Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mmmmmmmexican Chicken

Going to the Kosher Barbecue Cookoff wasn't on my to-do list, but how could we not go to something I've never heard of before that might be really great?? I'll report back.

The Mexican Chicken is easy, easy, easy. You can feel good about the protein and low fat content of the chicken and the high iron content of the black beans. Vitamin C - which tomatoes have in abundance - help the body to better absorb iron. Fiber? Corn and black beans. It's covered.

This dish can be as spicy or as not-spicy as you wish. Want cheese? Go ahead and add some - cheddar or Monterey Jack would work best. Kraft Cracker Barrel is an outstanding low-fat cheddar cheese that has, unfortunately, skyrocketed in price.

Two quick words about pre-shredded cheese: it sucks. It's dry and chalky and flavorless and gets a weird whitish look to it. Way expensive, too. If you find the grater for shredding cheese a pain to clean, a) use a larger hole/shred and b) pop the cheese in the freezer for 10 minutes before you shred.

You're going to have to eyeball this one on quantities since it's a Stephanie Original.

Mexican Chicken
2 chicken breasts OR 1 pound chicken thighs [chicken breasts will be lower fat and some people consider them less flavorful; chicken thighs will be richer-tasting but have a higher fat content - cut the yellow fat away if you're using thighs]
1 jar of salsa OR tomatoes, one onion, and one bell pepper
1 small can of corn
1 can of black beans

Optional - oregano, chili powder, cumin, sour cream, cheese

Have the following equipment available: A cutting board, a sharp knife, a small bowl, a large skillet with a lid, a can opener, a spatula to turn the chicken, a large spoon for serving

1. IF YOU'RE MAKING YOUR OWN SALSA, YOU SASSY COOK, YOU: Get a small bowl. If you're using diced tomatoes open the can and drain the tomato liquid out. Add the diced tomato to the bowl. If you're using fresh tomatoes, cut the tomatoes - except the stem - and drain some of the juice off. Some cookbooks will tell you they should have the skin removed, but it's a lot of work and you lose the fiber of the skin that way. But really, it's just too much work. Add to the bowl.

Remove the papery skin of the onion. Holding the onion stem-side down, cut a small (2-inch long) sliver on one side. Rest the onion on that now-flat side. Cut into small pieces as much of the onion as you wish to use - start with a quarter cup and add more later if it needs more zing.

Add the onion to the diced tomato.

Get your bell pepper - orange, yellow, and red peppers are sweet, green are more robust and less sweet. Remove the stem, then - over the sink - cut the pepper in half lengthwise (cutting the empty stem-hole into a half-circle). Scrape out the seeds and the white pith/membranes. Cut the pepper into small pieces and add to the tomato and onion.

Congrats! You've made salsa! You could totally serve this with corn chips and sangria if you wanted to.


Open the can of black beans. Drain the icky liquid; you may need to rinse the beans a few times with cold tap water. I leave the lid partially on, hold it down while I let the liquid run out, then rinse a few times, swishing the water around in the can. The other way to do it is to pour the beans into a colander, then gently run cold water over them.

Open the can of corn and drain. If you're using the colander method you can just pour the corn over the beans.

Spray the skillet with non-stick spray. Heat the skillet on medium heat (4ish on an electric stovetop).

Add the chicken to the skillet. It should sizzle a little when you sprinkle a few drops of water in the skillet. Add the chicken to the hot pan. Let it cook for 8 minutes, then turn each piece of chicken over.

Turn the heat down a little - 3 on an electric stovetop. Add your salsa - either homemade or jarred - the corn, and the black beans. If you're using oregano, cumin, and/or chili powder, this is the time to add your spices.

Cover the skillet and let it heat all the way through. This should take 10 minutes or so. Take a sharp knife to the thickest piece of chicken - if it's no longer pink, it's done. If you have a meat thermometer see if the thickest part of the chicken is 180 degrees.

Your serving options are pretty adaptable. You can cut the chicken into small pieces... or not. You can serve as-is, right out of the skillet. You can make some rice and serve over that... but you don't have to. You can drape some cheese on top of the chicken... or not. Want to wrap some chicken & salsa-ed veggies in a tortilla with some cheese? Go for it.

My dish is too spicy!
Add sour cream (AFTER you have taken the skillet off the heat). Milk-based products help cut the heat. Low-fat sour cream is usually a good bet; Daisy and Breakstone make good LF sour cream. I've never found a decent fat-free sour cream, they're all dreadful - sweet (???), gummy, off-smelling. Ick.

My dish is kinda bland.
Add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Start with 1/2 teaspoon of each, and see where that gets you - add more if you wish.

Got cilantro? Chop some (2 or 3 sprigs to start) and add it in. A little lime juice kicks up the flavor nicely, too.

If you're looking for heat add chopped jalapenos. The jalapenos can be added after cooking - you can just add them to leftovers if you want, they don't have to be "cooked in."

I tried to make a tortilla wrap, but my tortilla wasn't bendy like it should be.
You know, I learned the trick to this the first time I made enchiladas. Unless you make tortillas fresh from scratch in your kitchen - I sure don't - they need to be steamed or dipped in boiling water. I wrap a tortilla in a wet paper towel and put it in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds; that makes it soft and pliable and ready for filling and rolling.

Can I use dried black beans in this recipe?
Technically, yes. The difference is that you have to start soaking dried beans the day before - and cook them for a long time. Dried beans are less expensive and, for a Learn To Cook/No-Fuss recipe, more work than I think folks are looking for.

If you have dried black beans that you're trying to use up scroll down to the recipe for Ham and Bean soup. It calls for a 7-bean (or 12-bean or whatever) blend, but you can make it with just dried black beans.

Have a great week!

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