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Saturday, September 25, 2004

El Pollo Loco de Chipotle Fajitas

(Warning—this is a really long post. Still, I encourage you to read to the end; its results are delicious.)

Monday night, after her class, I met Jamie at Strand in the Village. It being late when we met—and later when we left—we decided to grab dinner down there rather than take all that time going uptown on the subway, then cooking the pork chops we had waiting in the fridge. I’d passed what looked like a cute little French place on 13th. But it seemed to have disappeared by the time we were headed back, and nothing really grabbed our attention. A couple sushi places looked good to me, but they had nothing for Jamie. Jamie pointed out some Italian, but at first I wasn’t in the mood and, by the time I was, the place we had was a pre-fixe dinner that included wine or sparkling water. Since we didn’t want to pay for wine (or, for that matter, sparkling water) we wouldn’t drink, we passed on it. I’d heard good things about Home, but Jamie wasn’t dying for American food. So we ended up at The Caliente Cab Co.

We’d been to The Caliente Cab Co. twice before, and twice before we’d ordered the same thing. Monday nights, they offer fajitas for two for a little under $20 (their usual price per person on fajitas); the fajitas come sizzling on a metal platter and offer enough food for dinner for two and a full lunch the next day. We debated it—we try only to eat out at places that offer food we can’t make better at home. But once the food was delivered, our hunger got the better of us, and we enjoyed both Monday’s dinner and Tuesday’s lunch.

Fast-forward to last night. Fajitas had been on our cooking menu as of last Saturday when we made the menu, and I hadn’t prepared the pizza dough to make calzones. We were hungry, it was late—the perfect setting for Mexican. Only last night’s Mexican put to shame The Caliente Cab Co.; the recipe (like their dinner) serves two people a full dinner and an equally large lunch the next day (note that what a person actually eats may vary—if you eat a lot more than I do, maybe your lunch the next day won’t be as big—still, I think the two of us used up 8 or 9 tortillas). You’d probably call this meal fajitas, although chicken tacos works too, but I think I’ll call it fajitas anyway just because I can.

A couple other preliminary notes: chipotles are smoked jalapeños; they add a wonderfully smoky flavor to the chicken. Don’t substitute plain jalapeños. Or, rather, if you do, don’t blame me that you don’t get the funky tinge these fajitas have. Chipotle chiles come canned or dried; I’ve never found dried in a supermarket, but I hear that you simmer them in chicken stock or white wine to reconstitute them. About that I have no idea. I used a canned chipotle—they come packed in some sort of tomato-based sauce. I’ve read that, after opening, you can freeze them, but I just have them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. For this recipe, I washed the sauce off before using the chile. Also note (or maybe WARNING!) that chipotles are hot. The first time we tried to use them, we both stuck one or two on our taco, and nearly burned the roofs out of our mouths. You can probably reduce some of the heat and keep the amazing flavor by scraping out the seeds, but, since Jamie and I like our food a little hot, we didn’t do that. Finally, note that when you’re sautéing the chicken, you fill the area around the frying pan with choking pepper fumes, not unlike Cameron’s pepper-pork, if any of you remember that. Advice? Turn on your range fan and be willing to walk out of the kitchen occasionally to breathe without a tickle in your throat.

Finally, and most importantly, these are much better on fresh flour tortillas. So I’ve included my flour tortilla recipe at the end. Enjoy!

El Pollo Loco de Chipotle Fajitas
Olive oil
1 onion
2 peppers (we used a fresh sweet green pepper and a fresh hot red pepper; I recommend green and red because it looks really good)
1 chipotle chile
2 chicken breasts, cut in strips (say half and inch by three inches, or however big you like)
Chile powder
1 lime
Cheddar cheese and sour cream, if desired

Cut the peppers and onion into strips. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat; add the peppers and onion. Salt generously and sauté until soft but crunchy (about 5 minutes). Put the peppers and onions in a serving container and add another tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Meanwhile, dice the chipotle chile into small dice; it’ll look almost like a paste, but that’s fine. Put the chipotle into the frying pan over medium to medium-high heat and add the chicken strips. Salt to taste and mix the chicken around until it’s all coated in both olive oil and chipotle. Sprinkle lightly with chile powder, say two pinches. Squeeze the juice from one lime into the frying pan. Stir periodically, turning the chicken, until it’s cooked all the way through, not more than 7 or 10 minutes, and very likely less.

Serve on flour tortillas with cheese and sour cream if desired. (Please don’t serve with store-bought salsa; its flavor bites at you, but it is nonetheless kind of subtle, and doesn’t need to be overpowered. A nice pico de gallo might go well—we didn’t have any cilantro last night, so we couldn’t make it, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary.)

Flour Tortillas
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1¼ cup warm water

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until it’s all mixed in. Add water a little at a time, kneading, until the whole thing’s a rubbery ball of dough. (Complete disclosure—I always use almost exactly 1 cup of water; any more and my tortilla’s way too slimey. But New York’s a reasonably humid place—I could imagine a situation where Utah, for example, would require more than a cup of water, or a situation, say Ecuador, where a cup would be way too much. So that’s why you add just a little bit at a time).

Divide the dough into 10 or 12 balls (depending on how big you want the tortillas to be—for the above recipe, 10 is great). Let them sit for about 10 minutes, then roll them out into thin, flat, tortilla-width circles. Cook them in a frying pan over medium-ish heat for maybe 45 seconds per side (more, of course, for your first tortilla, and likely less for your last) or until slight brown spots appear. (Again, if you really want, you can put canola oil in the frying pan and actually fry the tortillas, but I say why bother.)



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