There is a relaxation that comes from creating your own dish. Right now, I can picture myself standing at the stove, tuning out the TV, background discussions, and the only sound I hear are the onions hissing as they sauté; knowing that the skillet is waiting for the tomatillos and tomatoes and that certain explosive sizzle as their moisture hits the hot pan.
The combination of these flavors have grown over the years and I’m not sure I can even say that I’ve made this dish the same way twice, but even with slight variations, the finished product satisfies. The result is a shredded chicken whose seasonings wake up your palate with balanced spices and coat your mouth with a warmth similar to the sauce in a chili. Right now, I am getting hungry with the thought of making more.
Over 12 years ago, this dish began because I wanted to work with an ingredient that I didn’t know much about – Tomatillos. Growing up, tomatillos were not prevalent in grocery stores, they were not present in our Midwest cuisine, nor planted in any part of my dads giant garden. I just didn’t know much about them because we hadn’t met. Moving to the Twin Cities opened up new and fun food opportunities – and this ingredient was one of them.
The best part of this recipe to me is the connection I feel with it. It is not my heritage, but it is a part of me. I feel a strength when I make it and a satisfaction of creating a meal that others request. I could have one of those days at work that has drained me completely of energy, but when I get home and start chopping and dicing and sizzling and creating, I find me again. The heart, the energy and the smile. (Can you tell I enjoy making this recipe?!)
The rest can be quite familiar for toppings- grabbing your salsas, guacamole, corn or flour tortillas, and of course, the cheese. Our favorite cheese with this is a light and crumbly queso fresco. Served on the side of jasmine rice and refried or black beans (depending on the pantry) and this meal fills you up the first night, as well as leaving you with some great left overs.
Spicy Tomatillo Chicken Tacos
- 2 boneless chicken breasts, approx 1.25 lbs
- 8-10 tomatillos, diced
- 3 roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1-2 jalapeños, deseeded and finely diced (Leave seeds in if you want more heat)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbls tomato paste
- 1 Tbls oil (olive, vegetable or canola will work)
- 2 Tbls + 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbls + 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 Tbls chili powder
- 1 Tbls cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried garlic flake
- 1 tsp dried onion flake
- 1 tsp sugar, honey or agave
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp worchester sauce
- 2 tsp + 2 tsp kosher salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lime
Begin by filling 3 quart pot half way full with water. Add 2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 2 tsp kosher salt, and rinsed chicken breasts. Heat over medium high heat till water is simmering. Continue simmering until chicken is cooked – approx 10-12 minutes. Note: It is ok for the chicken not to be fully cooked as it will finish in the skillet when all ingredients are together.
While chicken is cooking, start the chopping and dicing. Dice tomatillos, tomatoes and red onion to similar size dice. Mince the garlic cloves and dice jalapeño to a finer dice than the tomatillos for an end product with jalapeño in every bite.
Combine the remaining garlic powder, onion powder and kosher salt, with the chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper flake in a small bowl. If you are using sugar instead of honey or agave, add that here. This mix will be used in stages with the veggies and the chicken.
When chicken is almost done cooking, remove from water and let cool slightly before shredding. My favorite method to shred chicken is to put it in my Kitchenaid stand mixer and let the batter attachment do all the work, but I have certainly used the 2 fork method or my hands as well.
Once everything is in place, put a large skillet or sautee pan (12 inch preferred) over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until it is shiny.
Add onions and sweat them for two minutes in the oil, stirring frequently. Then do the same for these ingredients in this order for about two minute each, stirring frequently: tomatillos, jalapeño, tomatoes and garlic. Add garlic last because the moisture from the tomatoes and tomatillos will prevent the garlic from burning. As the veggies are sweating down, sprinkle them with 1/2 of the seasoning mixture. Stir in tomato paste, worchestershire sauce and honey/agave (if using) at this point.
When all of this is combined and the tomatillos and tomatoes are softened to half their size and solidness, add the shredded chicken and reduce to medium-low heat on the burner. Stir to combine everything and top with remaining half of the seasoning mix and sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes to develop the rest of the flavor. If after five minutes, the mix is looking dry, add 1/2 cup water and continue simmering until the water is encorporated. The end result is that the veggies are cooked down into almost a sauce and the chicken is coated in the redness of the spice and sauce mixture. Finish with just a squeeze of a lime wedge over the top.
Serve as tacos with your favorite sides and toppings. Chicken is great for breakfast with eggs and toast and reheats well for a weekday lunch.
*Experimental Spoon original.