City´s Narvarte neighborhood and took me through the process step-by-step.

As we cooked she talked about her interest in food and the how she developed her recipe for pastel azteca.  While it was her mom that taught her how to cook she also credits her paternal grandmother as the major influence on her cooking style.  In fact her recipe is a combination of her mother’s recipe for pastel azteca and her grandmother’s adobo salsa made with dried ancho chiles.   This recipe was created specifically for her restaurant Fando & Lis which opened 2 years ago and whose name was inspired by the 1968 Mexican film by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

At Fando & Lis, in addition to her delicious pastel azteca you will find home made pizzas, lasagnas, salads, soups, and desserts among other things.  If you’d like to visit Fando & Lis you´ll find the address and hours below:

Uxmal 78 A
Col. Narvarte
03020 México, D.F.

Tuesday – Saturday 6 pm – 12am

Sunday 2 – 10pm

I have made several changes to the recipe which you are free to follow or not.  Her version calls for grated cheese just on top of the pastel azteca.  I´m a big fan of cheesy things so I´ve added grated cheese to each layer.  Finally, her sauce doesn’t normally have chile casabel.  When we made pastel azteca together, we had some extra cascabeles on hand and added them to the sauce.  I like how it turned out so I´ve included them in this recipe.

Recommended sides: I like to serve this dish with black beans.  If you want to serve with a vegetable I would recommend sautéed greens.



Serves 8 to 10

Chicken + Broth:

  • 1 full chicken breast, bone-in

(about 2 pounds)

  • ½ white onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Water
  • 2 medium sized carrots sliced
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 1 cup of chopped leeks
  • Bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Salsa de 4 Chiles:

***Note: This can be very spicy for people not used to eating lots of chiles.  If you would prefer a milder sauce reduce the quantity of chiles: 5 morita chiles or 3 dried chipotles or 1  canned chipotle in adobo.

  • 5 cascabel chiles
  • 8 ancho chiles
  • 7 guajillo chiles
  • 15 chile moritas or 10 dried chipotles (sometimes called mora chiles) or 2 to 3 canned chipotles en adobo
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 ¾ kilos of ripe roma tomatoes
  • 4- 5 cups of chicken broth


  • About 24 corn tortillas, but its always good to have a few extra on hand
  • 500g of manchego cheese grated
  • ½ liter of sour cream


  • Sour cream
  • Extra sauce

Chicken + Broth

In a medium sized pot add the chicken breasts, chopped leeks, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper and fill with water.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken, let cool briefly, shred and set aside.  Cover the broth and set aside until you have to use it for the sauce.

Remove the stems from the chiles and wipe clean with a moist paper towel.  You can remove the seeds if you want, however, when Valentina prepares the dish she leaves the seeds so the sauce will be spicier.  Cut the tomatoes into quarters and slice the onion.  Heat oil in a wide pan and add the onions and garlic and let brown.  Add the whole chiles, toasting them over medium heat, stirring them regularly and making sure not to burn them.  Burned chiles will make the sauce have a bitter flavor so be careful during this step and make sure to move the chiles regularly.  When the chiles begin to lighten in color and their smell becomes more aromatic add the tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.  Add 2 cups of broth and let the mixture cook down for about 40 minutes on low heat.

Blend the sauce and strain into a large bowl.  Heat oil in a medium sized pot and add the sauce.  Add the remaining 2-3 cups of broth and let simmer for about 20 minutes, adding broth if necessary and checking for salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast the tortillas on a comal or in a pan with oil. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish put a thick layer of sauce on the bottom, then six tortillas, more sauce and two heaping tablespoons of sour cream.  Mix the sour cream and salsa together and add a layer of shredded chicken and cheese. Repeat three more times, topping the final layer with just cheese.  Make sure to use the majority of the sauce, it may seem like a lot but a lot of the liquid will evaporate in the oven and or be absorbed by the tortillas.

Cook for about 45 minutes or until heated all the way through.  Once removed from the oven let cool for about 20 minutes. Serve with the extra sauce and a dollop of sour cream.

2 thoughts on “Spicy Chicken + Tortilla Casserole

    1. I tried putting it together once a day in advance and it made the texture really mushy, which I didn’t like. What you can do is prepare the sauce as well as the chicken a day in advance so that all you have to do the day of is fry the tortillas, put together the layers and then bake it. Let me know if this helps!

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