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COOKING WITH CHEF JESS: Taco night done right

I have done a few different articles on cooking in a Crock-Pot, but I figured that one can never have too many slow cooker meals in their arsenal, right? One of my latest family favorites to prepare is Crock-Pot Chicken Tacos. This dish is really...

Warm up from the cold with a bowl of Chicken Taco Soup. (Photo by Accent Contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)
Warm up from the cold with a bowl of Chicken Taco Soup. (Photo by Accent Contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)

I have done a few different articles on cooking in a Crock-Pot, but I figured that one can never have too many slow cooker meals in their arsenal, right? One of my latest family favorites to prepare is Crock-Pot Chicken Tacos. This dish is really easy and only takes 10 minutes to prepare, plus the additional four hours of cooking time.

I start by searing boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, diced onion, celery and olive oil in the bottom of the slow cooker until the chicken is slightly browned and the onions are translucent.

Most slow cookers don't get to a high enough heat to get a proper sear on the meat, unless you have a multi-cooker. I will admit that I was skeptical when I made the purchase, but it has really turned out to be one of the MVPs of my kitchen appliances.

If you don't have one, just place the chicken thighs, olive oil, celery and onions in a saute pan, cook on medium high heat until ready, then add to the slow cooker. Add 1 jar chipotle salsa, a few cloves of garlic, frozen orange juice concentrate, cumin, chili powder, fresh lime juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. The frozen orange juice concentrate and lime juice add natural sugars to the meat that will help the caramelization process and add a sense of depth to the flavor of the meat.

You can make this dish as hot as you like by adding in fresh jalapenos, extra chipotles or red chili flakes, but I find this recipe is a good starting point that pleases even the tiniest mouths in my family.

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Now, in all fairness, I must warn you that the smell of this cooking in the crockpot is sure to attract a few hungry members of your household to the kitchen (or even your new brother-in-law, Jeff).

I also will say that I got a few fist bumps from the boys because it was taco night. To complete your taco night spread, I like to set out the usual taco toppings such as diced tomatoes, black olives, onions, cilantro and, of course, sour cream. In my house, we usually sub in Greek yogurt, and no one is the wiser.

As if this meal wasn't good enough, how about if I tell you that you are well on your way to completing two meals for the week? Great, right?

This chicken taco meat is also the key part of Chicken Taco Soup. To make the taco soup, I start with 1 cup chopped yellow onion and one chopped bell pepper. You can choose any color of pepper you like; I just happened to have an orange bell pepper around, so that's what I went with.

Once that mixture has been sauteed in a soup kettle, I add two packages of taco seasoning, one can each of both kidney and black beans, one cup of frozen corn, two 13-ounce cans of Rotel, and one cup of tomato sauce.

Once the mixture gets a chance to cook and the flavors meld, it's ready to be served with sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream and any other topping you like.  Any and all of the previously mentioned taco toppings work great for the soup and also enable you to use up the ingredients you bought just for taco night.  Two meals with nearly the same shopping list -- not a bad way to plan your meals for the week.

Crockpot Chicken Tacos

3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

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3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced yellow onion

1 cup diced celery

2 cups chipotle salsa

⅓ cup frozen orange juice concentrate

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

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1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

For tacos:

12-16 corn tortillas

½ cup diced onion

½ cup sliced black olives

1 cup diced tomatoes

1 diced avocado

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

In a multi-cooker, saute the chicken thighs, onions, and celery in olive oil until chicken is slightly browned and onions and celery are soft. Add salsa, orange and lime juices, garlic, cumin, chili powder, kosher salt and cracked pepper.

Cook on low heat for six hours or high heat for three to four hours. When done cooking, shred with two forks, turn heat to high or sear, and let simmer until liquid is almost evaporated.

Serve with corn tortillas, chopped onions, black olives, tomatoes, avocados, cilantro and sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Chicken Taco Soup

1 cup diced yellow onion

1 bell pepper, any color, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

2 cups Crockpot Chicken Taco Meat

2 packages taco seasoning

2 14-ounce cans of Rotel

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen yellow corn

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

3 cups water

Combine onion, bell pepper, garlic and olive oil in a soup pot. Heat over medium high heat until onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30-45 minutes. Serve with taco garnishes.

Crockpot Chicken Taco Meat is an an easy way to spice up weeknight dinners. (Photo by Accent Contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)
Crockpot Chicken Taco Meat is an an easy way to spice up weeknight dinners. (Photo by Accent Contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)

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