Chicken Tacos

My step-daughter is at times a picky eater. She’s much better now than when we first met (she was 6), when mealtimes sometimes involved sitting at the table long after everyone had finished, bargaining with her to finish just a small amount of whatever we were eating that night. “Eat these four bites of chicken and you can have ice cream with the rest of us.” “I don’t need ice cream.” Hmm…. Bargaining works much better when you have something on them. She wasn’t fazed by dangling-carrots. But there were two family meals that never involved a battle of wills: spaghetti and tacos.
chicken tacos

While she now, at 16, makes an active effort to eat what we’re eating for dinner (and will occasionally be adventurous and try something crazy, like beet juice or salmon sashimi), tacos are definitely still one of her favorite foods. A normally sparse eater, she will devour between three and five tacos on her own. Sometimes six.

I can’t blame her. I have a hard time controlling myself too. Tacos are one of those comfort foods that take me back to dinners around the family table of my youth, the way Remy’s Ratatouille transports Anton Ego. Everyone is happy because they get tacos the way they like them, whether that’s with just meat and cheese, or so packed with toppings they are spilling out in every direction.

These are flavorful but mild tacos, so they are very kid-friendly. If it’s just me and my husband I’m more likely to use jalapeños instead of green chilies to kick it up a notch. My favorite toppings are jack cheese, shredded iceberg, diced avocado, and a medium salsa fresca. What are yours?

Leftovers

Mix the leftover chicken, rice, and beans (and the Mexican-Style Vegetables too!) together for a perfect lunch dish, or pile them all together for a nice taco salad.

chicken taco leftovers medley

Chicken Tacos

Serves 3-4, with leftovers

If you are pressed for time, you could certainly try to fry the tortillas while you are preparing the filling. However, I find that the flavor is better if the meat has a little time to meld with the other flavors, and I’m more likely to over-fry the tortillas if I don’t pay strict attention to that task.

Note: Be careful not to fry your tortillas too long. They shouldn’t be like chips; they should have a crispness but still be pliant enough to fold around their fillings. I like to look for when the tortilla just starts to show signs of browning in spots. And remember, it will firm up a bit on the cooling rack as well. If you over-fry, break them in half and assemble a tostada instead of a taco; or just eat them like chips.

frying taco shells

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tbsp. rendered chicken fat or olive oil
  • ⅓ medium yellow or brown onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ a (4 oz.) can of diced green chilies (mild) or jalapeños (spicier)
  • 3-4 cups leftover chicken, diced or shredded (from your Crispy Roast Chicken)
  • 2-3 tbsp. chicken stock
  • kosher salt
  • Taco fixings: shredded iceberg, grated jack cheese, salsa fresca, diced avocado, sour cream
  • lard (alternate: vegetable or Canola oil)
  • 12 corn tortillas

Directions

  1. In a large pan or skillet, heat the fat or oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
  2. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.
  3. Add the chiles, diced chicken, and a good pinch of salt and cook until warm through.
  4. Season to taste with salt. Reduce heat to low to keep warm while you fry the tortillas.
  5. In a large (preferably cast iron) skillet, heat ¼ inch of lard or oil over medium-high heat.
  6. When oil is shimmering, test by dipping the edge of a tortilla into the oil – if it begins to sizzle, lower the remainder of the tortilla into the oil; if it doesn’t sizzle, remove and wait a minute or two more before testing again.
  7. Fry the tortilla for one minute to soften, then flip the tortilla over and fold in half; fry 1-2 minutes, flip to the other side of the folded tortilla, and fry 1-2 minutes more to desired crispness. (In a 12 inch skillet, you should be able to work on three tortillas at a time – one in each stage: flat, folded first side, and folded second side.
  8. Move to a cooling rack or a half sheet pan lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt if desired.

Serving Suggestions

Starchy Sides: Mexican-Style Rice & Spicy Beans

Veggie Sides: Mexican-Style Vegetables (drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave until tender and hot – 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, 2 minutes), Mexican Caesar Salad

Crispy Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken Leg Quarter
In high school, I once watched my friend’s mother carefully remove every tiny bit of residual skin from an already skinless chicken breast. I didn’t really know how to process what I was watching – why would you do that? I foresaw only dry, bland, mediocrity.Hands down, my favorite thing about roasted chicken, is crispy, salty, delicious skin. I blame my mother. Each year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, she always pointed out that the skin was really lovely… really crispy. We relished it, and fought over it a little. But we really only roasted turkeys at Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas, and I’m not willing to wait around all year for that crunch, and crispy chicken skin can be just as delicious as that of turkey.
roast chicken on a platter

And truthfully, even if you don’t love that unctuous crunch as I do, the skin does more than provide a burst of flavor and texture – it holds in all that moisture, leaving you with juicy chicken. For me, chicken falls into two categories: dry (bad) and moist (good). One way to ensure delicious, juicy chicken is to cook it bone-in and skin-on, ideally in as whole a piece as possible, and be sure to let it rest 15 minutes before you begin carving.

Roasting a whole chicken is best for moisture, but it means that not all the skin attains that delicate golden crunch I crave. For that, you need as much of the skin to be face up as possible – the answer is to roast chickens in halves (or spatchcocked).

We eat this roast chicken at least once a week – it’s easy, tasty, and provides leftovers for use in tacos, pot pies, casseroles, or other meals, as well as everything I need to make stock and render chicken fat (which I promise, is amazing and not as scary as it sounds)!

Carving

Use tongs or a meat fork with your non-dominant hand to manipulate the hot chicken while you cut with your dominant hand. It will take some practice to carve successfully without mutilating that delicious skin, but people will soon wonder at your carving skills. Half chickens are a great place to start, because they are a little more steady on the carving board than a whole chicken.

Remember: you will have difficulty cutting through bone, but you should be able to separate and cut through at the joints. There are a lot of great free videos online, like this one, that will show you how it’s done.

  1. Fold the wing back until the joint connecting to the body separates. Cut through this now open joint to separate the wing from the body.
  2. Lift the leg quarter away from the body and use the knife to cut the skin and allow the quarter to be folded back, disconnecting the joint where the thigh meets the body. Cut through this now open joint.
  3. If you wish to serve legs and thigh rather than quarters, cut through the joint where these two meet.
  4. Slice along the rib cage to separate the breast from the body. Don’t worry about getting every bit of meat off the rib cage – if you are making stock with the carcasses you’re going to want a little meat on there.

roast chicken on a plate with baked  Japanese sweet potato and grilled cauliflower

Leftovers

Usually, if you budget one ½ chicken per person, you’ll have enough leftover meat to work with for another meal, as well as the carcass of two chickens, and a pan full of juices, oil, and crusty bits of flavor. We can use every bit.

Use your fingers to remove all the meat from the leftover legs, thighs, and breasts, and store in a zip top bag or your preferred storage container. Everything else will go into making your stock: the leftover leg and thigh bones, the rib cages and backs leftover after carving, all the leftover skin, and the juices, fat, and crusty bits in the pan. If you are not ready to make stock right away, or have an extra large soup/stock pot and want to wait until you have another batch of stock fixings, put all of this into a gallon-sized zip top bag, label it, and store it in the freezer until you are ready. But definitely – make stock.

chicken tacos

Crispy Roast Chicken

Serves 3-4, with leftovers for another meal

This chicken is about as basic as it gets. You could, of course, add whatever herbs or spices you love. I generally keep it simple because I want a simple, basic stock from carcass, and because I really just don’t think it needs it. Tip: Line half sheet pan with foil so you have less scrubbing to do later.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange chicken skin side down on a half sheet pan with a rack. Drizzle or brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt (one good pinch per half chicken), pepper, and granulated garlic. Flip chicken over so the skin is facing up and repeat.
  3. Roast chicken until juices run clear (poke the thigh and look at the color of the juice: pink – not ready, clear – ready) and the skin is golden and crispy, approximately 1 hr 15 min, depending on the starting temperature of the meat.
  4. Remove from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before carving. (Do not skip the resting period!)

Serving Suggestions

Starchy Sides: Mashed Caulitatoes, Roast Sweet Potatoes (just wrap them in foil and put them in the oven with the chicken), Garlic Bread

Veggie Sides: “Grilled” Brussels Sprouts or Cauliflower, Candied Carrots, California Blend Vegetables