Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed when I find myself super excited about some little recipe or idea I come up with (like this one). For me, cooking is less about my own prowess as a chef and more about discovering and bringing out the potential and the personality that food can have. When I find a recipe that really “works”, or think of an idea that takes a food further than I’ve taken it before, it’s just exciting to me. But unfortunately (I guess?), my way of being excited about something is to talk about it a lot, which like I said can come off as kind of silly when it’s my own food I’m rambling about. This is a foodie dilemma, when you’re caught between the desire to be excited about a food and the desire to not look like a tool.
Friend: “Whoa, did you make that? What are those?”
Foodie: “Huh? Oh right, I didn’t notice I was holding this huge platter. I found these in the microwave or something, they’re probably not a big deal.”
Friend: “They look kind of homemade. And there’s like a thousand of them. And you posted six times on Facebook today about making them.”
Foodie: “Ha ha yeah that’s so interesting. I definitely didn’t spend hours making it, that would be weird and kind of intimidating, right? Please stop talking about this so I seem normal.”
Friend: “Hey those look great! Did you make them?”
Foodie: “Of course– don’t tell me you’re still buying your own brie? I stayed up last night making baguettes–obviously the humidity was too high during the day– and then sliced and toasted them for eleven hours while I finished cold-smoking the marinated lamb loin I drove 75 miles to buy last week. Then, after it took me forever to find my Peruvian sea salt, I used my second-smallest deli slicer to…”
Friend: “I’m going to go eat those little hot dogs with the normal people.”
Nevertheless, great food is exciting, and there is such a satisfaction in being able to provide it… especially when we can share it with other people. I made these chicken cups to take to a recent party hosted by some of our good friends, and they seemed to be a big hit. My problem with party food is that I try to make something super delicious to take with me, and since I’m the one who thinks it’s delicious I have to resist the temptation to just stand by the table and eat all my own food the whole time. I did okay this time, and lots of people had the chance to try these, so now it’s your turn to take a shot.
These were inspired by the chicken enchiladas I made recently; they use the same chicken and sauce to create the tender, smoky, spicy flavor that made that dish a winner. I was actually looking for a way to put that meal in bite-size form, and eventually decided on these tortilla cups. My inspiration for the cups came a little from those scoop tortilla chips, and the method was based on the vague memory of an “as seen on TV” apparatus for frying crunchy taco shells. I wanted to find a way to fry a tortilla in a specific shape so it could hold a bite of delicious chicken (or anything else, presumably), and the fact that I figured out how to do it is probably going to make me embarrass myself in public.
for the chicken:
3/4 lb chicken breast or thigh
1 cup (roughly) red chile enchilada sauce
for the tostado cups:
1.5 cups masa harina mixed with 1.5 cups water
several small metal condiment cups (see below for pictures)
oil for frying
for the guacamole sauce I didn’t tell you about yet:
2 ripe hass avocados
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, roasted
juice of 1 lime
1 tb rice vinegar
a few tablespoons water as needed
salt to taste
for a vegetarian option:
use refried beans instead of the chicken. mix some of your chile sauce into the beans and heat them gently for a few minutes to thicken the consistency.
Cut the chicken into 2 inch cubes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sear briefly on a very hot pan. Once the cubes have good color on all sides, move to a medium sauce pan and add a few scoops of the chile sauce. Add water to barely cover the meat, and simmer the mixture gently with a lid on the pot for at least 20 minutes (longer if you have the time) or until the chicken is tender and ready to fall apart. Toward the end of the cooking, remove the lid so the cooking liquid can evaporate back to a saucy consistency.
Remove the chicken and pull apart with two forks. Mix with a generous amount of your chile sauce and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the tortilla cups. This can be done while the chicken is cooking, or even the day before to save time. Mix your tortilla dough, adding more corn flour or water to get the right consistency (read more about tortilla dough here). Remember that the dough will dry out a little as it absorbs the water, so it won’t be quite as moist as when you start.
Heat some vegetable oil, 2-3 inches deep, to 350-375 degrees. Take a big-marble-sized ball of the dough and flatten it between plastic wrap using your tortilladora or any other flat thing. Drape over the bottom of a metal condiment cup, pressing gently to form the dough to the cup. Don’t worry about getting the shape perfect, just worry about getting it on there. Repeat with as many cups as you have available; I had four and it was about all I could keep up with.
Lower the cup (probably with tongs), dough side down, into the oil, and press down to submerge the dough. Alternatively, tip the cup to allow it to fill with oil so it submerges the dough.
After 30 seconds or whenever the dough seems a little more solid, remove the cups so the inside of the tortillas can cook. Flip the dough over in the oil for even cooking.
Remove the tortilla cups and drain on a rack as you continue with the others. If you run out of dough, make more as you go. This made a couple dozen cups for me.
The sauce: Slice, pit, and scoop the avocados out of their skin. Combine avocados with other ingredients and blend until very smooth. Add water as necessary to loosen up the consistency.
Once the tortilla cups are cooled somewhat, fill each with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. Serve the sauce on the side, either in a bowl or in a squeeze bottle so that friends can put their own zigzags and designs on their cups on their own.
This is super delicious, and worth the work in my opinion. What do you think? What are your favorite party foods to bring to an event?
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