Okay, so all my taco recipes are almost the same – I want avocado, and salty cheese, and fresh lime juice, cilantro, maybe some pickled onions, all mixed up in a fresh corn tortilla. Even with just those fixings and no meat, I’d probably be perfectly happy. But, I’ve been spoiled by barbacoa. Tacos are held to a higher standard now.
My first couple attempts at chicken tacos weren’t up to par. I thought grilling sounded promising, but afterward, the chicken just tasted like chicken, with nothing more interesting to contribute. Plus it’s so easy for chicken to dry out on the grill.
This recipe solves any problem of dry, bland chicken by braising chicken thighs directly in a sauce made from blistered tomatillos, onions, and green chiles. The chicken turns out tender and juicy, already tasting like it’s meant for tacos, and then the game is upped even more when the braising liquid is reduced to a sauce. I feel like I should say something about how this filling is so good that I don’t need all those tasty fixings, but no filling is good enough to pass up a slice of avocado in a corn tortilla. Still, this is the next best thing to barbacoa.
Serves 4 to 6
2 green chiles, preferably Hatch or Anaheim
2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, split in half
1 small yellow onion, peeled and split in half
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on)
1 small white onion, minced
16 to 24 warm corn tortillas
1 batch pickled red onions
½ cup grated queso cotija or jack cheese
1 avocado, sliced
1. Preheat the broiler to high and adjust the broiler rack to 5 to 6 inches below the heating element. Toss the peppers, tomatillos, yellow onion, and garlic in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and broil until the vegetables are completely tender and charred on all sides, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes total. When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor or blender with half of the cilantro and ½ teaspoon of salt; process on high speed until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice from about 2 of the limes, season to taste with salt, and set aside.
2. While the vegetables broil, heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces skin side-down and cook, without moving, until well browned, about 6 minutes. Flip and brown the second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate. Pour off the excess fat and deglaze the Dutch oven with 1 cup of water, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
3. Transfer the vegetable puree to the Dutch oven and stir with the deglazing water to combine. Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from sauce and place on a plate to cool.
4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and saucy, then season to taste with salt and pepper if desired.
5. Combine the white onion and remaining cilantro in a bowl. Serve chicken with warm tortillas, onion and cilantro mixture, pickled onions, cheese, and avocado.