Jan and Eilene just got back from England, so of course they are hungry for anything but British food. Jan requested Mexican food. They had actually had very little chicken while they were traveling, so chicken tacos seem the way to go.
I had intended to make my own seasoning mix, but when I checked my spice cabinet I found only a couple of teaspoons of cumin. I decided to use a premixed spice packet. Recently, I had looked at the used McCormick’s Taco Seasoning mix and I had found that it really did not have anything objectionable in it.
I usually pack the vegetables into my taco meat mixes. This is both to stretch the meat and to up the roughage and vitamins. My mother, Claudia, always added celery and, though this is not a traditional ingredient, it always makes it taste “right” to me.
When I serve tacos, I always offer a selection of condiments. The meat is presented in the center surrounded by a bowls of raw onions, grated cheese, fresh cilantro, chopped tomato, salsa, pickled cabbage, and avocado. The diners may choose any or all of these as it pleases them to add to their taco. Sour cream, Mexican Oaxaca cheese, and chopped fresh or pickles chilies are also possible additions.
Karl’s Chicken Tacos
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. coriander seeds
¼ tsp. black pepper, cracked
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. corn oil (separate uses)
1¾ cup sweet onions, diced (separate uses)
1 lb. chicken breast, boneless and skinless
½ cup beer, Mexican dark preferred
1-2 Anaheim chilies
1 medium bell pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup cilantro stems
1 package of McCormick’s Chicken Taco Seasoning (or Karl’s Taco Seasoning)
1 Tbs. lime juice, fresh
1 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, course grated
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
½ cup Karl’s salsa fresca
½ cup Karl’s Cal Col Roja en Escabeche (pickled red cabbage) (optional)
1 avocado, diced with fresh lime juice (optional)
2-3 tortillas per person
1. Place the cumin, coriander, pepper, and red pepper flakes into a mortar and use the pestle to break up the whole spices a bit. Your finished blend should be a bit coarse.
Tip: You are not trying to turn the cumin and coriander into powders.
2. Toast the spices in a large skillet on medium low heat for a minute or two, until fragrant.
Tip: Make sure to use a skillet that has a lid that fits.
3. Add one tablespoon of oil and one quarter cup of onions to the pan and sauté until the onions are picking up some color.
4. Slice the chicken breasts in half, crosswise, so that you have four thin steaks.
Tip: Place the breasts flat on the cutting board and run the knife through them parallel to the board. Alternatively, you may pound them thinner with a mallet, to about 3/8 of an inch.
5. Place the chicken into the skillet and brown each side lightly.
Tip: Dredge the chicken in the onions and spices in the skillet, so that most of it is imbedded in the meat when you start browning. This both gets the flavor into the meat and prevents the loose spices and onions from burning.
6. Add the beer, cover the skillet and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
7. Poach the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes.
8. While the chicken is poaching, roast the chili and green pepper. Wash the peppers and place them on a lipped baking sheet. Broil them 3-4 inches away from the heating element. Turn them about every five minutes until they are well charred on all sides.
9. Remove the chilies from the oven and put them in a plastic bag until they are cool enough to handle.
Tip: The plastic bag continues to steam the chilies and makes it easier to remove the tough skins.
10. Skin and seed the chilies and dice them finely. Reserve the chilies until later.
11. Remove the chicken to a plate and let it cool. When it is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken finely.
Tip: Take each piece of breast and squeeze to break up the meat. Pull the strands of muscles apart so that you have a pile of half to three quarter inch strings of meat.
12. Reserve the poaching liquid.
Tip: Many cooks would recommend straining the solids out of this cooking liquid; I am not one of them.
13. Add the remaining corn oil to the skillet and sauté the onions and celery until they are starting to pick up some color, about 5 minutes.
14. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute.
15. Pull the vegetables to the edges of the skillet and add the seasoning. Toast the spices in the open space for 30 to forty seconds and then pull the vegetables back into the center of the pan.
16. Add the chopped chilies and cilantro stems to the skillet and continue to stir to mix, about one minute.
17. Add the chicken shreds, reserve liquid and lime juice to the skillet and stir to blend. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
18. Use this time to prep the rest of the condiments, if you have not already.
Tip: After you have diced the avocado squeeze one tablespoon of lime juice on it and toss to coat. This prevents it from turning brown.
19. Wrap the tortilla in 2 sheets of paper towel and microwave for one minute to steam them.
Tip: Open the package of tortillas and use a knife or fork to peel them apart right after you remove them from the microwave. This prevents them from turning into a solid block as they cool. Rewrap the tortillas and serve.
20. When most of the moisture has cooked off from the taco meat, transfer it to a serving bowl.
21. Present the meat with the tortillas and a selection of condiments.