Moist Mexican-Style Rice

mexican-style riceMy son is almost two, and loves rice. All rice. If I put rice on his plate, or he sees rice, before he starts eating, it’s unlikely he’ll eat anything but rice for the duration of the meal. And it’s not because he’s picky – he’ll (thankfully!) eat most foods, for now. But when he looks upon rice, the heavens are certainly shining down and illuminating it for him.

This works out great for me, because that means packing lunches for day care is often as simple as mixing rice, veggies and meat in a tupperware.The rice at most Mexican joints doesn’t appeal to me. I still usually leave it on the plate if we eat out and I forget to ask them to give me double beans instead. It’s just too dry. I prefer moist rice, unless there will be some sauce or meat/veggie medley of which that rice will be soaking up the juices.

Leftovers

Rice is great because it reheats well, and works even better mixed with meat and frozen vegetables for a quick and easy lunch. My favorite pairings for this rice are Spicy Beans, leftover taco meat, and Mexican-Style Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, corn, red bell pepper).

chicken taco leftovers medley

Moist Mexican-Style Rice

This rice is an adaptation of my mother-in-law’s rice, influenced by my go-to rice pilaf. The result is moist rice that pairs great with any Mexican food you happen to be serving. If you have rendered chicken fat on hand, definitely utilize it here, as it makes for a heartier rice.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. rendered chicken fat (alternate: Canola oil or vegetable oil)
  • ⅓ medium yellow or brown onion, diced
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup salsa fresca
  • 1½ cup chicken stock or water

Directions

  1. Heat the fat in a medium pot over medium-high heat, and once the fat begins to shimmer, add the onions and a pinch of salt.
  2. Sweat the onions until softened, add the rice, and cook a minute more, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.
  4. Add the salsa fresca, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the chicken stock or water, and stir to combine. Bring to a bubble, then reduce to a simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
  6. Season with salt to taste.

Serving Suggestions

This pairs incredibly well with Spicy Beans and Mexican-Style Vegetables (drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave until tender and hot – 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, 2 minutes) as perfect sides for Chicken Tacos.

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