Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa (Two Versions)

A common weekday dinner at my house is Chinese chicken salad. I have done it often enough that it has become a bit boring. I thought about what I could do that was similar, but in a different culture. When I make tacos, Jan uses the leftovers to make a taco salad for her lunch.  I thought: “That is a starting point!”

Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa

Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad
with Hot-Pan Salsa

In making Chinese chicken salad, I make a dressing, marinate and fry chicken, chop vegetables, and top them all with commercial fried noodles.  Could I do a Mexican version of this salad? Frequently, I will wake at 3 AM and obsess about questions like this.

Last night it was, “How do you make a good Mexican chicken taco salad?” After laying awake for an hour—thinking about it—I have to get up and type up the ideas, before I can go back to sleep. What dressing should I use? What spices should I marinate the chicken in? What vegetables should be in the salad? Commercial corn chips seem so mundane—what can I make that is fresh?

The dressing should, of course, be a salsa, but that only means “sauce.” There are a wide range of Mexican sauces covered by that word, but a salsa fresca would be the obvious choice. As I lay awake I thinking about it, I remembered a problem I had with my Chinese chicken salad. After I fried the chicken, all of the flavorful fond was left in the pan to go to waste. How could I make use of that flavor bonanza?

Not all salsas have to be fresh! I decided that at least some of the salsa ingredients could be cooked in the pan with the fond to capture that flavor.  I did not want to overcook it, so I thought I would only use the heat of the pan to lightly cook the some of the salsa bits.

When I make a Chinese chicken salad, I use a dry spice rub to season the chicken. The recipe I wrote up at night incorporated the same style of dry spice rub. However, as I stood in my kitchen the next afternoon—looking at the ingredients I had gathered for the dish—I started to have other ideas. Fresh Jalapeño, red onion and garlic are wet, but better than powders. My chicken marinade took a whole new and unexpected turn.

As to the salad—Romaine is one of the lettuces Jan will eat—iceberg is even not allowed in the house. I have, also, just discovered arugula—what have I been missing?  I had thought to include jicama, but I forgot to buy it while I was at the store. And how could I have forgotten cilantro? I had bought it for the salsa, but—late in the night of swirling thoughts—it had never crossed my mind.

Finally, what could I replace the crunchy starch of the Chinese fried noodles with? Commercial corn chips seemed an obvious choice, but not in keeping with the innovative direction this dish was taking. I had half a package of  corn tortilla from the last time I made tacos—fish. Seasoning these, slicing them into strips, and baking them to crunchy crispness seemed just the thing.

Note: Some people have told me that my recipes with long lists of spices are too much for busy people. They still want to “cook fresh,” but they need something that they can throw together quickly after a long hard day. Below the recipe for the dish that I made, I have put together a quick version using more off-the-shelf ingredients that can be table ready in 30 minutes.  It will produce a pale image of the original dish, but it will still be superior and cheaper than takeout.

After Dinner Note:  I cannot claim that all of my 3 AM harebrained dinner ideas work—sometimes I am simply sleep deprived. However, this was a raging success—I can see this entering the pantheon of weekday meals at our house.

Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa

Ingredients

Taco Chicken

5-6 chicken thighs (or 2 chicken breasts or 8 oz. tempeh for Vegan)

Spice paste

2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. red onion, micro-plane grated
2 tsp. ancho chili power
1 tsp. Jalapeño, micro-plane grated
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. garlic, micro-plane grated
1 tsp. cumin, powdered
1 tsp. coriander, powdered
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. chipotle chili powder
pinch cayenne

1 Tbs. corn oil

Karl’s Hot-Pan Salsa

1 beef steak tomato, chopped
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
¼ tsp. pepper

1 Tbs. lime juice

3 Tbs. finely chopped red onion
3 Tbs. minced cilantro stems
1 clove garlic, micro-plane grated
1 Jalapeño, minced, separate uses
½ tsp. agave syrup
Pinch salt

Karl’s Spicy Tortilla Strips

4-6 corn tortillas
2 Tbs. corn oil
1 tsp. ancho chili power
Kosher salt, to taste

Salad Greens

4-6 cups Romaine, coarsely chopped
1-2 cups Arugula
1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 avocado, sliced

Directions

1. Trim any large lumps of fat from the chicken and pat them dry with paper towels.

2. Stir all of the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl and add the chicken.

3. Use a spatula to spread the spice paste into the meat.

Tip: Let the meat marinate for at least 30 minutes.

4. While the meat is marinating, slice the tomato at the equator and scrape the seeds and jelly into a sieve set over a small bowl.

5. Press the jelly through the sieve and discard the seeds.

6. Add the lime juice to the tomato jelly and set it aside.

7. Chop the tomatoes to your liking.

Tip: Some people might like their tomato chunks cut large, but I usually use a quarter inch dice for salsas.

Note: Pour any liquid released by the tomatoes into the bowl with the lime mixture.

8. Stir in the Mexican oregano and pepper and set the tomatoes aside.

Tip: This rest will give the dried oregano time to re-hydrate.

9. Put the red onion, cilantro stems, garlic, Jalapeño, agave syrup, and salt in a separate small bowl and stir them together. Set them aside.

10. Brush each tortilla lightly with oil on both sides.

11. Sprinkle the chili powder and salt on one side of the tortilla.

12. Stack the tortillas and slice them into half inch strips.

Tip: You may choose to cut the long center strips in half.

13. Fluff the tortilla strips and put them on a small baking tray.

14. Bake the corn strips for 6-10 minutes in a 450º F oven.

Tip: Toss frequently, so that they cook evenly and remove any strips that are starting to get over done.

15. Remove the tortilla strips to plate to cool.

Tip: The strips may seem a bit floppy right from the oven, but they will get crisper after they have cooled.

16. Put the corn oil in a sauté pan and fry the chicken on both sides until well browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.

Tip: Set the chicken aside on a plate in the refrigerator to cool.

Note: Whenever I cook chicken for a dish like this, I prefer to keep the chicken pieces intact. They are less prone to drying out and are easier to handle in the pan. After they have cooled I slice them into the size pieces I desire for the dish.

17. Turn off the heat and add the contents of the red onion/cilantro stems/Jalapeño bowl.

18. Use the moisture released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan.

19. Cook the salsa bits for two minutes, stirring frequently, as the pan cools off.

Tip: You are not trying to fry these ingredients, you are only trying to lightly cook them with the pan’s residual heat.

20. Add the contents of the tomato jelly bowl to finish cooling off the pan.

21. Stir in the tomato mixture and set the pan aside until it has cooled completely.

22. Chop the salad greens and put them in a salad bowl.

23. Pour the salsa over the salad, toss to coat.

Tip: You want the salsa and chicken to be completely cooled before putting them on top of the salad greens.

24. Slice the cooled chicken into bite sized strips.

25. Put the salad into individual bowls or onto plates and top with the chicken and tortilla strips.

26. Add slices of fresh avocado and serve.

********************

Karl’s Quick Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa

This is the above recipe written for people in a hurry. Sometimes, even I am in a hurry to knock out dinner. This is how I would make something that was close enough to the original to satisfy a hungry horde. Do not feel constrained to use the brands suggested, but they are the ones that I would use should I ever need to make this dish in a hurry.

Ingredients

5-6 chicken thighs (or 2 chicken breasts or 8 oz. tempeh for Vegan)
1 pkg. McCormick’s Chicken Taco Seasoning
1 Tbs. corn oil

(optional) 1 Tbs. lime juice
1 can (7 oz.) Herdez Mexican Salsa Casera

1 beef steak tomato, chopped
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
¼ tsp. pepper

4-6 cups Romaine, coarsely chopped
(optional)1-2 cups Arugula
(optional)1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 cup corn chips
(optional) 1 avocado, sliced

Directions

1. Trim any large lumps of fat from the chicken and rub the spice mix into the meat.

Tip: Let the meat marinate for a few minutes.

2. Put the corn oil in a sauté pan and fry the chicken on both sides until well browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.

Tip: Set the chicken aside on a plate to  cool.

Note: Whenever I cook chicken for a dish like this, I prefer to keep the chicken pieces intact. They are less prone to drying out and are easier to handle in the pan. After they have cooled I slice them into the size pieces I desire for the dish.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and (Optional) deglaze the pan with the lime juice.

4. Add the Salas Casera to the pan and stir to incorporate the chicken fond.

Tip: Let the salsa cool in the pan.

5. Chop the tomatoes and add the Mexican oregano and pepper, stir to mix.

6. Stir the tomatoes into the cooled salsa in the pan.

7. Chop the Romaine and any other greens you are using and put them in a salad bowl.

8. Pour the salsa over the salad, toss to coat.

9. Slice the cooled chicken into bite sized strips.

10. Put the salad into individual bowls or onto plates and top with the chicken and corn chips.

11. Add slices of fresh avocado, if you wish.

2 Comments

Filed under California Fusion, Chicken, Main Dishes, Poultry, Salads, Vegan, Vegetarian

2 responses to “Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa (Two Versions)

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Chicken Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa (Two Versions) | Just an Opinion

  2. Pingback: Karl’s al Pastor Taco Salad with Hot-Pan Salsa | Jabberwocky Stew

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