A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make Chicken Tacos. I poked through Cook’s Illustrated’s website and found nothing (only a steak taco recipe), so I decided to search some other online cooking sites. The wealth of chicken taco recipes was overwhelming, and I had no idea which recipe would be good and which would be horrible (ratings and reviews aren’t all that helpful because of the variance in opinions. How can a recipe be both fabulous and disgusting at the same time??).
So, I decided to go with the Cook’s Illustrated steak taco recipe and just modify it for use with chicken. Happily, the tacos were a great success. They’re sort of like a no-grill-required wintertime version of fajitas, and they’re really easy to make.
Also, they use up cilantro, which will appeal to all of you out there who, like me, struggle to use up an entire bunch of cilantro before it goes bad.
You start by making a pesto-like herb paste, which includes cilantro, garlic, scallions, a jalapeno, cumin, and some vegetable oil. Put all of that into a food processor (a blender would probably work as well), and pulse until it’s all finely chopped.
With the machine running, add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and process until the mixture is fairly smooth.
Remove 2 tablespoons of the herb paste to a bowl. Squeeze in 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and set it aside (this is for use as a taco condiment later).
The rest of the paste is going to go on the chicken, but first, you need to rub some coarse salt on the chicken.
Because I’m not that good terrible at cooking whole chicken breasts, I always cut mine in half lengthwise so that they’re turned into thin cutlets. This makes it easier to cook the chicken all the way through without scorching the outside.
Spread the herb paste over the chicken, then cover and refrigerate the chicken for 30 minutes to an hour. If you’re worried someone in your family won’t like the herb paste, you can always leave a breast or two plain.
Scrape the herb paste off of the chicken (as you can see, I never get all of it off, but it seems to be fine!) and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet (I use my cast-iron skillet) over medium high heat. Add chicken.
Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through (this will vary depending on how thick your chicken pieces are). Let the cooked chicken rest for 5 minutes.
Slice rested chicken into narrow strips and season with salt if desired. Place several strips in the middle of a warmed flour tortilla, and top with cheese, tomato, avocado, sour cream, chopped cilantro, reserved herb paste, or whatever else you wish (I sometimes saute onion slices before I cook the chicken and add those in my tacos).
Chicken Tacos (printable version)
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves , roughly chopped
3 medium scallions , roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 medium jalapeño chile , stemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise into thin cutlets
1 tablespoon coarse salt or 1.5 teaspoons table salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Combine cilantro, garlic, scallions, chile, and cumin in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, and with machine running, add 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Process until smooth.
Remove 2 tablespoons of herb paste to a bowl, whisk in lime juice, and set aside.
Rub salt over both sides of the chicken, and spread with remaining herb paste. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.
Scrape herb paste off chicken and sprinkle with sugar and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Let cooked chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice into strips. Season with salt if desired. Serve in warmed flour tortillas and top with cheese, chopped tomato, chopped cilantro, sour cream, sauteed onions, and reserved herb paste.
Need more dinner ideas? Browse my other main dish recipes.