Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells are the “something different” we all need to shake up taco night. These cold, damp and blustery Fall days have me reaching for some of our favorite comfort food recipes. This one is a favorite!
Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells are exploding with flavor and hearty, satisfying goodness! Savory chicken, black beans, pops of sweetness from corn, lots of umami-bringing-veggies and a kick of heat from tomatoes with chilies are all wrapped in a to-die-for creamy, cheesy sauce. And then, yeah … stuffed in a perfectly cooked pasta shell.
Like most Americanized recipes, there’s nothing authentic Mexican about these delicious stuffed shells. But, they have all those familiar Southwestern flavors that you know and love. A little spicy kick, the underlying hint of cumin and the cheesy, creamy filling will make this one of your family’s favorite dinners.
For another scrumptious dish with south of the border flavors, check out my Easy Southwest Chicken recipe. It’s great as a main dish or used in recipes like this one.
How I Came Up with the Recipe
I created this Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells recipe in 2011, in an attempt to do something “not Italian” with pasta.
I experimented, focusing on my family’s love of Mexican and southwest flavors. The happy result was these Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells. It was the #1 recipe on my old blog for 4 years running!
The recipe makes enough to feed a group of 8–12 people (36 shells) and it freezes easily. But, I usually prep it into 3 separate foil pans — two for the freezer and one for our dinner, that night. Then, I have plenty for future meals, as well as one to share with friends or family who just need a break from cooking for a night.
Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells leftovers heat up beautifully in the microwave. You and your family are going to love shaking up taco night with these scrumptiously creamy and crazy flavorful pasta shells.
How to Make Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells
Once you have this little bit of prep done, the recipe for Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells goes together quickly.
One of the best investments I ever made was a *high-quality chef’s knife for my kitchen. It makes my cutting and chopping jobs go so much more quickly and smoothly. When it fits your budget, it’s a tool I highly recommend.
Start with any pre-cooking and chopping you need to do. If you don’t have pre-cooked chicken in your freezer, [We need to talk. 🙂 ] that, and cooking the pasta shells, is the first order of business.
Cook the pasta shells slightly al dente (cooked, but with a firm bite). The shells will continue to cook as you bake them, so you don’t want them to be too soft, at this stage. They will also be easier to handle and stuff if they still have a little firmness to them.
Prep enough chicken to make 4 cups, small diced or shredded, (3 or 4 chicken breasts depending on size). Rotisserie chicken, or even leftover chicken if you have enough, would work really well, too.
Also, mince the peppers and slice the green onions, thinly.
While all that cooking and chopping is going on, drain and rinse the black beans. Also, drain two cans of tomatoes with chiles, but reserve the liquid from both cans. I usually drain the tomato/chilies liquid it into my 4‑cup liquid measuring cup.
Add the drained beans and tomatoes to a mixing bowl, along with the diced chicken, peppers, green onions and frozen corn. Stir all the chicken and veggies together to evenly distribute everything.
In a smaller mixing bowl, mix the softened cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning. When it is creamy and fully mixed, add it to the chicken and veggies in the larger bowl. Stir to combine everything evenly.
Add the picante/salsa to the measuring cup with the reserved tomato liquid. Add enough chicken stock to bring the amount up to 3 cups.
Prepare the Pan and Stuff the Shells
There’s no way to avoid it, really. Stuffing the shells for Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells is a hands-on job. I’ve tried using a spoon to scoop up the filling and stuff it into the shells. You’ll have fewer torn shells, and more evenly stuffed pasta, if you resign yourself to being messy for a couple minutes and just use your hands.
Prep the pan or pans by adding 1/3 of the salsa/broth liquid sauce to the bottom. If you’re making everything in one pan, add 1 cup of the liquid to the bottom of the pan. If you are baking 3 individual 9x9 foil pans, add 1/3 cup to the bottom of each pan. Save the rest of the sauce for just before baking.
A 12 oz. box of jumbo shells usually has 40+ shells in it. I cook them all and then I pick the best 36. Some may have torn in cooking or after draining. By cooking the whole box, you should have enough intact shells to make 36. Any leftover shells can be chopped and tossed with some melted butter and salt and pepper for a yummy snack.
Add the filling to each shell. Fill them right to the top, maybe even slightly heaping. This recipe makes just enough filling for 36 generously filled shells. You want the shells to be able to stand face-up in the pan because of the weight of the filling. I’ve never measured it, but my guess is their must be 2 or 3 heaping Tablespoons of filling in each shell.
Stuff all 36 shells, placing into the prepared pans, as you go. If there is any filling remaining, distribute it evenly between the shells you’ve already stuffed. You should have 1 pan of 36 shells or 3 pans of 12.
Drizzle the remaining tomato/broth liquid evenly over the stuffed shells. If making 3 smaller pans, use 2/3 cup of the liquid for each pan.
Top each individual shell with a Tablespoon or so of grated Cheddar cheese.
Baking or Freezing Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells
Securely cover the pan (or pans) with foil. If you’re worried about the cheese sticking to the foil during baking, you can spray the underside with pan spray.
At this point you can freeze for later use, or bake the Mexican Stuffed Shells at 350° for 30–40 minutes.
I usually bake one pan and put two in the freezer. To use frozen Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells, thaw the pan in the fridge, overnight. 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, set the pan on the counter to come to room temperature. It can be baked straight from the fridge, but the baking time will be much longer, if you’re starting with the shells and filling completely cold. Thawed shells brought to room temperature can be baked as usual and should be done in about 30–40 minutes.
Bake the shells for 30–40 minutes at 350°. They should be hot all the way through, the cheese should be melted and the pan sauce will be bubbling, when they are done.
Remove the foil and serve Mexican Stuffed Shells with a big green salad or your favorite steamed veggies. They’re phenomenal and I can’t wait for you and your family to put a new twist on taco night!
Hearty, delicious chicken and pasta dish with a little southwestern flair. The stuffed shells are mildly spicy. Make them for company and you’ll be the hit of the party!
- 12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells (about 40 shells)
For the Mexican Chicken Filling:
- 4 cups chicken breast, cooked and chopped or shredded
- 2 cans diced tomatoes with chiles (drain and RESERVE liquid) (Rotel or store brand, either works)
- 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 6 green onions, sliced thin
- 1 large bell pepper (any color), minced
- 1 1/2 blocks cream cheese (12 oz. total), softened (not melted)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 packet taco seasoning (or 3-4 Tablespoons homemade taco seasoning or 2 Tablespoons homemade Southwestern seasoning)
- 1 1/2 cups extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
For the Sauce:
- 1 cup of salsa or picante sauce + extra for drizzling
- 1 cup chicken stock
- reserved liquid from diced tomatoes with chiles
- Cook pasta shells in well salted, boiling water until al dente (still have a little bite to them). If you cook them too long, they will be difficult to stuff. They are going to have additional cooking time in the oven. Drain the pasta and set aside while you make the filling. I usually run cold water over them as I’m draining them. This quick cools them and makes them easier to handle for stuffing.
- While the pasta cooks, dice or shred enough chicken breast to make 4 cups. That’s 3–4 chicken breasts for me. A whole rotisserie chicken works, too.
- Chop bell pepper and green onions.
- Grate the cheese.
- Mix the diced chicken, rinsed and drained black beans, drained tomatoes with chilies (Remember to reserve the tomato/chilies liquid from both cans.), corn, bell pepper and green onion in a medium mixing bowl.
- In a smaller mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning.
- Add the cream cheese mixture to the chicken and veggies. Stir to thoroughly combine.
- Mix the chicken broth, picante/salsa and reserved tomato/chilies liquid. I mix this in my 4‑cup liquid measuring cup and end up with 3 cups of sauce. I put in the reserved tomato/chiles liquid, first, then add the salsa. Next, I add enough chicken stock to make 3 cups of liquid.
- If baking all the shells in one pan, pour one cup of the liquid sauce into the bottom of your baking pan. If dividing the shells between three 8x8 foil pans, add 1/3 cup liquid to the bottom of each pan. Save the rest of the liquid for just before baking.
- Using a spoon, or your fingers, fill each of your cooked and cooled pasta shells, setting them into the sauce covered pan. Continue until all shells are filled and arranged in the pan.
- When the pan is full, drizzle the shells with the remaining liquid sauce and then sprinkle with the shredded cheese. [This is the point to freeze the shells, if you’re making these for future use. See the notes on freezing, below.]
- Cover the baking pan(s) tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
To Bake Frozen Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells:
To use frozen Mexican Chicken Stuffed Shells, thaw the pan in the fridge, overnight. 30 minutes to an hour before baking, set the pan on the counter to come to room temperature. It can be baked straight from the fridge, but the baking time will be much longer, if you’re starting with the shells completely cold. Thawed shells brought to room temperature can be baked as usual and should be done in about 30–40 minutes.
Bake the shells for 30 minutes at 350°. They should be hot all the way through, the cheese should be melted and the pan sauce will be bubbling, when they are done.
- Prep Time: 30 min
- Cook Time: 30 min
- Category: Main Dish, Mexican, Pasta
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Mexican
Keywords: Mexican, chicken, pasta