One thing that I find really interesting about my generation of cooks is we no longer embrace using recipes from the side of a jar or a bag of taco seasoning. Perhaps it’s an ego thing. Premade foods are now dirty words–dismissed as vehicles for salt or fat–as foodie culture tells us to instead live by vague terms like local, seasonal and clean label.
Maybe it’s nice to think that all this exposure to food has somehow made us more creative and resourceful in the kitchen. We imagine ourselves browsing the aisles of the farmers’ market, getting inspired by some seasonal produce, and sweeping it home to whip up a thoughtful dinner that also includes sustainably raised meat. We don’t need Prego or Hamburger Helper to tell us what to eat for dinner anymore. We confit, we sweat veg, we make wine reductions–we’re foodies, damnit!
That’s why I love talking about recipes with my mom. Every once in awhile, she’ll describe a really interesting dish she’s making for dinner. “Where’d you come up with that, Mom?” I’ll ask. “Oh, it was on the Hunt’s tomato can,” she’ll reply. It’s a similar experience when I pore over Sean’s mom’s old recipe boxes, filled beyond bursting and lovingly splashed with all manner of sauces. Del Monte’s “Quick Chicken Chili” pasted on a 3X5″ note card, “Quick Ham & Cheese Bake” from Bisquick, Minty Brownies from the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag.
They grew up during a time when quick, easy and convenient were kitchen buzzwords–when a can of cream of mushroom soup formed the building blocks of a casserole that would feed the family all week. It didn’t make them inferior cooks or any less enamored of food–it was just a different era.
Nowadays, loving food means you should swoon at the mention of a truffle, you should tell everyone you love eating offal (weird animal parts) even if you don’t, and you should know that the only canned tomatoes worth your money are San Marzanos–unless of course you can them yourself.
I would be lying if I said I am not part of the problem. But I believe in embracing my roots, and the truth is, many of us who grew up in the United States are no strangers to Hamburger Helper or green bean casserole. And whether or not we still choose to cook that way, we should cherish our heritage.
So today’s recipe is appropriately inspired by one that I came across on the side of a jar of Rick Bayless’ Chipotle Salsa, which is Sean’s and my favorite flavor.
Being ever the recipe tinkerer, I made a few additions and subtractions. Still, I love the idea of taking help from a jar every once in awhile–it’s one less sauce I have to make!
For this recipe, I simply roasted chicken thighs with dried thyme, salt and pepper. Then I shredded the meat and put it in a saucepan with half the jar of salsa and simmered everything for about 5 minutes.
Then to build the tortas, I split open a baguette and layered each half with smashed black beans (another Bayless original), two types of peppers sautéed with onion, the shredded chicken and a pile of chihuahua cheese (gorgeous Mexican melting cheese). A quick bake to melt the cheese and a shower of cilantro, and dinner is served.
Open-faced chipotle chicken tortas
2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
Vegetable oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3/4 cup Frontera Chipotle Salsa
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 14-oz. can black beans, drained
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 poblano pepper, thinly sliced
8 ounces Chihuahua cheese, shredded
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Method: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush both sides of the chicken with oil, and season generously with salt, pepper an dried thyme. Roast for 30-35 minutes until cooked through. You’ll know it’s cooked when a digital thermometer inserted into the center of a thigh reads 165°F. You can also tell by making a small slit in the thigh with a paring knife and squeezing a bit of the juice. If it runs clear onto your knife, the chicken is done; if it’s pink, put the chicken back in the oven.
Using two forks or your fingers, shred the chicken into bite-size pieces in a large bowl.
Pour the salsa over the meat and toss to coat. Check for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Put the mixture in a saucepan, and heat over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble slightly. Cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the smashed garlic in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil until it starts sizzling. Add the black beans and a few tablespoons of water (just pour a little water in the can and swirl it around). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, smash the beans and garlic together until they form a chunky paste. Set aside.
In another skillet, sauté the onion, bell pepper and poblano over high heat until soft and slightly charred. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Now slice the bread lengthwise, and scoop out some of the soft center. Smear both sides with black bean spread.
Pile in some of the chicken, peppers and onion, and top with cheese.
Place each half on foil sheets, and bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly brown.
Top with cilantro, and serve.