December 19, 2011

Mexican Rice and Chicken Tacos

Please excuse my absence last week, I was on my deathbed with the flu, but now I'm back in the kitchen! Last night I finally felt well enough to make something other then chicken broth and toast so I decided to make the easiest dish I know how to make - Mexican Rice and Chicken Tacos. You know that really good rice you get at Mexican restaurants? This is that rice. I love going out to Mexican, but living in Montana doesn't necessarily offer the best Mexican food so I set out about 2 years ago to figure out how to make restaurant-style Mexican rice...

After tweaking and re-tweaking my recipe, I have finally settled on one basic recipe and change it from time to time, usually due to what is in my fridge and cupboards. The essential ingredients are rice, tomato sauce, a second liquid (water or chicken broth), onion, Mexican spices and veggies. Ideally I would have a variety of vegetables to choose from: corn, bell peppers, green onion, etc, but most of the time I have to make do with the ends of a bell pepper and some frozen corn. That's OK though, I have no problem using canned or frozen ingredients as long as I am still cooking something that isn't from a box.

On to cooking! As always, I will get all my ingredients ready to go before I turn on any burners. Last night that means chopping veggies, scooping rice, opening cans and measuring out my chicken broth. I also gather the spices that I am planning to use so I am not searching for them while cooking.

I had quite a variety of vegetables to choose from and since my weekly grocery trip is tomorrow I decide to use up what I have: 1/2 a green and red bell pepper, a habanero pepper, 1/2 an Anaheim pepper, onion, and frozen corn. I also have a can of petite diced tomatoes in juice which is my preferred tomato base for cooking rice, it gives the final product a little extra something that tomato sauce doesn't. It also bulks out the rice which is good since it will be leftovers over the next week.

Once I have all my ingredients ready to go it's time to start cooking! I add oil to my cast iron (I think in the near future I will write about why cast iron is way better then any other pan in the kitchen) and toss in my rice. Toasting the rice usually takes most of my attention so I don't burn it. I am looking for a lightly toasted, but not browned rice. I think the original recipe called for the rice to "puff" before going further, but I have never ever ever been able to get my rice to "puff" correctly. I have found my way of toasting the rice is just fine and my dishes come out wonderfully without "puffing" my rice.

After a couple of minutes I add the chopped onion, garlic, habanero and Anaheim peppers to the rice and sprinkle with cumin and a dash of salt. I have been cheating on my garlic cloves these days. I would rather buy fresh garlic and chop it myself, but after a few bad experiences with store-bought garlic I decided to go with the jarred minced garlic. It also cuts my prep time down a little bit and after a long day at work, the less time I spend chopping and dicing stuff the better. I do a light saute on the onion, garlic and hot peppers mainly to infuse with the cumin and season the rice, and then add in my peppers and corn. Another short saute (this will finish cooking the onion to soft and translucent) and another round of seasoning with crushed red pepper and some cayenne pepper.

The next step is the easiest, adding the can of diced tomatoes and 2 cups of chicken broth. Now, if you don't have chicken broth (which I often don't have on hand) or are a vegetarian, you can use water or vegetable broth with essentially the same results. The chicken broth does give it additional flavor, and you can tell the difference if you use water, but it is still good. If I use water I always add additional seasoning to kick up the flavor.

Seasoning at this point is a personal preference. There is already salt, cumin, crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper in there, but I will often add another round of cayenne and cumin as well as chili powder and a touch of black pepper with the liquids. It's all about the layering. I mentioned earlier that I only use a dash of salt. This rice dish does not need any more then the little bit at the start. At that point the salt seasons the rice and the onion therefore carrying the flavor through the dish. No reason to add more. If you really need more salt in the rice then just add more at the salt step. But try it first with just a dash, we are severely over-salted these days anyway.

While my rice is simmering away I am ready to start getting my tacos together. I am not actually going to start cooking my tacos until almost all the liquid is gone in the rice, but (as you know) I like to be all set to go before cooking. I already have seasoned and cooked my chicken so I am ready to shred it. I use 2 forks to do the shredding, or pulling depending on who you talk to, and set it aside. I reserved some green bell pepper and onion from what I chopped up for the rice and I have that all ready to go. Lastly I shred some cheddar cheese and set that aside as well.

I like to cook the tacos with corn tortillas rather then flour. No reason other then I like corn tortillas better. They crisp better on the griddle and have much better flavor. Also, getting them in the organic section of the grocery store makes me think I'm doing something good for my body with using a product with less processing. I don't know if this is true or not, but bottom line for me is taste, and corn tortillas taste better.

OK, enough about tortillas. I heat up my griddle and spread a small amount of butter to my tortillas. Put them on the heated griddle and then add cheese, veggies and shredded chicken. Toast until the tortillas are crispy and brown and the cheese is melted. I cook them open face and then fold them once they are off the heat and I've added my toppings of sour cream and shredded lettuce. It makes them evenly crispy and melty. Yummy.

It is now time to sit back and enjoy my dinner. It is one of my favorites and after a week of nothing but broth, toast and ginger ale, it is a welcome feast. The rice is perfect with just enough spice to make it interesting and the tacos with the help of my homemade hot sauce are bright and crisp and warm and delicious. I am stuffed by the end and decide the dishes can wait until after the Baltimore/San Diego game. Mmmm, what a Sunday.


1 cup white rice
1 can tomato juice/diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
Onion -roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup)
Minced garlic
Hot peppers of choice
Veggies of choice (corn, bell peppers, etc...)
Vegetable oil
Crushed Red Pepper
Cayenne pepper
Chili powder

1. Heat oil in large skillet and toast rice
2. Add onion, hot peppers, garlic, cumin and salt. Saute about 2 min or until onion starts to soften.
3. Add remaining vegetables, cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper. Saute another 2 min until onion is translucent and everything is well mixed.
4. Pour in tomato juice/diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Season to taste, mix well and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered until all the liquid is gone.

Rice can be left on the lowest heat setting once done if you are preparing other dishes, just make sure you stir very often to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom.

Serve and enjoy!

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