Mesquite Smoked Chicken Tacos

For those of you following my blog you may have noticed that I’ve been quiet for a month, or so.  These last few months have been rough.  Covid-19 is alive and well in the U.S. and I, along with many others, are adapting to the situation as best as we can. 

I haven’t stopped cooking but I have to admit, my spirits have been down and I find it difficult to do much more  than wake up, go to work, eat, sleep and repeat.  I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing those kind of feelings.  I’ve been relying on tried and true recipes much of the time and I’ve been making lots of comfort food, most of which is not new or novel or worth posting.  You get the idea.

This particular dish, Mesquite Smoked Chicken Tacos, was something I did back in early March, when many people in the U.S. were staying at home to avoid transmitting the virus.  I took all three weeks of my vacation from work and I tilled my garden with nothing but a shovel and my bare hands, day after day.  I ventured out to buy seeds and seedlings and planted all sorts of vegetables. 

I returned to work two months ago and I’ve faced all sorts of challenges.  So, you may see posts from me frequently or there may be big gaps between them.   Such is life.

When I began making this recipe, I came across and onion that had started to sprout, in my pantry.  I’m not the sort of person that throws anything away without consideration so, I cored the onion, used the edible part of the onion and planted the core.

Here’s what became of that onion core I planted.  It should be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

For this recipe, I used a small charcoal grill, along with a few chunks of dry mesquite, for smoke.  Any hard wood would be fine…oak, hickory…  But, true to my Tex-Mex heritage I opted for mesquite.

Ingredients:

2 lbs chicken breast, cut into 1” thick slices

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 Tbs cumin powder

2 tsp red chile powder

1 tsp oregano

1 large onion, diced

4 jalapeños, fire roasted, steamed, peeled and diced

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

Corn tortillas, briefly fried in oil

1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

½ cup sour cream

Directions:

Marinate the chicken in the tomato sauce, cumin, red chile powder and oregano for at least an hour.

Start the charcoal grill.  Add a few pieces of mesquite to the coals, when the coals become hot.

Once the grill is screaming hot, lay a cast iron skillet on the grate and add a tablespoon of cooking oil.  Add the whole jalapeños and let them sizzle and char on all sides. 

Remove the jalapeños and take them inside to steam in a covered skillet with a scant amount of water for a few minutes.  Turn the heat off and allow the jalapeños to steam for about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken to the cast iron skillet and return it to the charcoal grill.  Cook the chicken over low heat for about an hour, turning the chicken every 15 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, remove the jalapeños from the skillet and peel away the charred skins.  Remove the seeds and stem and then chop the jalapeños into small pieces. 

Add the jalapeños, onion and two tomatoes to the skillet and simmer at low/medium heat for several minutes, until the onions begin to soften.  Remove to a serving bowl.

Chop the remaining tomato and sprinkle with garlic salt and oregano.  Set aside.

Soften corn tortillas in a little hot oil.  Set the tortillas aside until you are ready to assemble the tacos.

Remove the chicken from the grill and roughly chop into bite sized pieces.

Assemble the tacos by adding some chicken followed by some of the cooked tomato, onion and jalapeños, followed a little lettuce and then add a small dollop of sour cream and top with fresh, seasoned tomatoes and green onion.

Serve with rice and beans, a fresh salad, or fruit.

Salsa Verde

I like all kinds of food, but I turn to Mexican cuisine more often than not.  Mexican cuisine can be simple or complex.  As a home cook, I often head down the simple path…tacos, enchiladas, fajitas…   But, there are times that I want to go “all out” and make something special. 

Salsa verde is one of those special things that I can’t resist.  It is an essential component in my Mexican Flag Chimichangas, which I will share with you soon.   

The salsa verde that I am making is comprised mainly of tomatillos and serrano chiles.  There are many types of Mexican green salsas but this particular one is common to many dishes.  The thing that I find funny about making salsa verde is that it can be prepared simply and quickly, or it can be a time consuming project.  I have chosen the time consuming variation, because I am poco loco, which is to say, a little bit crazy. 

First, let’s get something straight.  Tomatillos are not green tomatoes.  Although the tomatillo is in the same family as tomatoes, they are not the same thing.  Tomatillos can be found in grocery stores all over the U.S., due to an ever-growing population of Latinos.  And to that, I say gracias!  You can buy salsa verde in a jar, but homemade salsa verde is mas sabroso (tastier.)

Smoking tomatillos on the grill makes it even better!  So, lets grill some tomatillos.

This recipe will yield about one quart of salsa. 

Ingredients:

12 tomatillos

5 serrano chiles

1 Tbs coarse salt

1 Tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

Peel the stems and husks off of the tomatillos and pull the stems off of the serranos.  Slice the tomatillos in half (along the equator, if you know what I mean).  Toss the tomatillos, serranos and garlic cloves in a bowl with the coarse salt and olive oil.  Set aside.

Directions for grilling:

Wrap the grate with heavy duty aluminum foil, covering about ¾ of the grill.  Cut slits in the foil to facilitate air flow.  You can skip this if you feel lucky but, I know from past experience that little things, like peppers and garlic, can find a way to slip through grating before you know it!

Heat charcoal briquettes and place them in the grill.  Lay a piece of piece of wood on top of the coals.  I used mesquite wood but hickory or oak is fine.  It’s all about your flavor preference.

Place the foil-covered grate on the grill and then place the tomatillos, serranos and garlic on the grate.  Close the lid of the grill and wait several minutes.   Open the grill and inspect the everything.  Once the bottoms have blackened, pull them off. 

Purée

Drop the smoked tomatillos, chiles, garlic, the teaspoon of salt and the tablespoon of sugar in a blender.  Add the diced onion, cilantro and a splash of water.  Purée for several seconds.  That’s it.  You have made salsa verde!  Store in a mason jar and allow to cool before refrigerating.  The salsa will last about a week.  If you want to extend the life of your salsa add about 2 Tbs vinegar.