When your son offers to cook for you, you don’t say no, even when you know you'll be footing the bill for the groceries. (Some things never change.) Then again, I would have paid handsomely in a restaurant for this spicy Mexican dish, which features shredded chicken simmered in a smoky red sauce made with six varieties of dried chile.
Given its lengthy cooking time, you'll probably want to try it on the weekend. But then you'll have plenty of leftovers to stuff into burritos or pile on crunchy tostadas.
Another plus: Because it’s served with a variety of toppings – everything from shredded lettuce and Mexican crema to sliced avocado or guacamole, each diner can customize the final product. Look for the dried peppers in an international market or the international aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.
For chile paste:
1 dried pasilla pepper
1 dried morita pepper
1 dried ancho pepper
2 dried guajillo peppers
2 dried chipotle peppers
2 dried chiles de arbol
For the chicken:
3 pounds boneless chicken breast or thigh
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chile, such as RoTel
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder (such as Hatch chili powder from Reyna Foods)
Make chile paste: Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles. Place the chiles in a microwave-safe bowl, then microwave at 15-second intervals for 30 to 60 seconds to release flavors. Add enough water to bowl to coat peppers and microwave for 1 minute. Cool, then puree into a thick paste using a food processor or blender. Set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat a small amount of oil until almost smoking. In batches, brown pieces of chicken; remove to plate.
Once chicken is finished, add the sliced onion to the pan and cook in the juices until slightly browned. Add garlic and continue to cook another minute or two until light golden brown. Add pureed chile pepper paste and dried chili powder and cook for 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil.
Return cooked chicken to pot. Cover and place in 350-degree oven. Bake until chicken is tender, 1 hour to 90 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and shred into bite-sized strands. Place pan over medium heat and cook sauce until reduced by about half. Return shredded chicken to pan and cook with sauce, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 20 minutes, until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon.
Serve chicken with warm tortillas with your favorite toppings – fresh guacamole, crumbed queso fresco, crema or sour cream, salsa, and 1 or 2 slices ripe avocado.
Yield: 8 servings.