Friday, September 4, 2015

10. Fall-Spiced Chicken Tacos with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Slaw, Roasted Red Pepper Salsa, and Spanish Cheese


This taco recipe is a milestone.  Well . . . a small milestone.  I've finally reached recipe number ten!  If I continue at my current pace, I should be on track to post recipe number 100 on August 2, 2016!

I just recently realized that I haven't done a chicken taco yet.  I think it's about time!  Chicken is so versatile - my next dilemma was to settle on a flavor profile.  There are so many possibilities . . .

I remembered a tasty recipe for 16-Spice Chicken in one my favorite cookbooks:  Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook.  I didn't copy the recipe, but I was inspired by the flavors presented in it.  The spices remind me of fall!  More importantly, this is probably the second or third day in a row that we've had a high temperature under 100 degrees.  I'm excited about that!  I figured I would run with it and go with a fall(ish) theme.  It can be a preview of fall, since it's still technically summer.

I decided to use the meat from a grocery store rotisserie chicken.  I buy one every now and then and I don't waste any of it.  I love to use the meat in recipes and I even save the bones and put them in a freezer bag that I reserve specifically for chicken stock ingredients.  I'm all about complicated recipes, but I have to admit that I love the convenience of a rotisserie chicken!

Before embarking on this recipe adventure, pull all of the meat off of your rotisserie chicken.  I've tried to use a fork before, but I've always found it easier to just use my fingers.  After you've finished, season with salt and pepper if needed (Mine was marked "naked" so it needed seasoning.)  Give it a toss so that the white and dark meat is evenly distributed.  Reserve three heaping cups of the meat and reserve the rest for another purpose.  It's great to freeze and add to soups, chili, pasta, etc.

I had to include pumpkin.  Of course.  :)  I decided to go with some pumpkin seeds in the slaw and a healthy dose of pumpkin ale in the chicken mixture.  I used Punk'n Ale from Uinta Brewing Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, but any seasonal pumpkin ale should work.

I felt like these tacos would need a healthy sprinkle of a very special cheese.  I settled on Manchego, the popular Spanish sheep's milk cheese.  I made a trip up to the Whole Foods in Chandler today, which is always a good time.  (The beer selection!  The bulk foods!)  I stopped by the cheese cooler to pick up some Manchego and I noticed that they had a bit of Cordobes cheese in the "Try A New Cheese!!!" basket.  Those are all very small pieces of cheese - just a couple of ounces or so.  I realized that would be the perfect amount, and I noticed that the Cordobes was also a Spanish sheep's milk cheese.  It was the same color and seemed to be the same consistency.  ???  I went for it.  You could definitely use Manchego, which would be much easier to find.  The Cordobes ended up being pretty close to Manchego, though it was just slightly softer and more buttery.  No complaints!

Anyway, enough small talk, right?  :)  Here's the recipe:

Fall-Spiced Chicken Tacos with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Slaw, Roasted Red Pepper Salsa and Spanish Cheese

Serves 3-4 (about 12-16 small tacos), with extra salsa


For the red pepper salsa:

1 medium shallot
1 red bell pepper
2 medium tomatoes, about 8 to 10 oz., coarsely chopped
2 red Fresno chile peppers, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 medium clove of garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the cilantro-pumpkin seed slaw :

1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced/shredded spinach leaves
1 small to medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2  tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

For the spiced chicken mixture:

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp. New Mexico red chile powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. chipotle chile powder
A pinch each of ground cloves, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, and cayenne pepper
1/2 cup pumpkin ale (plus a few extra splashes if needed)
3 heaping cups shredded chicken, pulled from a grocery store rotisserie chicken (or leftover)

12 to 16 small (street-taco size) corn tortillas

A few ounces of Cordobes (or Manchego) cheese, finely grated

1.  Place the pumpkin seeds on a small baking sheet or sheet of foil.  Roast in a 325 degree oven until puffed and fragrant, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Set aside.  Turn the oven to broil.

2.  Peel and halve the shallot.  Place it and the red bell pepper on a baking sheet or sheet of foil.  Place under the broiler and roast both, turning the pepper as needed until the skin is blackened on all sides.  If the shallot begins to brown too much, you can remove it before the pepper is done.  The idea is just to brown the shallot and cook it a bit so that it's not completely raw.  This is how mine looked when I took it out:

When the pepper is roasted, allow it to cool and then peel, seed, and coarsely chop it.

3.  Finish making the salsa:  Place the cooled red pepper, shallot, and the remaining salsa ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Adjust seasoning to taste, transfer to a small bowl,  and set aside.

4.  Make the slaw:  Place all of the slaw ingredients except for the pumpkin seeds in a medium bowl and toss.  Cover and set aside.

5.  Make the chicken mixture:  In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 tsp. salt, cinnamon, ancho chile powder, New Mexico chile powder, cumin, coriander, ginger, chipotle chile powder, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and cayenne in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and sugar and cook until the onion is soft and slightly caramelized, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the spices.  Cook and stir for another minute.

Add the ale and stir to deglaze the pan.  Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes until most of the liquid has reduced.  Add the chicken.  Stir and cook for several minutes to allow the chicken to heat through.  Add another splash or two of the ale as needed so the mixture doesn't get too dry.  (A little for the pan, a little for the cook, etc.)  :)  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

6.  Prepare the tortillas:  While the chicken mixture is cooking, heat the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, one by one, until browned but still soft, about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.  

As they are done, stack them on a sheet of foil.  When you have as many as you want, wrap in the foil and set aside.  You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven if you wish.  

7.  Add the pumpkin seeds to the slaw and toss.

8.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Place a small amount of the chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla.  Top with some of the slaw.  Spoon on some of the salsa.  Finish with a sprinkle of the cheese.  Enjoy!

OK.  The tacos are done and the kitchen is clean.  Now I need to tell you the truth . . .

These might be the best tacos I've made so far.  They were eclectic, but Southwest-y (or ish?) enough to fit in just perfectly on any hipster taco joint menu.

We had seconds!  We started with three and then had one more taco each.  The number of people that this recipe serves is completely dependent on your appetite and whether you include any sides.  I didn't make any sides, and four small tacos was perfect.  With a side dish, three tacos would have been fine.  I would say this recipe serves three - maybe four if you're not starving or if you serve something else with it.

The long list of spices makes this recipe sound more complicated than it is.  It really comes together pretty easily.

Just a quick note - these tacos are moderately spicy.  We loved them.  It was a really nice level of spice that stayed pleasant and didn't get more intense with time.  If spicy is not your thing, I would adjust the amount of Fresno pepper, cayenne, and/or chipotle chile powder.  Those would be the culprits!  They would still be great even if those elements were reduced a bit.

There is a good amount of salsa left.  At this point, I don't consider that a problem!  It was pretty tasty.

It's been a good Friday!  My taco-making pace is perfectly on target to reach my goal of 100 recipes in a year.  I'm going to post one more later this weekend.  It's a holiday weekend, so if I get really ambitious I might post two more.  We'll see . . .

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Is anyone else as ready for fall as I am?

Thanks for reading!

Update:  We ate the leftovers for breakfast.  We just couldn't wait!  :)

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