I grew up in California, and I’m pretty sure my first solid food was refried beans. My grandma used to joke that my mother’s first meal outside of the home was at their local Mexican restaurant – a mom & pop kind of place. The owner scooped up my infant mom and sat down with my grandparents, ordered her husband to fetch some refried beans and soft tortilla, and let my mom suck the beans off rolled tortilla while they ate. Home-cooked Southern food is in my Texas-born grandfather’s recipes, and Latin food is a staple I’ve grown up with.
This recipe has been adapted for family life, like so many of mine. I desperately try to balance home-cooked goodness for my family and the desire to let someone else cook. As an essentially lazy cook, I’ve ditched the whole chicken version my family used in days gone by. I go for boneless, skinless breasts and thighs … let the butcher do it! I have made this with a whole chicken, when I was away from home and wanted it ‘just like mom’s’, but I spent so much time scooping out bones and yuck that I got a facial. Using the prepared meat allows you to walk away for ages and never steam your glasses.
You can easily and quickly make this recipe with just one breast (of chicken) if you’re only cooking for two, but I tend to go all out so I have plenty of leftovers. I use this in burritos, nachos, salads, sandwiches – it’s incredibly versatile. If you make a large batch, you can freeze a fair bit for an even easier midweek solution. For this recipe, I gave the kids burritos with a little cheese and soft flour tortillas, I had a taco salad with the meat, cheese and salsa as dressing, and my husband opted for corn tacos. Everyone is happy! Hope you enjoy this as much as we do!
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
- 1 cup chopped red/yellow peppers (I use frozen bell pepper mix with green if tight on time)
- 1 medium carrot, shredded (about ½ cup if you’re using pre-shredded/julienne)
- 1 large bunch/2 cups chopped fresh coriander/cilantro (4+ cubes if you’re using frozen)
- 1 TB minced garlic
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp chili powder for heat (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- Tortillas, taco shells, salad, bread rolls or corn chips – your choice.
- Shredded cheese to serve with the above as you see fit. I like Red Leicester or Double Gloucester for creaminess.
I despise chopping onions, so I’m a big fan of frozen chopped onion I can keep on hand. I’ve also found the onion and three pepper blend from the frozen section really useful for this recipe in particular, but if I can’t find it in the shop, I start with chopping the onion, a red pepper and a yellow pepper. The same goes for the carrot … I’m super lazy and buy pre-shredded, but if you’re cool doing it yourself, I recommend the cheese grater for one medium carrot.
Use a nice, big, deep pot for this one, and start with the oil, onion, peppers and garlic over a medium-high heat.
Toss in the dry spices and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and coat with the mixture before allowing it to sit for a minute and add colour.
You’ll only want to cook the chicken for a minute or two on each side, not nearly cooking through, for colour/flavour only. Once the chicken has a little golden brown on a couple of sides, add the shredded carrot and completely cover the chicken with water. The chicken will boil now until it shreds completely, as the water reduces.
While the water comes to a boil, rinse and roughly chop the cilantro/coriander, including the stalks. The more the better, in my opinion, so feel free to add up to 3 cups if you’ve used a lot of chicken. I prefer to take the time with fresh coriander here, because frozen just doesn’t have the same punch.
Add the chopped coriander to the boiling water and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
This is where you can walk away for ages. Occasionally give the mixture a stir to check the chicken is still mostly covered with water. After 30-45 minutes, the chicken should break apart if pressed against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Every once in a while, over the course of the next 30 minutes, use your spoon to encourage the chicken into smaller pieces.
If you’re rushed for time, or just keen to help, keep the temperature a bit higher to keep a rolling boil and use two spoons to break up the chicken. If you’re happy to let the water do the work, you can keep a mild boil ‘stirring’ the meat for you for about an hour. Just be sure to check it’s not sticking on the bottom once in a while.
As the water reduces, step in and break up the meat to expose it all to the sauce before it’s gone completely. I usually find a fork isn’t necessary – just good stabbing, twisting and mashing with the wooden spoon (great for letting off a bit of aggression in a legitimate way).
Once the chicken is nicely broken up, allow the remaining water to boil away, stirring frequently at the end to avoid burring.
The result is an easy filler for lots of different dishes. Straight from the pot, I load up a flour tortilla with a bit of shredded cheese for my kids and roll it up. They’ve been smelling it and can’t wait!