Tacos!

An unscheduled trip caused this one to be pretty late and I see my site traffic has plummeted in the interim. Sorry about the over-promise.

More than half the crap I do in the kitchen is totally off the cuff, or a simple case of bait and switch because I found out at the last second that I didn’t have an ingredient I really wanted and had to improvise.

No one ever knows about these things when they happen unless I tell them, and things usually turn out OK. Sometimes, I discover a certain improvisation that really works well. This recipe includes one of those improvs that really rounded out the flavor of the meat.

Tacos are great for kids and parents. It’s dinner in its own pocket. Portion control is simple, and leftovers are often even better than the original meal. They are multifaceted, and it’s relatively easy to choose one or two ingredients that you know will go over well with the pickier eaters in your family.

Despite the flexibility of tacos, there are a couple places where you really, really can’t move too much. The tortilla is one of those things. There are A LOT of different brands of tortillas out on the market, but I’ve really only found one brand in Chicago that is worth buying. Azteca? Might as well wrap your fixins in kleenex. Hell, kleenex is probably sturdier and tastes better, too. Mission? Very popular and prolific around here, but they are pretty wimpy and gummy. Prone to breakage. Not great. Del Rey? Now we’re getting somewhere! Nice flavor but the texture can be inconsistent.

The best tortillas in the Chicago area are made by El Milagro. They are consistently tender yet strong, have a great, home-made flavor, and THEY ARE RIDICULOUSLY INEXPENSIVE at $0.89 per dozen. If you can find these in your area, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Buy them. You will not be sorry.

This last time around, I used chicken for the meat. Three chicken boneless, skinless breasts are more than enough meat for a family of 6. You could probably use 2 and be OK, but I hate the idea that someone might leave the table and still be hungry. I marinated the meat for about an hour before cooking, but you could skip the marinating and just use the recipe for the marinade as a mop for the meat while it’s cooking on the grill.

Marinade/Mop

1/2 cup Sprite soda (Improvision here)
1 Tbs ground ancho pepper
1 Clove garlic, minced
1 Tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Grill the meat over indirect medium heat for about 5 minutes per side or until they are cooked through. Dice the meat into ~1/4” cubes after removing from the grill.

While the meat is marinating, make your own pico or salsa. This is the place where you’ll get to showcase some creativity or a special ingredient.

For this particular meal, which turned out exceptionally well, here’s what I used and what I did:

4 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, gutted and minced
1 can of pineapple chunks, very well drained (Dole Tropical Gold is about the sweetest canned pineapple available)
3/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Cumin to taste

Blend all those ingredients in a bowl and stick it in the fridge for as long as you can. If you’re organized and can do it at lunch time, the flavors will have a better chance to blend. But throwing it all together works too.

Note: You can increase the heat by including some of the seeds from the pepper, or increasing the amount of peppers in the pico.

You’ll also need:
Sour Cream
Shredded cheese, like cheddar, monterey, or a blend thereof

And you might want to include:
Crumbled Bacon
Shredded Lettuce
Shredded Cilantro

Heat the tortilla over an open flame, if possible. I use a small warming burner on our stove for this and it works really well. I flip them over with my fingers. Be careful, though. Don’t come running to me if you burn yourself, others, or if you torch your house doing this trick.

After it’s warmed up and you haven’t harmed yourself or your home, fill it with the grilled chicken chunks, some pico, and some or all of the other fixins. The creamy cheese and sour cream blend with the tangy pineapple and fresh tomato in a way that is remarkable. Your kids will love it, and so will you!

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4 Responses to “Tacos!”

  1. Sounds good, I might chuck an avocado in there too because I love them so. I totally agree with you about Azteca–they’ve got the texture of used dryer sheets and none of the longevity.
    Surprising though about the Sprite… does that really do much? Does it help tenderize the meat?
    Finally, I never find portion control to be easy when it comes to tacos, my tastebuds sit on top of my will power and flatten it with the force of a beluga whale.
    Picture looks awesome!

  2. If you let the onions you use for the pico soak in a little lime juice first, it will help cut down on the “onion breath” that may follow. Additionally squeezing some lime juice on the whole taco can be a nice addition… advice from taco-landia.

  3. @Nora,

    I’ve used avocados in the past but only about 2 of us like them, and on a dollars-per-pound basis, avocados are prohibitively expensive. I did find the added sugars from the soda to carmelize and give the chicken a nice, rich flavor.

    @Ana,

    That’s a good tip! Thanks for sharing it!

    otfp

  4. Oh man, bacon in your taco? Why haven’t we thought of that?!

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