Friday, February 23, 2018

Grilled chicken tacos

Earlier this week I wrote about my love for tacos. 'Round the Chuckbox featured tacos al pastor on Monday. I cooked the shepherd style tacos on a cast iron grill pan. These tacos mimic the well known Mexico street food.

With a package of chicken thighs thawing in the fridge, I thought tacos de pollo were in order. This morning I quickly assembled a marinade from orange juice, lime juice, white vinegar, olive oil and spices. I let the chicken soak all day in the fridge.

As the chicken marinated, I prepared salsa verde from tomatillos, fresh chili peppers, onion and garlic. The vegetables were cooked over high heat in the grill pan. The char added extra flavor.

At dinner time, the chicken was cooked in the grill pan, condiments prepared and tacos assembled. Although it's not included in the recipe, I shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese because my wife likes cheese on tacos. The homemade hot sauce and salsa verde compliment the tacos well.

Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate 4 hours or over night to impart flavors. Chicken and marinade can be placed in a  large zipper lock bag if desired. Discard marinate.
To prepare the salsa verde: In a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat, char 8 small to medium tomatillos, 1 seeded poblano chili pepper, 1 seeded jalapeƱo chili pepper, 1/4 medium onion and 3 garlic cloves.  Place in food processor bowl with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, squeeze of lime, some chopped cilantro and salt to taste. Pulse to desired consistency. Leave chunky. If desired, remove some of the char on the chili peppers before placing in the food processor.
Grill the chicken thighs, skin-side down, until browned, about 5 minutes. After turning, dial the heat down to medium and continue cooking until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Covering the chicken at this point will help cook them a little quicker.
For each soft taco, quickly heat two corn tortillas. Each taco gets chicken, diced red onion, chopped cilantro and salsa verde. Avocado and sliced radish add color to the tacos (not pictured). Homemade hot sauce adds extra spice to the tacos (recipe coming soon).

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can be used for these tacos if desired. Add additional dried chili peppers to the marinade for additional spice. Ground chipotle chili pepper or smoked paprika can be added to marinade to add a smokey flavor.

8 chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed

3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 chilies de arbol, stem removed and broken into pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano, rubbed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Corn tortillas

Salsa verde
Diced red onion
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place in bowl or other suitable container. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Turn chicken every couple hours to ensure coverage.

Pre-heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade and discard. Brush grill pan ribs with oil. Grill chicken skin-side down until skin is browned, about 5 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not crowd pan. Grill in batches.

Remove chicken to platter. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Rest 5 minutes, then shred chicken. Serve with corn tortillas, salsa verde, diced red onion, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Serves 4 to 8.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tacos al pastor

Tacos and hamburgers are two things that I can't get enough of. I've taken to ordering a hamburger and French fries at our local Mexican restaurant. It's not that I don't enjoy their food. I do, especially the chili verde. I simply want hamburgers.

And there are no shortage of tacos near our home. They abound on Taco Tuesday. Debbie and I frequent the local take and bake pizza joint, where -- on Tuesday -- ground beef tacos are the special of the day.

This pleases my wife. She only orders three things at any Mexican eatery -- one, two or three tacos, crunchy shell, no tomato with lettuce of the side. In nearly 37 years, I've never seen her deviate.

This brings us to tacos al pastor. Cooked "shepherd style," traditional tacos al pastor are prepared by stacking marinated pork slices on a spit and roasting on a vertical rotisserie, much like Greek gyros. The meat is slowly roasted as the spit turns. Each time a taco is ordered, the cook shaves the crisp out layer off onto a handheld tortilla.

Yet, tacos al pastor can be made without a spit. A cast iron grill pan stands in for the rotisserie. After grilling the onion and pineapple over intense heat, marinated pork slices quickly caramelize on the ribs of the grill pan. The result is a wonderfully charred taco filling.

The marinade is prepared with garlic, spices, achiote paste and guajillo chilies. The achiote adds color and a "earthy, peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness" to the marinade. When combined with guajillo chilies, the deep red hue imparts an amazing bit of eye appeal, to say nothing of the rich level of spiciness. Stir in pineapple juice and vinegar and the flavor of the tacos are out of this world.

This is my new favorite taco.

Serve tacos al pastor with Mexican rice, lime wedges and a spritz of chopped cilantro. This may not be authentic, but I enjoy a side of grilled onion with the tacos.


This recipe is attributed to the Food and Wine website. I have adapted the directions to cast iron grill pan or skillet. Purchase guajillo chilies and achiote at well-stocked supermarkets or your local Mexican market.

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for brushing
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons achiote paste
Sea salt
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium red onion, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
Warm corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, cumin, pepper and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the chilies and cook, stirring, until blistered in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple juice, vinegar and achiote paste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and steep for 5 minutes.

Transfer the chili mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt. Place the pork in a large covered dish or storage container. Pour the marinade over the pork and turn to coat. Set the dish in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat a cast iron grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the pineapple and onion with oil. Grill over high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Grill over high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the pineapple, onion and pork into thin strips and transfer to a bowl. Season with salt. Serve with corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Makes 8 to 12 tacos.