Food & Drink

Chicken tacos let you think fast

Chicken tacos are a cinch to cook, making them a fast and easy weeknight meal.
Chicken tacos are a cinch to cook, making them a fast and easy weeknight meal. Karsten Moran/The New York Times

A roasted chicken, or the remains thereof, is a wonderful thing to have on hand. So is a boiled one. I often simmer the chicken until done, remove the meat and toss the bones back into the broth to enrich it. Sometimes I simmer a few thighs for the same purpose.

Then, with meat and broth on hand, I start to think about dinner.

Often, that means thinking about chicken tacos. They’re a cinch to make. You build them to order and devour them immediately. Bliss on a plate, and nothing fancy.

In an ideal world, fresh tortillas are made on the spot. In a less ideal but still quite fine world, you'll be able to find good tortillas at the store. Shun commercial brands that use preservatives. It’s worth the hunt. The tortilla is, after all, a major part of a good taco.

Then there’s the question of how to heat your tortillas. You want them tender, soft, floppy and pliable. I have never had much luck with wrapping them in foil and heating them in the oven, though some swear by it. The two methods I can vouch for are heating tortillas over hot water in a steamer, or flipping them a few times in a hot cast-iron pan, then wrapping them to steam briefly in a napkin.

I have become enamored of using canned chipotle chiles for chicken tacos. Look for small cans with “chipotle chilies in adobo” on the label. They are smoked jalapeños packed in spicy juices. With their smoky heat, these peppers are an easy way to build flavor fast.

I cook the chicken with onions and the can’s contents to a saucy consistency, so you don’t need to make an additional salsa. That saves time while not sacrificing taste.

Chicken Tacos With Chipotle

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 or 3 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped

3 tablespoons adobo sauce, from the can

About 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken

1/2 cup chicken broth

8 fresh corn tortillas

1 small white onion, finely chopped, soaked in ice water for 10 minutes and drained

Thinly sliced serrano chile, sliced avocado, crumbled queso fresco or mild feta and crème fraîche, cilantro and lime wedges

Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add diced yellow onion, season with salt and cook until softened and a bit browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in chopped chipotle and adobo sauce. Add shredded chicken, salt lightly and stir to coat. Add broth and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, until sauce has thickened somewhat. Keep warm.

Steam or warm tortillas. Put a spoonful of the saucy chicken in the center of each tortilla. Top with a teaspoon of chopped white onion, a few slivers of serrano chile, avocado, queso fresco and a teaspoon of crème fraîche. Top with cilantro sprigs and serve with lime wedges.

Yield: 4 servings