As I noted last time, you can't just have guacamole for dinner.
I mean, you could. But what fun would that be? Guacamole is a gateway concoction, an excuse, if you will, to consume any manner of complementary Mexican treats. Mexican treats like tacos.
I've been on some type of taco/taquito bender of late. I blame a trip that Husband and I took to Chicago in March, during which time we ate a magnificent meal at Rick Bayless's perfect and delicious Frontera Grill. Rick's taquitos de pollo ahumado were simply bewitching and I still think about them a little each day. The ingredients are simple (smoked chicken, black beans, poblano chiles, homemade sour cream, salsa verde, anejo cheese, guacamole) but Rick is an alchemist, I swear: he somehow transforms the simplest foodstuffs into creations that, well, are still on your mind months later. Remember this alchemy, for in a paragraph or two I'm going to bring it up again.
Back home from Chicago, I began seeking a local taquito that could scratch my Frontera itch. I remembered Momocho, a Cleveland restaurant known for its "mod mex" cuisine that had been on my to-try list for some number of years. A random night a few weeks ago I decided I could wait no longer. Husband looked at the menu online and I was half-way out the front door as soon as he mumbled the word "taquito." Between chef Eric Williams's goat cheese guacamole (holy hell) and the Mexican fighting masks leering down at my empanada from the restaurant's dimly-lit walls, I knew I had found a new favorite place to eat. And the taquitos, lord, the taquitos. I had the tinga (16-spice grilled chicken) and Husband had the machaca (coffee- and ancho-braised brisket). It is embarrassing, but as I am typing this I am drooling a little bit, Pavlov-style. I know: classy.
So if I can't get to Frontera Grill, I can get to Momocho. And if I can't get to Momocho, I can get to my kitchen. Because thanks to the glory that is the Rick Bayless cookbook empire, his Authentic Mexican includes a simple recipe for crispy tacos that are easily whipped up, even on a weeknight, to sate the most voracious of taco and/or taquito appetites.
Remember what I said about alchemy? The filling for these tacos is nothing more than shredded chicken, salt and a puree of roasted tomato, red onion and garlic that has been cooked and thickened in a cast-iron skillet. And yet, it is amazingly delicious and complex, and completely belies its humble component ingredients. Which is to say: the chicken filling for these tacos has no right or reason to be as tasty as it is, but it is, nevertheless, completely beguiling. No wonder Mr. Bayless is doing so well for himself.
And no wonder I've been eating so well.
CRISPY CHICKEN TACOS
Adapted from Authentic Mexican, by Rick Bayless
I've made these tacos with flour and with corn tortillas, and I must say I prefer the corn. That said, if you only have flour tortillas on hand, go for it. The filling is so good it doesn't matter what you wrap it in, short of a piece of aluminum foil or a Sham-wow. I serve the tacos with no small measure of guacamole and a sprinkling of feta cheese (I can't find queso anejo or queso fresco around here), though Rick also suggests serving them on a bed of romaine leaves with sliced radishes and thinned sour cream.
Note also that the chicken filling can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Finally, Rick fries his assembled chicken tacos, but I choose to bake them. They get just as crispy and are a little less greasy.
1 ripe, large tomato
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 t. kosher salt, divided
1/2 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
2 T. + 1 T. + 1/4 c. vegetable oil, divided
1/2 a medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
12 corn tortillas
About 1 1/2 c. guacamole
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese (or queso anejo or queso fresco, if you can find it)
1/2 c. sour cream thinned with 2 T. milk (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place a piece of aluminum foil in a cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet). Over medium heat, place the whole tomato on the foil and roast it, turning often, until the skin is blackened. Remove the tomato from the foil and place on a plate to cool enough to handle it. Peel the tomato, then core and roughly chop it. Set aside.
Season the chicken breasts on both sides with 1/2 t. of the kosher salt and the black pepper. Heat the same cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) over medium-high heat. Place 2 T. of the vegetable oil into the skillet and then add the chicken breasts. Cook about 6 minutes per side, until the chicken breasts register 161 degrees Fahrenheit on a probe thermometer. Remove the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool enough to handle it. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Place the chopped roasted tomato, red onion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is completely smooth. Heat 1 T. of the vegetable oil in the same cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) that you used to roast the tomato and cook the chicken. Add the tomato puree to the pan and stir constantly until it is thick and reduced, about 4 minutes.
Stir the shredded chicken into the thickened tomato mixture. Remove from heat and season with the remaining 1/2 t. kosher salt.
Heat the remaining 1/4 c. of the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, quick-fry the tortillas one at a time to soften them, 2-3 seconds per side. Drain well on paper towels.
Immediately assemble the tacos by placing about 2 T. of the chicken mixture across each tortilla. Roll up the tortillas and place on a baking sheet, seam side down. Bake the tacos for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.
Serve with guacamole, crumbled feta and thinned sour cream (if desired). I also suggest serving with Luta's margaritas.
Makes 12 tacos.
Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:
One year ago: granola
Two years ago: chocolate crinkles