Let me blow your mind: You do not need cheese to make good Tex-Mex.
I know that sounds kind of crazy, but some of the best tacos are cheese-less tacos. If done right, all you need is a flavorful, spicy filling with some light toppings and you’ll have some of the best tacos out there.
Even though I’ve made a bunch of different tacos on Macheesmo, I’ve never made chicken tacos which is shocking considering that it’s probably one of the most used fillings for tacos. My problem with chicken is that it just doesn’t have that much flavor on its own unlike say, beef tongue, which makes some of the best tacos around.
To give the chicken some flavor, I thought I’d try shredding it and adding it to a spicy chipotle sauce. Turns out that if you simmer anything in a chipotle sauce, it gets pretty darn flavorful!
1) Add chicken ingredients to a large skillet with high walls or just a pot. Add enough water to just cover the chicken and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked, about 20-30 minutes.
2) Remove chicken and let cool for a few minutes. Strain stock and save for later! Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin and excess fat and shred.
3) For sauce, combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined.
4) Add sauce to a large skillet and bring to a simmer. Simmer for a few minutes until it starts to thicken.
5) Add chicken to sauce and continue to simmer until sauce is really thick and sticking to chicken well.
6) Serve tacos with a variety of toppings including red onion, radishes, limes, and cilantro.
Cooking the Chicken
I decided to simmer the chicken in some shallow water with a bunch of aromatics which would hopefully give it some extra flavor and also keep it tender so it shreds easily.
Very roughly chop all the ingredients for the chicken and toss them in a large high-walled skillet or just a pot.
Add enough water to just barely cover the chicken and bring it all to a simmer.
Let this simmer, covered, for about 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked.
Then remove your chicken pieces, take off any skin or fat from the pieces and roughly shred them using two forks. You can also just kind of chop them up. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
You’ll probably want to let your chicken cool for a few minutes before you try to do this.
Making the Sauce
While your chicken is cooking, you can get your sauce started. The sauce is pretty flexible, but the one thing that’s definitely not optional is the chipotle peppers.
If you haven’t cooked with these guys before, you can find them in the latin section of your grocery store. They come in a can and they pack a punch.
I used four full peppers with seeds in my sauce and Betsy said it was too spicy. I thought it was really good though. You might start with two or three and work up if it isn’t spicy enough for you.
Basically, just add all your sauce ingredients to a blender and give it a whirl!
Finishing the filling
While you’re shredding your chicken, pour the sauce into a large skillet (yes you can use the same one). Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it start to reduce down a bit.
When your chicken is shredded, add it to the sauce and continue to cook it until the sauce is nice and thick and sticking to the chicken.
Some people think that a taco isn’t a taco without toppings like cheese, lettuce, tomato, etc. You could do that with this taco, but I went with some slightly more subtle flavors that are also a bit more traditional.
These toppings give the tacos some acidity that’s definitely needed. They really brighten up the flavors nicely.
I normally just prepare a big plate and people can kind of help themselves to toppings of their choice.
I used corn tortillas for these tacos on day one and they worked great.
Betsy and I also made burritos out of some of the leftover filling and they were equally awesome. Bets thought I over-cilantro-ed some of these and she was probably right. I’m a cilantro fiend though so I loved them.
The only other thing I’ll mention about this meal is that the stock that you end up with from cooking the chicken is basically a very light chicken stock. After pulling your chicken out of it, strain out the veggies and you can store it for later use in soups or for risotto!
This is a great traditional taco preparation that doesn’t require the time or effort of some of the other tacos I’ve made and the flavors are really solid. Give it a shot if you want to experiment with some fun tacos and flavors!