I spent much of my childhood in Southern California, where the Mexican border was only a short drive away, making the coast of Baja a frequent family destination for exploring and indulging in some amazing regional foods. While living in the Yucatan a few years later, I began to realize how incredibly diverse the cuisine of Mexico actually is and that the food I loved in the Yucatan had similarities but was also very different from the foods I had loved in Baja as a child. One thing is certain, its influence is deeply rooted in the foods and flavors I enjoy and prepare today, especially my love of chiles. This is my adaptation of Chicken Tinga (tinga de pollo), a shredded chicken dish bathed in a mildly spicy, smoky sauce, served on homemade corn tortillas and dressed with avocado slices, a hint of sour cream and a sprinkling of cotija cheese.
The two shining stars in this dish are the chipotle chiles (smoked red jalapenos) and tomatillos, those sticky little green fruits (a native of the ground cherry) that resemble tomatoes and are covered in a thin, papery husk. ##[The popularity to grown in SW cause/effect doesn’t seem noteworthy/is redundant] This pre-Columbian fruit is now so popular in many parts of the U.S. that it’s grown in the southwestern states and can be found in many American supermarkets that carry Latin foods. It is easy to grow in a warm, dry climate, with prolific blossoms. The fruit looks like an unripe tomato when sliced open. It is tangy and tart when raw, but transforms when roasted and cooked, lending a wonderfully complex, acidic flavor and smoothie-like consistency to the sauce.
I prefer cooking the chicken (usually breasts) in a pressure cooker with an onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic for 12-14 minutes. I then throw the cooked onion and garlic into the food processor when making the sauce, to build on the flavor. I still use the diced onion and garlic used in the recipe. You can use roasted chicken or any shredded chicken you have on hand, as long as it’s not heavily seasoned.
Both the cooled tomatillos and tomatoes are pulsed in a food processor until smooth.
Now it’s time to cook this into a sauce. After mixing the pureed tomatillos mixture, spices and additional seasonings together in a 3-4 quart (2.8-3.8 L) pot, I stir everything together. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat before lowering the heat to low to simmer for 25 minutes. Stir often to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan.
When the sauce has cooked, thickened a bit and melded all the flavors together, add the shredded chicken, stirring to completely coat with the sauce. Cover and remove from heat.
Making the corn tortillas is very easy and they taste so much better than the store bought ones. A tortilla press, like the Victoria 85008 Cast Iron Tortilla Press on Amazon make really fast work of pressing the dough into beautiful little golden rounds. We dry ‘cook’ them in a very hot cast iron pan that is brushed lightly with oil. They can be used after this initial dry cooking, but my family likes them lightly fried in 1″ (2.5 cm) of vegetable oil for a crispier texture. Either way, they are delicious.
The beauty of this dish and many latin foods is that there’s a continuum of building layers of flavors, while cooking all the way through the addition of varied garnishes. The finale is a colorful feast to behold and indulge in, bringing out the nuances of each ingredient that work and play together beautifully.