The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.
Braising is a fairly foolproof technique. As explained by Poisonive, you typically sear your meat (or veggie) in hot fat to add flavor and aroma, and to enhance color (browning) and texture (crust). You then submerge your meat in liquid and cook it slowly and gently at a low heat.
What's nice about braising is that once you get your meat in the liquid, you barely have to pay any attention to it. What's more, the flavor of braised food generally improves with time. So it's a great make-ahead dish for guests.
For this challenge, I chose to make chicken tinga tacos. "Tinga" refers to a smoky Mexican tomato sauce. In this recipe, the smoky flavor came from canned chipotle peppers in adobe. This recipe was dead easy. And quite tasty.
The chicken was prepared in a traditional braise. I browned the chicken thighs in a bit of oil, then simmered them in a tomato/chipotle sauce until they were cooked through and tender. Once I shredded the chicken, I was ready to assemble my tacos.
I used corn tortillas as my base. I think they have more flavor than flour tortillas.
Have fun with the toppings. The recipe I used suggested topping the tacos with Cotija cheese, scallions and cilantro. Instead, I used shredded cabbage for crunch, mashed avocado for richness, cubed mango for a hit of sweetness, and a drizzle of lime juice to brighten everything up. Delicious!
Season your chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then lightly brown them on both sides in some olive oil. Set aside.
Now prepare the sauce. In the same skillet you used for the chicken, add a bit more oil, then the onion. Brown the onion, then add some garlic.
Add the tomatoes, broth and chipotles. Simmer until everything thickens up.
Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender.
Place the chicken and sauce in an ovenproof saucepan. Make sure the chicken is covered by the sauce.
Bake until the chicken is cooked and tender.
Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred it.
Then return the shredded chicken to the sauce. (I also added a can of rinsed and drained pinto beans.)
Now assemble your tacos! Heat the corn tortillas. Create a bed of shredded cabbage or lettuce. Place some chicken on top. Then add the avocado and mango and a drizzle of lime juice. Enjoy!
Chicken Tinga Tacos
Recipe slightly adapted from Food and Wine magazine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds trimmed, skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (I used skinless, boneless)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 canned chipotles in adobo, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
24 corn tortillas
Toppings of your choice (suggestions: shredded or crumbled cheese, scallions, cilantro, avocado, lime juice, mango, shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage)
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 8 minutes. Set the chicken aside and pour off the fat in the skillet.
2. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet along with the onion. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned and softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chipotles and the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly reduced, 20 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Puree the sauce until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken and sauce in an oven proof saucepan. Make sure the chicken is covered by the sauce.
5. Bake the chicken uncovered in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick and darkened around the edges.
6. Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
7. Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred the meat; discard the bones. Return the chicken meat to the sauce.
8. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken onto each tortilla and sprinkle with the toppings of your choice.
Makes 24 tacos.