Chicken Santa Fe

Chicken Santa Fe is a perfect dish for when you’re pressed for time and need something simple and tasty with under 10 ingredients. It’s a delicious example of less-is-more; dinner should be this easy more often.

There’s a funny origin story behind chicken Santa Fe; I’ll share it with you now. Perhaps you can relate in some way.

Years ago, I was employed by a remote services catering company to rotate around to various camps, relieving chefs for their time out. I was also sent in occasionally as a troubleshooter or “relief chef”. I was to replace a chef who had done poorly at their post. Sometimes so poorly, the catering company was in danger of losing the contract with the client company.

So in I’d go, sometimes to find the chef had been removed from site earlier that day. Seeing why they were removed was easy; they had left a shambles of the kitchen. This meant I’d have at best, a few hours to get supper ready. Ready for two dozen hungry oil rig workers. As well as acquaint myself with a new kitchen and co-workers. While trying to assess the damage done by my predecessor. The glamorous life of a traveling chef, right?

On one particular site, it was a disaster. The best thing I could salvage in just under an hour was a case of frozen chicken breasts, a large jug of salsa and a bag of shredded nacho cheese. And friends, the clock was ticking…. The oil rig crew, I was told, were patently unhappy with the caliber of food they’ve been served over the last week and would be hard to win back.

Not only was it ready on time, but the crowd of rig pigs (I’m not kidding, thats what they’re called) walking in to eyeball me with expectant suspicion were delighted with it.

So in a sense, this is a chicken dish that can save your bacon in a pinch.

Chicken Santa Fe

Chicken Santa Fe

A quick and easy crowd pleaser dish; plain and simple.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Mexican, Tex-Mex
Servings 3 people
Calories 143 kcal


  • dredging plate, oven safe frying pan, small sauce pan, oven


  • 3 whole chicken breasts 4-6oz each
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups salsa whatever kind you like
  • 1 cup shredded cheese cheddar-jack blend would be most appropriate here


  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • Mix the dry spices in a shallow pan; dredge the chicken breasts skin-side down in the spice blend
  • Heat up the oven-safe frying pan on the stove on just below high heat, add the oil and let it just start to smoke a bit…
  • Lay the seasoned chicken breasts in spice side down and let sear for 3-4 minutes. While this is going on, sprinkle the remaining spice mix from the dredging pan onto the backsides of the chicken breasts.
  • Turn the chicken breasts over and place the whole pan in the oven uncovered.

While the chicken is baking….

  • Heat up the salsa in the small sauce pan. Not boiling, just enough that it's hot to the touch.

Check the chicken….

  • Once the chicken breasts have reached an internal temperature of 165F, remove the pan from th eoven, spoon the heated salsa onto the breasts, add the cheese shreds and return it to the oven for about 3-5 minutes. At this point, it's just to melt the cheese.
  • Remove from the oven and serve alongside your favorite side dishes à la southwest style cuisine.



The type of salsa you choose to use is completely up to you; store-bought or homemade; red or verde. 
As this was initially a quick fix dish whipped up in a moment of urgency, the simplicity of it has remained one of its best features. It can be elaborated upon in many ways, but sometimes less is more. Especially when you’re pressed for time, which is how this dish was born.
Keyword chicken, dairy free, gluten free, Tex Mex

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