Tonight I was making one of my favorite standbys – seco de pollo – an inexpensive, flavorful Ecuadorian chicken stew that I learned to make through the blog of Laylita, Ecuadorian chef/cook extraordinaire. It takes hours to make the seco, so it occurred to me that maybe I should steal one of the boneless, skinless chicken thighs I had set aside for the stew, and make myself a quick dinner. What to make? A simple chicken taco filling!
Lately, I’ve become obsessed with the surprisingly delightful satisfaction that is a fresh, well-made taco. I don’t claim to be an expert, or to make “authentic” tacos (hence my “taco-propriation”), but I do know a little something from the plethora of fantastic Mexican taquerias (restaurants that specialize in tacos) in the Twin Cities. The basic formula for success is relatively simple:
fresh-off-the-griddle (comal) corn tortillas+ main filling of choice + fresh chopped onion and cilantro garnish + squeeze of lime + sauce of choice.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 very small red onion, cut in half and sliced in rings (it was the size of an egg)
- ~1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- ~1/4 teaspoon paprika (sweet, not hot)
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh (so much tastier than chicken breasts!)
Heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot enough, add the onions, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir to mix and briefly cook the spices. Add the chicken and let it sit still in the pan, without disturbing or moving it, in order for it to brown on one side. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Flip the piece of chicken and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side until it is brown. Remove the chicken from the pan cut it into small (1 cm) cubes. It’s likely that the inside will still be pink. Return the chicken to the pan and continue cooking until all pinkness is gone (a minute or so, maybe longer if you cut bigger chunks). Remove the chicken and onions from the skillet and set aside.
Then I pulled together a quick sauce. In Ecuador, where I’ve lived, and in many other Central and South American countries, there exists a condiment called “Salsa Rosada.” Essentially it’s mayonnaise and ketchup with the a smattering of secret ingredients that brand it to the particular cook. Normally this is something you eat with papas fritas (french fries) and perros calientes (hot dogs) or salchichas (another sausage similar to a hot dog). Here’s what I threw in mine:
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (to taste!)
- big squeeze of lime juice
- dash of salt to taste
These measurements are my best guesses – I wasn’t using any measuring spoons because I was on the verge of fainting from hunger. If you’re making this for more people, I’d advise keeping the ratio of mayonnaise to ketchup at 2:1, but starting modestly with the chipotle powder, and then adjusting to taste for lime juice and salt.
Then I chopped up some fresh cilantro and white onion and sliced up a lime. I always keep corn tortillas on hand (we have so many great tortillerias in the Twin Cities where you can buy freshly made tortillas – like La Poblanita or La Perla, where mine came from). I follow the lead of the taquerias and heat up two corn tortillas at a time (with just a light coating of cooking spray in a skillet; flip so each side gets coated and lightly golden). Then, the rest is just assembly!
tortillas + chicken + fresh chopped onion and cilantro + squeeze of lime + salsa rosada.
By the way, I wasn’t intending to make a blog post about this (and I was dying of hunger as I was cooking…), hence the lack of photos along the way.