by Kate Heyhoe
Throughout Mexico, tender, moist shredded chicken appears in tacos, bolillos, enchiladas and simple warmed tortillas. In the recipes that follow, you'll learn how to make chicken with that authentic Mexican home cooked quality. And in the best tradition of "nothing goes to waste," the recipe for Toasted Corn Soup makes good and tasty use of the resulting chicken broth.
As with other home-cooked Mexican dishes, the process for making shredded chicken is simple, in both technique and seasonings. Essentially, chicken is poached in water with onion and dried herbs, then allowed to cool in the broth, keeping it moist and flavorful. You can use a whole bird or cut-up pieces, but don't remove the skin— it adds a richer flavor. If you're concerned about fat, simply chill the chicken in the cooking broth until the fat hardens and then lift it off.
Mexican broths tend to be milder and more subtle than the rich chicken stocks typical of France, producing a more delicate chicken flavor enhanced by just a few seasonings. For a soup or sauce, you can make a more pronounced broth by adding more chicken parts (such as necks and wings), or substitute a can of low sodium chicken broth for some for the poaching water.
The poaching process is actually similar to the Chinese style of poaching. In this method, the chicken simmers in water until partially cooked, then the flame is turned off and the chicken remains in the resulting broth with the flame turned off until fully cooked. In the Chinese recipe, the chicken is seasoned with ginger, green onions and sherry. But the Mexican kitchen uses marjoram, oregano and thyme along with a chopped white or yellow onion to season the bird.
For an authentic flavor, though, don't use just any oregano—look for Mexican oregano. It has a distinctively different taste from Greek or Italian oregano, almost as if it were another herb entirely. Whereas fresh herbs are wonderful to use, they can be difficult to find, but Mexican poached chicken does not suffer at all from the use of dried herbs. In fact, they give it part of its unique home-cooked flavor. And unlike the French use of a bouquet garni, where herbs are encased in cheesecloth for easy removal, Mexicans are not ashamed to let their herbs mingle freely in the broth. This is simple, straight-forward cooking, not fussy food.
A traditional soup that's been popular north of the border in recent years is Tortilla Soup, and it tastes best when made with broth that comes from Mexican Shredded Chicken. In my favorite version of tortilla soup, simmering broth is ladled over a mound of shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, avocado, onion, lime juice and crisp, broken tortilla chips or strips. A sprinkling of cheese, green onion and cilantro kick up the flavors to the irresistible level—even in summer.
Toasted Corn Soup is a variation of classic Tortilla Soup, but what a variation it is. It uses the same shredded chicken and broth, but it gets a deep layer of flavor from lightly browned, lightly caramelized corn, carrots, onions, and celery, giving the soup a rich, toasty flavor. A generous dusting of Mexican cotija cheese finishes the soup with a mildly sharp tang.
So from one single recipe, Mexican Shredded Chicken, you can springboard to everything from soup to sandwiches to salads. With summer around the corner, this simple home-cooked dish is light, healthy and economical. Best of all it will free you up to enjoy the great outdoors and the shining sol — and still eat very, very well.
Kate's Global Kitchen for May, 2000:
Mi Casa Es Su Casa Month:
Celebrating Mexican Home Cooking
Also visit Global Destinations: Mexico for more Mexican Recipes.
Copyright © 2000, 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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