When I was a kid, taco night mean hard shells, ground beef cooked with a packet of seasoning and shredded cheese. It was fun, because you got to “make” your own dinner, putting as much meat and cheese on as you wanted (though mom probably insisted that I put a little lettuce on it, too). And eating with your hands! But my, how times have changed and only for the better. Tacos much closer to traditional Mexican food are readily available, and those kit tacos from my youth seem bland and boring now. That’s not Mexican food anymore, that’s drive-thru fast food now.
But one thing does remain, the fun of building your own dinner. I have often mentioned how much I love an interactive meal – everyone gets involved and talking and laughing and everybody has a meal they love. Chicken Tinga, which is a wonderful name for a dish, is chicken slow-cooked to melting tenderness in a flavor-packed onion and chipotle sauce. It is pretty simple to make for the reward it produces, and incredibly versatile. Use the juicy chicken to fill tortillas for tacos, or spread it over a crispy tostada. Stuff it into bread to make a torta, or use it to top an colorful taco salad. It is wonderful over rice, or serve it on its own, or rolled into burritos. The leftovers can be used for several days, and you can even freeze it.
I love to pull out a full array of colorful toppings to add crunch and creaminess and counterpoints to the smoky chipotle flavor. Simply pickled red onions are traditional and the vinegar tang complements to rich meat perfectly and this creamy avocado sauce cools everything down. Make this for family taco night or invite friends over for a Mexican meal. I think this would also make a great book club dish, too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tomatillo, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (2 if you want), diced
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from the chipotles
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted adds a little smokiness)
2 teaspoons oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 chicken breasts
Creamy Avocado Sauce*
Quick Pickled Red Onions**
Crumbled cotija cheese
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Pico de gallo
Limes wedges to squeeze over the top
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the onion and bell peppers. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables star to soften, then lower the heat a little, add the garlic and cover the pan. Cook until soft and browning a little, about 10 minutes, stirring a few times.
2. Add a little water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits form the bottom of the pan, then let the water cook off. Browning the vegetables a little adds some depth of flavor and richness. Add the chipotles, adobo sauce, tomatoes, oregano and cumin and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.
3. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes. When the sauce has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
4. Pour the sauce back into the pot and add the chicken breasts, stirring to cover each breast with sauce. Bring the pot to a bubble over medium high heat, then turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave to simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 1-1/2hours.
5. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate one at a time and use two forks to pull the chicken into shreds, then return the shreds to the sauce in the pot. Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce reduces and thickens, about 30 minutes.
Note: You can place the chicken and sauce in a slow cooker and cook over low heat for 4 hours, then shred the meat as above.
*Creamy avocado sauce
juice of one lime
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
salt to taste
Scoop the flesh out of the avocado and place it in a blender. Chop the tomatillos roughly and add to the blender with the garlic, cilantro and salt. Blend until smooth and scoop into a bowl or jar. Cover and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
**Quick peeled red onions
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pickling spice
Layer the onions in a pint jar or glass bowl. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices to a boil in a small pan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the onions and leave to cool, then seal and keep in the refrigerator for a least an hour, but the onions will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Green Chicken Chilaquiles