page 13 Ace March 5, 2009
BY DAVE OVERTON
Chicken too cheap to pass up? So you bought bone-in chicken breasts on sale so you bought a couple of packages and it’s cold to cook them on the grill outside but you don’t know what to do with them other than roast them in the oven but you don’t want to do that because you just did that… Sound familiar? It does to me. That’s why I like the wide variety of cuisines and cultures we have available in Lexington’s international markets.
You can take plain chicken and just a few other ingredients and turn it into an international meal. It’s inexpensive and found in many cultures.
The first step is to visit your local ethnic grocery.
Today, let’s do a little Mexican cooking so we’ll head over to west Lexington, Alexandria Drive and Versailles Road.
There are two excellent markets within walking distance, Supermercado Aguas Calientes and La Favorita, both on Alexandria Drive. Between these two markets, you can find almost anything you need to explore Mexican cuisine. There, we can pick up a bag of dried guajillo chiles and some canned tomatoes. Guajillos are a mild but spicy chile that will give a pleasant warmth to our chicken. If I wanted to make tamales, I would also pick up some corn shucks to wrap them in and some masa for the dough. For now, though, let’s just concentrate on the chikcen. The dried chiles need to be soaked before we use them. Soak two (more if desired) chiles in water, keeping them completely submerged. I put them in a bowl of water and then put another smaller water-filled bowl on top of them. They need to soak overnight. On Food Network, we’d have a swap-out, and now we have chiles ready to use.
The first real cooking we need to do is to poach our chicken so we can pull it into strings. First, dice half a yellow onion and sweat it in a little oil. Then add a stalk or two of chopped celery. Next, add thyme and a couple of bay leaves. A good sized sprig of fresh thyme is best, but you can use dried if necessary. Add the chicken breasts and then enough water to cover them. You need about four good sized bone-in chicken breasts. You want the bones because they will add flavor and body to your broth (boneless is usable, but won’t be quite as good). Bring the mixture to a low simmer — barely bubbling. Be sure to skim off the foam that forms on the top. It will add off flavors that you don’t want. Allow the chicken to simmer until it’s just cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow to cool. While the chicken is cooling, you can make the sauce that will transform the chicken into a delicious Mesoamerican dish.
Dice the other half of your yellow onion and sweat it in a little hot oil. Add about 2 teaspoons of dried oregano and stir for a minute to let the flavor start to bloom.
Remove the stems from the soaked chiles, cut them down the side and remove the seeds and membranes. Finely chop the chiles until they form a thick paste. Add the chiles and two small (15 oz) cans of diced tomatoes to the sauce.
Strain the broth the chicken was cooked in and add about two cups of it to the sauce. Discard the vegetables from the broth. (The remaining broth makes great soups or can be used to add flavor to rice or beans.)
Bring the sauce to a simmer and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have disintegrated and the sauce is thick and rich. While the sauce is reducing, take the cooled chicken and remove the skin and bones from the meat and discard them. Then take the chicken meat and pull it into strings with your fingers. Add the stringed chicken to the sauce and mix it all together. Allow the mixture to reheat, and season with salt to taste. What can I do with my delicious chicken? Make up some corncakes, top them with some chicken, and serve them with salsa and guacamole on the side as Colombian arepas. Spread some refried beans into a molded tortilla bowl, top with lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes, cheese, and some chicken for a lovely chicken taco salad. Put it on a tortilla with some cheese and grill it for a chicken quesadilla. And that’s just a start.
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