Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

So I made these tacos the other day…And tacos are always delicious but these ones turned out extra-super delicious.

I didn’t use a recipe but it doesn’t matter; I can still share the technique with everyone.  As you probably know, making tacos basically involves putting a bunch of tasty things in a tortilla.  The star player of my version is this amazing chicken that’s braised with beer and tomatillo salsa all afternoon.  It’s tangy, juicy, tender, and absolutely tastes like it should be from a mexican restaurant or a taco truck.  If you have the tomatillo salsa already in jars in the pantry, fantastic, but you can also just grab a jar of the store-bought stuff and vow to can more tomatillos this summer.

Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

I didn’t really put down amounts for each of the items that go in the tacos.  It’s really up to personal taste and what you have lying around in the kitchen and the garden, so it seems silly to try and specify.  Only you know how much cilantro you like.

Cook time: 25 minutes, plus a couple hours for the chicken to braise in the oven

Ingredients:

  • corn tortillas
  • braised chicken for tacos (recipe follows)
  • thinly sliced radishes
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • diced avocado
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • grilled spring onions (recipe follows)
  • salsa of your choice (from the pantry, fresh made or store-bought will all work)
  • lime wedge for garnish

To assemble the tacos, first heat up a couple tortillas. There are lots of acceptable methods for this, but I put them on a hot grill pan for about a minute on each side.  Lay the tortillas on a plate and top each one with the braised chicken, salsa, radishes, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, and the grilled onions.  Squeeze some lime juice on them to get really crazy.  Dig in.

 

Braised Chicken for Tacos

This chicken is equally good served over rice as it inside of a tortilla. It also holds well in the fridge for leftovers.

Cook Time: 4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts and 4 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, organic)
  • 1/2 can of beer (something on the lighter side for this recipe)
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half and then sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp.  dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dark roast chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • sea salt & black pepper to taste
  • water or stock
  • 1/2 c. medium-heat tomatillo salsa

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees or so.  Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a wide-bottomed pot (I basically use my jam pot for everything).  Add the chicken, onions and spices and saute on medium high heat for 7-8 minutes to sear the chicken and toast the spices.  Turn the heat to high.  Pour in the beer.  Add water or stock to cover the chicken.  Add the tomatillo salsa.  Give everything a stir and put it in the oven.  Cook for the afternoon.  Check it occasionally to make sure there’s liquid covering the chicken, adding more water or stock as needed. (I’m sure this would work in a crock pot but I don’t own one…)

Once the chicken is fork-tender, take it out of the oven.  I like to break apart any big chunks of chicken into smaller pieces with a pair of tongs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Grilled Spring Onions

Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of scallions or small spring onions with thin, tender tops
  • olive oil
  • sea salt & black pepper

Cut the roots off the onion. Wash well to remove any dirt.  Toss with a splash of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Grill until completely cooked through and very tender, about 20 minutes, but it will depend entirely on what you’re grilling on and how hot the fire is.  (Grill pans on a stove will work fine for this).  To prepare for taco filling: roughly chop into 1″ sections.

 

P.S. I was using the first of our spring radishes for this recipe so I haven’t gotten around to pickling any of them yet, but just so you know… radishes make excellent refrigerator pickles and pickled radishes make excellent taco toppings.

Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

I’m about to embark on a few weeks of travels, which somehow means that I’ve actually planned in advance and finished the April Charcutepalooza challenge a whole week early.

By this point of the Meat Festivities, I pretty much sit next to the computer like a crazy person waiting for the next month’s challenge to be announced.  When I read “Hot Smoking”…. I groaned. Ugh. Really? J. just bought a new smoker a few months ago and it has been Smoke City at our house, with him literally emerging from a cloud of smoke to wander indoors and ask if we have any more meat in the fridge that he can smoke. It’s not that I don’t think the taste of a slow-smoked chili-garlic-brown-sugar rubbed pork shoulder that drips with juice and falls right off the bone isn’t amazing… I just drank a touch too much champagne one night, happened to eat a lot of these smoked goodies, and now, let’s just say that the smell of smoke in my hair and on my clothing can sometimes make my stomach turn. It’s a pungent aroma, to be sure.

Instead of tackling the more complex charcuterie assignments (curing and smoking a pork loin to make canadian bacon or a pork shoulder to make tasso ham) I opted for the apprentice challenge: hot-smoke a piece of salmon.

I have to rewind here, and explain how we go about the whole process of smoking at our house.  Making smoked meats isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming.  Instead of grilling at high temperatures with charcoal briquettes or gas, hot smoking uses aromatic woods to create an indirect, smoky heat.  The long cooking time  and low heat results in moist, incredibly tender meats.  A pork roast or a chicken will be very dark and smoky looking on the outside, but juicy and pink on the inside.

Using the Smoker


There are so many different methods for smoking (you can use a simple Weber grill too), but I want to explain a little about ours.  J. did a ton of research and ended up choosing the 22.5 ” Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker.  It’s a large smoker with lots of versatility without completely breaking the bank. (I did see him gazing wistfully at the massive $2000 metal beasts, but I don’t even know how we would have gotten one home.)  Learning how to use the smoker and get a good fire was much more challenging for me than actually smoking some salmon.  Here’s the general process that I’ve figured out:

Soak the wood chips.

Now put a pile of charcoal briquettes into the chimney starter. Crumble up a few pieces of newspaper underneath it.
Use a long match to light the newspaper, which will start the charcoal burning.

Don’t mess with anything until the charcoal is hot. It will look like this:

Now dump the coals into the metal ring on the bottom grill rack.

The basic concept of all this is to get a really consistent heat going first, and then put your wood on top of the coals after that.  Since you want the coals to burn for a long time, when you put your hot coals on the grill you should also put some new cold ones on top of these.  We also use added a few big chunks of lump charcoal that burn for quite a long time.

Now you can put the middle section of the smoker on top of the base.  Inside this section is a large metal bowl that needs to be filled with water, helping to keep the meat moist while it smokes.

Replace the front cover, put on the lid, and go do something else for an hour or two.  The goal is for the temperature to be around 200-250 degrees.  Don’t get all antsy and try to start cooking right away; If you wait for it, the coals will create the right kind of low heat that we’re looking for.

Once the temperature gets around 200 degrees, open the front and put your soaked wood chips on top of the coals.  In a few minutes, a really impressive cloud of smoke will start billowing out of the grill.  You’re ready to cook.

And Now… A Recipe

Pigs are great and all, but you must try these fish tacos, with citrusy-spicy-smoky moist chunks of salmon, ripe avocado, sweet red onion, tomatillo sauce, roasted sweet meat pumpkin, topped with sour cream and fresh cilantro.  Not only will these totally blow your mind, but …. shhhh….. a healthy charcuterie recipe? It’s true. Don’t tell anyone.


Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

There are several components to this dish, which you by no means have to replicate exactly. Store-bought salsa would be fine, as well as a different winter squash.

Serves: approximately 8, depending on portion size

Cook Time: 1 .5 hrs, not including time to heat up the smoker

Ingredients:

  • Citrus Smoked Salmon (recipe follows)
  • 20 small corn tortillas
  • 3 ripe avocados, diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 large red onion, minced
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 4 oz. container of sour cream (creme fraiche would be good here too)
  • Tomatillo Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Roasted Pumpkin (recipe follows)
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • salt and pepper
  • about 1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil (for a quick drizzle before serving)

Heat corn tortillas.  You can do this several ways- either on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven, placed on the grill, or directly on the burner of a stove.  Each method only takes a few minutes, just to heat the tortilla and give it a light toast.  (about 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven, 2 minutes on a hot grill, or 1 minute right on the burner of the stove).

Fill heated tortilla with whatever looks good to you out of the ingredients listed above.  If you want to make them similar to what I did, one tortilla would have about 2 ounces of salmon, 2 tbs. sour cream, 1 tsp. red onion, 1 tsp. cilantro, 1 tbs. tomatillo sauce, 3 cubes of pumpkin, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper sprinkled over everything.

Serve with cold beer or lemonade on a hot day.

Citrus Smoked Salmon

Cooking Time: 1 hour (not including time to start the smoker)

Serves: 8 or more, depending how much fish you put in the tacos

Ingredients:

1 small side of wild salmon, about 2 lbs.*

approximately 1/2 lb. applewood chips, for smoking the salmon

Spice Rub:

  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper (feel free to use a little less)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed

Soak applewood chips and start the smoker.

Combine spices together, and rub onto salmon.

Put salmon on the smoker, skin side down, and smoke at 225 degrees for an hour.  If you want a more pronounced smoky flavor, leave the salmon on another 30-60 minutes.  Take the salmon off the grill. Cut into rough chunks to put into the tacos. (I like the skin, but you can remove it if you want).

*This happened to be the nicest piece of salmon I had access to; the size is really quite arbitrary.  Normally I would have bought just one small filet and made less of the spice rub.

Tomatillo Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 dried cayenne chili, crushed
  • 15 oz. can of tomatillos, including the liquid
  • 4 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the garlic and crushed chilis for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5-6 minutes (just to heat everything through and blend the flavors together).  Transfer ingredients to a blender or food processor and give the sauce a few pulses, but not enough to completely puree.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over the salmon, or chill and serve as a cold salsa.

Roasted Pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin pairs well with the salmon. It tastes clean and light but still has a rich sweetness.  I used Sweet Meat, which I think has a great texture.  You could also use butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 small pumpkin, with the seeds removed
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin, cut side up, on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Roast for one hour, or until the pumpkin is completely cooked through.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes (or until it’s comfortable to handle). Slice into 1/2″ cubes.