Taco Night – Done Right

Chicken Tinga Tacos

Please welcome Will Halsey, a new contributor to Do Again. We hope you enjoy his special ode to Taco Night. Not only does this post include a mighty delicious recipe for tacos, but also includes a review of a special spice blend , AND a great beer pairing as well. For more information about Will and his blog, please go the About Us page to read his bio. We look forward to more posts from him in the future! So Will, please take it away. . .

First, I need to let you know that I am in grad school. That makes me poor (relatively). But being poor doesn’t mean you can’t make a ‘do again.’

Taco nights are a cornerstone of cheap, time-friendly, family-centric meals. They are easy to make and a variety of toppings lets everyone have fun, while also getting exactly what they want.

However, good tacos, at least those worthy of a Do Again, require two important things:

1) Flavorful meat

2)  A really good sauce or salsa

But first things first. What is the best friend of someone cooking on tight budget, besides beans and rice? A slow cooker.  Slow cookers allow for any cheap meat (pork ribs, shoulder, any cut of chicken, beef trimmings for stew, etc, to magically, over time become tender, fall-apart goodness. As well, slow cookers are easy to clean and recipes require very little maintenance, once the food is inside. If you don’t own one, get one.

I wanted to make a big batch of food that would last a long time and could be multipurpose in its uses. Enter in, the Chicken Tinga. This slow cooked, mexican-style pulled chicken can be used in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, in salads, with rice and beans, as an appetizer or  just eaten by itself.

For this dish, you make a sautéed spice mixture that is added to the slow cooker with the raw chicken. Once hours have passed, you pick the chicken apart.

Slap Ya MamaMy secret flavor weapons are – Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning and apple cider vinegar. This awesome spice mixture from the bayou kicks everything up a notch, and the apple cider vin also brightens up the flavor. Finally, by sauteing everything, the flavors intensify and form crispy edges on your pulled chicken that add a wonderful crunch.

Finally, if you want to personalize the dish, you can add extras, such as sautéed veggies, pineapple or cheese (like pepper jack). Half of the fun of cooking is making it your own. So feel free to be creative.

Every good taco/burrito/whatever needs one more thing and that is a sauceIt’s all about the sauce. My sauce is a riff on chipotle mayo, but it tastes way better and is even healthier. It’s plain, non-fat greek yogurt, lime juice and hot sauce (I use Chalula). The tartness of this sauce cuts the heat of the spice like sour cream, but then elevates all the flavors on your palate. The goal here is umami.  Also it has no fat, so you don’t end up with the greasy, gloppy mess that chipotle mayo often brings.

Taco’s are delicious, and food comas can be comforting, but nobody enjoys a post meal feeling of self-hatred (see – eating two chipotle burritos back to back).

For the taco itself I prefer frying up some corn tortillas but you can use flour ones if you like. Also important are an arrangement of toppings. I prefer  simple and fresh (as opposed to over loaded). I slice a few red onions, chop some tomatoes and sprinkle on some cilantro. All these flavors go well together, but you could also include some fresh purple cabbage for an added textural crunch.

Finally to pair with your tacos, you need one more thing.

Beer. 

Noble Pils I never thought I would see the day I would give my support for Sam Adams, but the brewery has come a long way since the Boston Lager. Enter in the Noble Pils – Sam Adams’ take on the pilsner. But this isn’t your average pilsner, which normally doesn’t taste like too much beyond straw, biscuits, and perhaps a whisper of hops. Noble Pils surprised me with a subtle, yet  beautifully  hoppy presence that makes this a pleasure to drink. It is clean, refreshing, but manages to balance its superb hop flavors well.

Skip the Corona, Sol, Dos Equis, Pacifico, Modello or even Tacate. For a dish like this, you want to enjoy every aspect and not just drink something to wash it all down. Having a slightly hoppy beer allows you to keep the spiciness of this dish at bay and the pilsner-style means two things: the hops won’t dominate your mouth and it will be low in alcohol, so you can have several!

Easy drinking and easy on the wallet. At $8.70 a six-pack this is easily one of the cheapest, flavor-filled “sixers” to pick up; I love when price meets quality.

Recipe

Chicken Tinga

  • 3 boneless chicken breasts
  • 3 Limes, juiced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbs chicken stock

 Spices

I just add the spices a dash at a time. Be careful when adding the cayenne pepper since it is potent, but the others you can sprinkle to your heart’s content. Personally, I like my chicken quite spicy.

  •  Chili Powder
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Ground (dry) Mustard seed

Spicy Yogurt Sauce (low-fat)

  • 1 cup non-fat greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbs hot sauce (I use Cholula)
  • 1 Tbs lime juice (half a lime)

You Will Also Need:

  • Corn Tortillas
  • Apple Cider Vinegar ( 1 Tbs vinegar per cup of pulled chicken)
  • Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning ( or other seasoning of your choice)
  • Red onion ( optional topping)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (optional topping)
  • Red Cabbage (optional topping)
  • Cheese (optional topping)
  • Guacamole (optional topping)

Instructions (chronologically)

1) Place chicken in slow cooker, add juice of 3 limes and place on high for  (3-4 hours) or low (5-6 hours).

2) Next, saute the onions  for 5 minutes, then add the jalapeno, garlic, and spices.  Continue to cook until onions begin to sweat and become translucent.

3) Add chicken stock, set burner to low and cook for 5-8 minutes more.

4) Add the mixture to slow cooker.

5) A half hour prior to chicken being done  is a good time to whip up your yogurt sauce and make your toppings. Just blend the ingredients together in a bowl and you are done! – Keep yogurt sauce refrigerated until serving time.

6) Once the chicken is cooked, pull apart tender, remove from slow cooker and, um,  pull apart. In a large bowl, add chicken and reserve slow cooker liquid for later.

7) Add in any extras to mixture that you might desire. (See my suggestions above)

8) Get two frying pans – one to cook the tortillas and one to cook the chicken.

9)  Add the chicken mixture to one pan, with apple cider vinegar and any seasoning (such as Slap Ya Mama) and set to medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken starts to get crispy edges,  remove it to a serving bowl and  set aside. Garnish with cilantro or green onions if you like.

– (Be careful not to burn or dry out your chicken – use the reserved slow cooker liquid to moisten your Chicken Tinga if needed)

10) In the other pan, start frying up  your tortillas. Place one inch of oil in the pan and heat on high. Once the oil is hot, dip the corn tortilla in the oil. Fry briefly on one side and then gently turn it over to crisp on the other side. You can crisp it up completely to make a tostada (flat taco) or cook it less time to keep it flexible (traditional taco). Or heat up your flour tortillas in a 250 degree oven, wrapped in aluminum foil for about 10 minutes to make them more flexible.

Set table with tortillas, Chicken Tinga and toppings and enjoy!