Cinco de Mayo Taco Party

Chicken TacoEl Pollo Loco

Many years ago (in a galaxy far, far away),I lived by myself in a studio in the Marina district of San Francisco. This first solo apartment was great, except for the parking.

In that tiny place, I became serious about cooking and experimenting with different foods. Since it was just me, I got to make whatever I wanted, and I wanted to try everything. But since it was just me, I could only eat so much so I decided to invite a few friends over. It was in this postage-stamp-sized-apartment I held my first dinner party and my need to feed my people began.

It is well established that I love Mexican food, therefore it should come as no surprise that the first time I cooked for a crowd it was for Cinco de Mayo. The April/May 1998 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine had an article called Toss A Taco Party with Ease. That’s what I did.

Most of my friends were guys, so it didn’t really matter what I cooked for them. They were going to eat it ’cause chances were that it was way better than the food substance of questionable origin and freshness that they consumed at their last meal. I ended up making all three taco recipes, which were a hit with the dudes. Of course, the fact that it was free food and beer may have had something to do with it. The tasting-good part was an added bonus. We had a great time which is what it is really all about when friends get together.

All three of these recipes can be made ahead and re-heated—which is great since Cinco de Mayo is on Monday, and you may not have time to pull it all together after work.

Happy Cinco de Mayo and enjoy! 

Cinco de Mayo Taco Party
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, April/May 1998

Potato & Rajas Taco Filling
Cream adds a luxurious silkiness to special dishes. Here we use regular heavy cream and shredded cheese for flavor and as a thickener.

Yield: Filling for 12 small tacos.

3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and julienned
4 medium poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and julienned
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup shredded manchego or Monterey jack cheese
2/3 cup grated queso anejo, Romano, or Parmesan cheese

Boil the potatoes in salted water just until tender, 6 to 8 min. Drain, pat dry, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with the salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 15 to 18 min. Stir in the roasted red peppers and poblanos.

Add the cream and bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and let the mixture simmer it until begins to thicken (about 4 min).

(If you want to make the filling a day or two ahead, stop at this point, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat gently over medium-low heat when ready to serve.)

Stir in the grated cheeses. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Citrus & Herb Marinated Chicken Taco Filling
The marinade for the chicken is delicious: citrusy, herby, and fresh tasting.

Yield: Filling for 12 small tacos.

2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 to 3 jalapeno chiles, stemmed and seeded
7 cloves garlic
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems included (about 1 cup)
2 lb. chicken legs and thighs

In a food processor or blender, combine 1/3 cup of the orange juice, the jalapenos, garlic, peppercorns, and salt. Puree
until the peppercorns are completely crushed. Add the cilantro and remaining 1/3 cup orange juice and puree until smooth.

In a ceramic or glass ovenproof dish, toss the chicken with the marinade, rubbing it on to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the chicken in the same pan until the meat easily pulls away from the bone, about 40 min. Set the chicken aside to cool. Pour the juices from the pan into a bowl or cup and reserve. Refrigerate the juices so that the fat rises to the top. When the chicken is cool, remove the skin and shred the meat into bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

When ready to serve, skim off the fat that has risen to the top of the reserved cooking juices. Use the remaining liquid to moisten the shredded chicken ‘as you reheat it.

Pork Adobado Taco Filling
We use this sauce as a marinade with everything: chicken, brisket, lamb, and especially pork; it’s also a great barbecue sauce.

Yield: Filling for 12 small tacos.

For the adobo sauce
6 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup water

For the pork
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken stock
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Toast the chiles directly over a medium gas flame or over high heat in a dry cast-iron or heavy-based skillet, turning frequently to avoid scorching. Stop when the chiles begin to smell toasty and soften somewhat, for about 20 seconds.

Transfer the toasted chiles to a saucepan. Add the vinegar and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until very soft, about 10 min.

Put the chiles and the liquid in a blender or food processor and puree to a smooth paste, adding a little water to thin it if necessary. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until golden brown, about 15 min. Stir in the garlic and cook briefly to release its aroma, about 1 min. Stir in the cumin and cook about 1 min. Add the chicken stock and the reserved chile paste and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, tomato paste, salt, and pepper to form a paste. Add this to the simmering stock mixture and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Season the pork all over with salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pour the adobo sauce over the meat and toss to coat. Bake, uncovered, 45 min. Cover with foil and bake until the meat is tender and just falling apart, another 45 to 60 min.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a cutting board. Pour the sauce and any pan juices into a bowl or measuring cup. Skim and discard the fat. Shred the meat and toss it with the defatted sauce.

Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze up to 2 months. Warm the filling over medium heat before serving.

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