Food & Wine (December 2011)
Eating in restaurants every day, three meals a day, for nearly two weeks afforded us a lot of opportunities to try many great dishes in China. But every now and then it's nice to be able to just pour yourself a glass of juice or a bowl of cereal. So at the end of our trip, it wasn't that we were tired of eating Asian food as much as we were eager to cook for ourselves again.
So within days of getting back home, we were tearing through the December food magazines, plotting and planning these last couple weeks before Christmas.
And the first thing we decided on, in this season of cookies and cakes and roasts and party food was, oddly enough, tacos.
We love these tacos!
Within moments after taking the first bite, we both agreed that the flavor -- which is primarily a smoky-sweet tomato sauce given a slight kick by chipotles in adobo --- is reminiscent of a Mexican lasagna. It's just something about the tomato sauce with those classic Italian flavors -- onion, garlic and tomatoes -- that immediately makes you think of pasta. So the kids might be wanting spaghetti tacos, but we're all but ready to endorse lasagna tacos.
The toppings -- Cotija cheese, sliced scallions and cilantro -- are the perfect accompaniment to the sauce-heavy filling, adding a nice bit of texture and freshness to eat bite. The three-step process -- sauté chicken, make tomato sauce, braise chicken in tomato sauce -- takes a few hours, but it's extremely easy and the "hands-on" time is minimal.
The only snag you might hit here is in the shopping, in trying to find Cotija cheese. Cotija is a firm, salty Mexican cheese. Some online descriptions say it's similar to Parmesan (and suggest Parmesan as a substitute). We thought it was more akin to Pecorino Romano. Our main supermarket (a Harris Teeter, for what it's worth) didn't carry Cotija. But we found it in another neighborhood supermarket (a Safeway) that carries a lot of Latin-American food products. (In fact, the store had four or five different varieties of Mexican cheeses.)
And for those of you who have never purchased them before, you'll likely find chipotles in adobo in the International aisle of your supermarket. Most recipes only call for using one or two of the chiles, so you might also find our post about how to use chipotles in adobo useful. And here's a tip: If a recipe only calls for one or two chiles, you can bag and freeze the rest for another use.
We adore these tacos. They're flavorful and unlike any tacos we've made before. We think they'd be amazing as an entree for a dinner party, though probably a little messy for a holiday cocktail party.
But really, the most important thing is that you find a reason to make these tacos.
Think of it as an early holiday gift to yourself.
Active: 30 minutes | Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Tips and Notes From Zach and Clay of The BittenWord.com:
- We were unable to purchase skinless, bone-in chicken thighs, so we instead used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and were happy with the result.
- Cotija cheese can be purchased at a Latino foods market, or a supermarket that carries an array of Latin-American foods.
- Chiles in adobo can be found in the International aisle at most supermarkets.
- If a recipe only calls for one or two chiles in adobo, you can bag and freeze the rest for another use.
- If you like it spicy, consider adding an additional chipotle in adobo.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds trimmed, skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 canned chipotles in adobo, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
24 corn tortillas
2 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled
Sliced scallions and chopped cilantro, for garnish
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and pour off the fat in the skillet.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet along with the onion. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned and softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chipotles and the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly reduced, 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and let cool for 15 minutes. Puree until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Bake the chicken uncovered in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick and darkened around the edges. Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred the meat; discard the bones. Return the chicken meat to the sauce. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken onto each tortilla and sprinkle with the crumbled cheese. Garnish the chicken tacos with the scallions and chopped cilantro and serve hot.
MAKE AHEAD: The tinga can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and reheated gently.