Sunday, January 2, 2011

NYC Tacos, Texas Style

Dear Tricia, As you know, I have moved up to New York and recently I have met a boy. I want to cook dinner for him tonight and I have been racking my brain (and reading all the archives in your blog), trying to find something that would impress but not bankrupt me or embarrass me (just in case I messed it up, you know.) He has never been to Texas and I talk about Texas all the time, being the wholesome Texas female that I am, and I decided that I want to make tacos!! We're talkin, Torchys/Gueros/cart-on-the- side-of-the-road-on-the-east-side-at-2-in-the-morning-with-fresh-lime-and-cilantro kind of tacos. I've never really made pork before and I'm not bad with chicken, I just want it to have that umph like they do at home! Can you give me a good recipe for some impressive, delicious tacos that will school my new beau and bring me a little piece of home to these yanks up here in NY?

Hell to the yes. Let me just pause for a second to reminisce the days of living in Austin where taco carts were abundant and delicious. The days when you could order a Democrat taco and a Republican taco and the two parties would unite peacefully in your belly. Those were glorious days. I think I can even hear Willie Nelson in the background.
Since you're most comfortable with chicken, and now is not the time to potentially mess up dinner for your new manfriend, lets stick with that.
The thing about cooking a really flavorful ANYTHING, whether its sauce, or soup or just some pulled chicken tacos, you have to have a really strong, flavorful base. The base is the first thing you put in the pan- its what will give you the umph, as you so eloquently put it, and its what you should spend the most time on. In this case, its seasonings and onions.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 overflowing teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
a big pinch of salt and a couple of twists of the pepper grinder
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup salsa (try not to use Pace picante sauce. If you have to use something out of a jar, I recommend Joe T. Garcia's if you can find it, or something that has the words "fire roasted" on the label. Darker red salsas are better.)
1 cup chicken stock
about a half a lime

First and foremost- get your stuff ready first. Measure everything out, have it ready in little bowls or tupperware or whatever fits in your tiny NYC kitchen. (Do you even have a kitchen, or are you using a hot plate on top of your ironing board? Just curious.) Getting your shit ready before you start makes your life easier in general.

Put a sauce pot over medium heat and let it get hot, for at least a few minutes. This is something that I can't stress enough in cooking- you have to have heat. Don't be a pansy.
Then put in the olive oil and let that get hot.
When the olive oil is hot in your already hot pan, add the onion, cumin, chili powder and the salt and pepper. Stir this around and let the onions soften and get brown. They're going to start to look dark as the spices coat them, but don't be afraid because this is what makes your tacos taste awesome.
After the onions start to soften, about 3-5 minutes, add the chicken stock. Stir this around to get all dark stuff off the bottom of the pan. Then add the chicken and the salsa.
Turn down the heat to let it simmer and cover the pan and let it cook for about 20 minutes. What's a simmer, you ask? That means the liquid has a steady stream of a few small bubbles on the surface. It's like a Diet Boiling.
After your chicken is fully cooked, take it out and let it cool. Turn the sauce pot back up to about medium and let it reduce.
Reducing means you're going to let about half the liquid evaporate, so your cup of chicken stock will reduce down to about a half a cup, which makes the flavors more concentrated. See? You're already less of a gringo than when you began reading this blog.
When your chicken is cool enough, you can start to shred it. Just pull it apart with your fingers or with a couple of forks and then, once your sauce is reduced, add it back into the pot. Turn down the heat to low, add that squeeze of lime, and you're good to go.

You can serve these tacos on whatever tortillas you like, add some fresh slices of avocado, sour cream and some roughly chopped cilantro.

Here's the deal with tacos- don't let this recipe limit you. If you like more heat, or less spice or you think cumin tastes like feet, then add something else instead. You can't break this recipe. The point is to cook the seasonings with the onions and make sure you get that flavor developed first, and the rest is gravy. Or tacos, rather. And if the end product is too watery, that means you're not reducing your sauce enough. A half a cup of sauce spread out over the bottom of a pot isn't a lot- its only 4 ounces. That's like a third of a tall coffee at Starbucks. You just want enough to coat the shredded chicken. And this recipe works for beef and pork too. Go do it to it and good luck with your manfriend. Hope he doesn't end up being a douchebag or something though, because he's going to want to stick around after these tacos.

If things work out and you decided to seal the deal, don't forget to check out my blog on making him breakfast the morning after here. I wrote this when my husband and I started dating, and now we're legal. Was it the breakfast? Not sure, but my marriage license thinks so.

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