Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A chicken in every (crock) pot.

Crock pot chicken tinga tacos. © Ryan Schierling
Most nights, Julie and I cook dinner. Even if we're both exhausted from work and don't get home until almost 7 p.m., we still try to throw something interesting together. But, there are those days (and weeks), where we just don't have time to plan and prepare a picture-perfect meal in the quickly-waning evening hours.

It's summer in Austin, which means 100-degree-plus days. Even with the air conditioning set to muy frio, our tiny kitchen becomes a nearly unbearable place when there are three or more gas burners going. So, we've been pulling out our oft-forgotten crock pot, loading it up in the morning and heading out the door. At night, we return home to a still-cool house that smells incredible.

Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican recipe for pork tinga is one of my favorite taco fillings, but since J rolls sin puerco, I adapted this using chicken thighs and turkey chorizo. It is every bit as rich and delicious as its porky counterpart, and since everything goes into the crockpot, there's not much to clean up after dinner.

Chicken tinga

3 medium white, waxy potatoes, 1/2" dice
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, brined overnight
1 medium onion, 1/2" dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces turkey chorizo*
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, if you can find them)
1 small can chipotles in adobo
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
salt to taste

*Not all chorizo is created equal. If it's meat-based, it's mechanically-separated something. The brand Cacique makes a soy chorizo that, as a meat eater, I find to be a perfectly-fine substitute for turkey chorizo in this recipe. We don't really ever endorse product on the blog, but this is the only fake chorizo I will let into the house. 

The night before you're going to make this, take your two pounds of chicken thighs and rinse them, then submerge them in a brine made 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 quarts of water. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to start the next morning.

It takes me about 10 minutes to prep everything and get it into the crock pot, so set your coffee maker just a hair earlier than normal and enjoy a cup of the black blood of the gods before you start chopping things up all bleary-eyed and sleepy. Missing work because you lopped off the end of a finger is not acceptable.

Wash 3 medium white, waxy potatoes and cut into 1/2" dice. I like them chopped fairly small if they're going into tacos, and 1/2" dice is just the right size for me. Put the potatoes into the bottom of the crock pot. Remove your chicken thighs from the brining mixture, pat dry and layer them on top of the potatoes. Chop 1 medium onion (again, 1/2" dice) and put it into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mince two cloves of garlic and toss it into the bowl with the onion. Add the can of tomatoes (undrained), the worcestershire, oregano, sugar and a pinch of salt. Open the can of chipotles in adobo, seed and chop four of the peppers fine. Add to the bowl with 2 tbs. of the adobo sauce from the can. Mix well, then pour over the chicken in the crock pot. Put the lid on, set the crock pot to low heat and cook for 6-8 hours – depending on how long your workday is, I suppose. The brining of the chicken keeps it from drying out if it's overcooked, which is still possible to do even though it's being slow-cooked in liquid.

When you get home, grab a skillet and fry up that turkey chorizo until it's done, nice and crispy. Mix it into the crock pot with everything else, and you'll see your chicken start to pull apart as you stir it all up. Give the tinga a taste and add salt if necessary, but you probably won't need too if you're putting cotija on top, which is nicely salty anyway.

Make yourself a margarita and serve with warm corn tortillas, crumbled cotija cheese, a squeeze of lime and fresh cilantro sprigs.

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