Every couple of months I remember that I really like tacos. I don’t like your standard Mexican restaurant tacos with a ladle of mystery meat, but I really enjoy tacos with big chunks of identifiable protein, like fish, pork, or chicken. This recipe is for cilantro lime chicken tacos and I chose to cut the meat, but you can cook it whole and shred it, instead. It’s up to you! They take less than an hour to prepare, but only a fraction of that time is active preparation. Quick, easy, and full of flavor, these tacos are a delicious weeknight meal!
- 2 chicken breasts, or equivalent amount of boneless chicken thigh
- 1 lime (plus a second lime, if you want to serve the tacos with lime wedges)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of water
- 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons of cilantro, roughly chopped (more or less, to taste)
- 3-4 green onions, chopped
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced, depending on your tastes and the clove's size
- ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon of chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon of ancho chili powder (optional, but it adds a nice little smoky flavor without much heat)
- an additional tablespoon of olive oil or vegetable oil for cooking
- Tortillas, preferably corn tortillas
- Your favorite taco-topping cheese. I suggest freshly grated sharp cheddar!
- Begin by placing a chicken breast (or thigh) in a gallon ziplock bag and pressing out the extra air. This is optional, but it really helps with clean up! Then, place the chicken breast on a cutting board and use a heavy bottom skillet or mallet to flatten it to an even thickness of about 1" or less. This may seem strange, but it really, really helps the meat cook quickly and evenly. I avoided pounding out meats for years because I thought it would be loud, messy, and not worth my time, but it really does make a huge difference! Repeat with the reaming piece(s) of meat.
- Trim away excess fat and any membranes and then cut the flattened chicken into strips. Make sure to cut across the muscle fibers, not down their length, to ensure a tender, succulent final product. I actually know someone who insists meat shouldn't be juicy and tender. If you're like this person, go ahead and cut with the grain. If not, please look at the picture below for a visual.
- Place the chicken strips in a medium/large bowl and add olive oil, water, brown sugar, cilantro, green onions, garlic, and spices. Grate the lime's zest into the bowl then slice it in half and squeeze its juice in, as well. Stir throughly to combine.
- Cover well with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for half an hour to allow the flavors to meld.
- After half an hour has passed, remove the chicken from the fridge and heat the remaining oil in a 12" skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmery and warm, give the chicken mixture a stir and then add it to the skillet. Allow it to sit for a minute or so without stirring to allow for some external searing, then stir, trying to positing the still raw-looking sides down with the now white-looking sides up. Allow to rest in place for another minute or so. Turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. This should take 4-5 additional minutes, depending on the size of your chicken strips. Test for doneness by attempting to cut through a piece with the edge of your spatula. If it easily cuts the chicken and it is white, instead of pink, all the way through, it is done!
- While the chicken is cooking, heat your tortillas. This is not mandatory, but makes them way tastier! You can heat them in paper towels in the microwave (boring!), in foil in the oven, or, best of all, in a lightly oiled skillet on the stove. Yum!
- Serve with cheese and, if desired, additional lime wedges.
For a little more spice, add in half a diced jalapeño. These tacos also go really well with sautéed red onion or shallot. If you want to use either of these ingredients, keep them separate from the marinade and sauté them for 2-3 minutes before adding the chicken mixture.
I know that choosing pre-shredded cheese is so much easier, but I really recommend shredding your own. Shredded cheeses contain anti-caking agents that make them unruly when you’re trying to melt them. Oh, and some brands use so much filler and anti-caking additives that the cheese ends up feeling sort of like pressed, grainy saw dust. Yuck. My very favorite commerically-availble cheeses are made my Cabot and, remarkably, WalMart usually has them for about $2. My local Publix also puts them on sale for $2-$2.50 every few weeks. Cabot cheese is much higher quality than Cracker Barrel or Kraft, has a lot more flavor, and usually ends up costing less. For a real flavor adventure, top these tacos with Cabot Pepper Jack!
What is your favorite taco topping? I usually just use cheese, but do you like guac? Sour cream? Something totally random? I’d love to hear about it so I can give it a try!