Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chicken tacos, "Calexico style".

I walked into Brooklyn on a Friday night carrying my weight in baggage with a laptop in a discrete case that doesn't scream, "I'm carrying a laptop", because I was walking in Brooklyn on a dark Friday night.
Down past 4 streets, lined rows of brownstones some close curbside, some set back, all lit with little white lights because this area was filled with spirit in late December. I reached the light blue building, met by my brother and the tiny smiling face of my main man Milo whose 1 year-old wide-eyed curiosity was drifting to sleep.
I kissed my brother on the cheek and Milo all over his baby face, pushed through two sets of doors, one that was sturdy as if it could withstand my incessant knocking. The other purely for aesthetic purposes, glass and aged wood, perfect for my nephew's little hands to leave frosty imprints on as he watched his silly aunt Megan play peek-a-boo with him as her brother opened the lock. We trekked up the winding staircase and into the apartment, the smell of our dinner drawing me closer and closer to the table.
"Have you ever had Calexico?" was the casual question that began the addiction, as he walked away to put Milo down to sleep.
"No", but I knew that smell couldn't disappoint, spice, roasted meat, and something acidic, vinegar.
The carne asada burrito and the pork tacos with pickled red onion, each smothered respectively with the specialty pumpkin arbol salsa, did not last long, but still teased me with lasting taste long after devoured.
It was after that night of watching Milo, typing up my 13 page paper on 20th Century American Poetry, and making breakfast the next morning for my tired brother and sister in law, that I knew I had to find a way to have that Calexico without the necessity of the hour and a half journey.
I spent that hour and a half on my way home, concocting.

"Calexico what?"

My sister wanted a mexican style dinner for one of her birthday celebrations.
Prefect timing to try out a Calexico inspired meal. There needed to be certain elements that were signature to the taste I wanted to achieve:
Spiced meat of choice- Chicken in this case, my sister's favorite.
Pickled red onion
Pumpkin Arbol Salsa
Salty cheese

Chicken for Calexico style tacos (Makes about 15 authentic sized tacos)

You will need:
For the marinade
Juice of 2 limes
4 peeled and smashed garlic cloves
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
1 minced jalapeno (keep seeds in if you like heat, remove if you don't)
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tequila
3 teaspoons adobo seasoning
2 teaspoons chili powder
A good amount of Kosher Salt and pepper
8 Boneless skinless chicken breasts

Combine all ingredients in a large ziptop bag, or divide between two bags if all of the chicken will not fit with room at the top of the bag.
Make sure all of the marinade is evenly distributed on the chicken and set in the fridge for 2 or 3 hours before cooking.

You will need:
For the chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 jalapenos, sliced and seeded
2 large yellow onions, minced
6 cloves minced garlic
1 28-ounce can diced San Marzano tomatoes
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
Chicken in marinade
4 cups good quality chicken stock or more to cover
Adobo seasoning optional
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro to finish

Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow to start coming up to room temperature.
In a large pan with high sides, saute the jalapenos, onion, and garlic until fragrant and the onions begin to brown on the sides. Add in the tomatoes and allow this to cook for 5 minutes, add in the paprika, cumin, oregano and chili powder. Let this cook for another 2 minutes so the spices can bloom. Take the chicken out of the marinade and place into the tomato mixture, add in a bit of the marinade, about a quarter.
Brown the chicken and then add in the chicken stock to cover.
Bring this to a simmer and allow to cook uncovered for about an hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the chicken is very tender.
Shred the chicken and return to the pan with the remaining liquid, and allow to reduce to your preferred consistency.
Add in the fresh cilantro and season to taste with either adobo or kosher salt and pepper.

Up Next, Pickled red onion!
We're almost at assembling...

Pickled Red Onion.

This is the perfect acidic topping for your favorite tacos. You know your favorite tacos, right? The recipe that I just posted!
Wishful thinking, or confidence? You decide!

Pickled Red Onion

You will need:
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine the vinegar, lime juice, water, honey and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat and let come to room temperature.
Pour this over the onion and let sit in the fridge for at least 5 hours before using.

Top these delicious chicken tacos with queso fresco or your preferred salty white cheese,
pickled red onion, the pumpkin arbol salsa (recipe to follow).
These individual recipes would taste great on any other taco filling you like as well, be it carne asada, roasted pork, or add a flavorful boost to vegetarian options.
Share them! There's no way you can eat them all.
I know what you're thinking...
"is that a challenge?"

Pumpkin Arbol Salsa

This recipe is courtesy of Calexico restaurant and Hungry Nation (I believe...)

I used fresh jalapenos in my version, which is why it's a vibrant green color. Use what you can!