Fried Chicken Tacos

Monday, June 13th, 2011 | click here to comment

Mexican food is something of an obsession in my house. The reason why my now hubby Matt ever decided to even talk to me for more than 3 minutes was because he overheard me on the phone (at work) talking to my best friend about tacos. We were chatting about making tacos with ground turkey, so he had no respect for me since he thinks ground turkey is akin to eating sawdust, but nonetheless he was intrigued and the rest as they say, was history.

Since my hard shell/ground turkey days, I've experienced some fantastic tacos. Los Angeles and San Francisco have some of the best soft shell tacos I've ever had and I've been dedicated to enjoying street-style tacos ever since. In NYC there are plenty of taco trucks that will dish up amazing tacos, especially after a late night of revelry, but I actually found an even better taco truck after moving to Connecticut, of all places. In Stamford, the El Charrito taco truckserves up amazing authentic tacos and Mexican food.  My favorite being the chorizo tacos, which come with grilled scallion bulbs, which are out of this world good.  I seriously pout when they run out of the scallion bulbs.

It's not always easy to hunt down a taco truck and some are in inconvenient locations, which leads one to be industrious in the kitchen and find ways to make good tacos at home. Making tacos is actually pretty easy, one of my favorites is a tri-tip taco that is big on flavor and not too much of a gut bomb.  I recently saw a recipe by Andrew Zimmern (of all people) that I really wanted to try. We've made all kinds of tacos here, from ground beef to carnitas, which were all delicious, but Zimmern's recipe had a main ingreidient I hadn't seen in my taco sojourns before - fried chicken thighs.

When I read it, the heaven's opened up and sang glorious hymns to me. Yes! Why had I NEVER considered frying chicken thighs for tacos before?  It seems so obvious, but it never, ever occured to me. Even better, he included a recipe for tomatillo & avocado salsa, which is the perfect accompaniment to the taco.

quartered tomatillos

Back in the day, Matt and I would go out and celebrate Cindo de Mayo in the city, partying with friends, but life after baby is of course different and means margaritas at home and a home cooked meal, which I've come to realize, is actually all I really want and need.

Making the tomatillo salsa was easy, for me figuring out how to actually pick tomatillos at the grocery store was the most challenging thing. Here are some tips from the Chicago Examiner, which will help you if like me, you're a bit unsure:

1 – Tomatillos are typically used in a dish to bring tartness and acidity.  In order for them to perform this function they must not be over-ripened.  The best test for ripeness is color. Tomatillos are tartest and most flavorful when bright green in color.  This color will turn to a pale green and then to a pale yellow as it continues to mature. Once it reaches this stage it will sweeten, and this can bring unwanted sweetness to the dishes you are creating if you are not careful.

2 – The husks or skins of fresh, mature but not over-ripened tomatillos will also be brighter green in color. They will tend to be sticky or tacky to the touch.  If the husks have become more yellow in color and dry or papery, this is another sign that the tomatillo has passed its prime (or has been off the vine for an extended period of time).

3 – Although it is not always the case; as a general rule, it is better that the tomatillo completely fills the husk as opposed to the husk being too large, loose, or balloon-like.

4 - When selecting tomatillos, always slightly open the husk to inspect the flesh color and tone inside.  The flesh should be firm and without major blemishes.  It should not appear shriveled or dried out.

5 – Keep tomatillos in their husks until time to use them.  Once ready to use, remove husks and rinse lightly.

avocado-tomatillo salsa (soooo good!)

The next thing on the list was dredging the chicken and frying it up. My favorite flour is made by Better Batter and requires no additional work as it's cup for cup equal to regular flour. You dredge up your meat and you are good to go. I tossed some additional spices in the dredge to liven things up, like cumin and oregano. I like a flavorful piece of meat. After the meat finished frying, I knew just by looking at it, that it was going to be awesome. I sliced it and tried a piece, and did one of those stupid tv moments where hosts close their eyes and mmmmm after eating something, but for me it was 100% genuine.

the finished product (served with maduros)

I bit into the first juicy bite after assembling my tacos and I was in heaven. The fattiness of the thigh, mixed with the crispy skin and tart/spicy salsa was relevation in my mouth.

I'm officially obessed and cannot wait to make these again.  Thank you Andrew Zimmern. You may have a show about Bizarre Foods, but this recipe is anything but.

Fried Chicken Tacos

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 large boneless chicken thighs with skin (about 5 ounces each), pounded 1/3 inch thick
  • 1/2 pound tomatillos—husked and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles or 1 large jalapeño with seeds, chopped
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 1 Hass avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used Better Batter flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Large pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Warm corn tortillas, for serving

In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the lime juice with 1 teaspoon of salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the chicken thighs and toss well to coat. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
In a food processor, combine the tomatillos, garlic, serranos, onion and cilantro and process to a coarse puree. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and stir in the avocado and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Season with salt.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with the pepper, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

In a large skillet, heat 1/3 inch of oil until shimmering. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess. Fry the chicken over moderately high heat until well-browned and crisp, about 3 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Cut the chicken into thin strips and serve with the tomatillo salsa and warm corn tortillas.
Notes: Zimmern likes trimming away some of the chicken thigh so there's as much crispy skin as there is meat. If you opt to do the same, fry the chicken for 3 minutes per side.


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