Anyone who lives in the area around Pittsburgh might have heard of the Strip District – a neighborhood of sorts, made up of little ethnic groceries, coffee shops, restaurants, and other odd storefronts. Jeth and I make the trip up there, bags and ice packs in hand, to stock up on things like sweet soy sauce, Thai tea, fresh sausage, and spices. Lunch in the Strip is always exciting, since there’s no shortage of tiny restaurants and sidewalk food vendors. Outside the Chinese grocery you can buy scallion pancakes, further down the street there’s kielbasa and sauerkraut, huge Italian loaves stuffed with pepperoni and cheese, and authentic Mexican tacos. Those tacos. Last time we visited, we ate from a little stand outside the Latin American grocery, and since then I’ve been having cravings for what were the best tacos I’ve ever had. Jeth, with his Texan roots, gave them a thumbs up, so you know they’re good.
There’s no way that I could make anything that even comes close to that lunch, but we needed something to tide us over until the next trip to Pittsburgh. We gave it a shot, and the result was pretty delicious. What’s not to like about chicken, cooked slowly in a tomato and chile sauce, wrapped in a corn tortilla and topped with the brightest green condiments, like cilantro and jalapeno. They even looked beautiful! We liked these tacos enough that I’m making them again tomorrow.
This recipe doesn’t take much work, but is a little time consuming because the meat is braised. The result was flavorful, falling-apart chicken that was totally worth the hour of simmering. We didn’t really measure the spices (or any of the other ingredients, honestly) – just kept adding things and tweaking until the flavor felt right for us. So, use this as a guide, but please don’t treat anything in this recipe as a hard and fast rule! Also, I’m sure that with a little less broth, this recipe would work quite well in a crock pot.
Pulled Chicken Tacos – makes about 15 small tacos, or ~4 servings
2 pounds of chicken breasts or thighs (we used boneless breasts, but bone-in thighs would make such a juicy taco filling)
2 T. Olive Oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small can tomato paste
2 c. chicken stock
1 t. ground ancho pepper, or to taste
1 t. ground chipotle pepper, or to taste
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. paprika
2 c. chicken stock
Dash of black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large high-sided frying pan or dutch oven. Add the chicken and sear quickly on all sides, then remove it from the pan. You aren’t trying to cook the chicken at this point – just sealing in the flavor and moisture. Add the onions and garlic to the oil that’s still left in the pan, and scrape the bottom to release any stuck-on chicken flavor. Saute until the onions are soft, then add the tomato paste, chicken stock, spices, and the seared chicken. Cover and cook over low heat – no more than a gentle simmer – for 45 minutes or so, until the meat is tender and falling apart. Pull the chicken out of the pan, and turn the heat up to reduce the cooking liquid into a thick sauce. While that is cooking down, shred the chicken and return it to the pan once the sauce is ready, mixing to coat the chicken in sauce.
We served a scoop of the meat in warmed corn tortillas (heated in a cast iron skillet), then topped them with cilantro, diced avocado, finely chopped jalapeno, salsa verde, and a squeeze of lime juice.