Roast Tomatillo Salsa on Grilled Chicken Tacos with Queso Fresco

Dream jobs, everybody has one in mind. Some are lucky enough to have their dream job and some haven’t yet realized they are already in their dream position, and then there are some, I suppose, whose dream is not to need a job at all. Personally, my dream had always been to work as a chef for a winery. To be consumed with food pairings, creating menus around each season and each wine, I felt that was the ultimate challenge as a chef, to be always thinking and creating.

In pursuit of this dream, I moved to Palo Alto in 1995, I took a position at Jeremiah Towers’ Stars under George Francisco, a 5 year veteran of The Trellis, who later went on to Chef de Cuisine at Farrallon with Mark Franz. The goal was to gain experience and work my way from Palo Alto to San Francisco, then up the coast to Napa or Sonoma where I would have access to the type of position I wanted.

Working on the west coast in the mid 90’s was a far different experience than Colorado or even the east coast, ‘farm to table’ and ‘ingredient-driven’ weren’t buzzwords or trends, it was just how cooking was done. As a sous chef, my responsibility was sourcing produce. Each morning I would inventory the produce cooler and place my orders with the local farms. Produce was harvested and delivered that afternoon, still warm from the sun and covered in the earth from which it grew. A far cry from my experience in Colorado, but then again, that was beginning to change here right about the same time.

I never made it up to the wine country. Plans were put on hold and I came back to Colorado to help a friend settle a restaurant that had lost its chef to a freak lightning strike. That restaurant was the Fourth Story and, as a consolation, was very wine centric and gave me the ability to create with monthly wine dinners and special events. For a while, that actually became my dream job and filled the need I had to explore the marriage of food and wine.

Flash forward to today and “Can the chef suggest a wine pairing?” has become “What beer would you drink with that?” This is by no means a reflection on the state of the wine industry, but attributed more so to the boom in the craft beer industry and the fact that I work for not one, but two of Colorado’s oldest and best known breweries. For 15 years I have crafted menus, taking into careful consideration how each dish would work with the wine list, making sure each dish was seasoned appropriately so as not to ‘offend’ particular wines with generally unfriendly ingredients such as asparagus and artichokes.

In stark comparison to wine, beer is a much more forgiving partner to food. Instead of matching specific flavors and varietals of wine, beer pairings rely more on tastes such as sweet, salty and spicy. From a menu writing standpoint, this has allowed me to have more fun with dishes like this Chicken Tacos with Charred Tomatillo Salsa. Yes, as the dish stands, I could pair a wine with it, but I could rattle off 5 beers I would prefer while eating with friends standing over the grill.

When I think about the dream job I had in mind 15 years ago, I eventually and in a roundabout way ended up right where I wanted to be. I create food meant to be enjoyed with a hand crafted beverage, that it is not wine is of no consequence because, for me, the journey remains the same. Cheers!

Serves four
Ingredients:

1# tomatillo, peeled and rinsed
¼# yellow onion, small diced
1 oz. garlic clove, about 5
¼ cup lime juice
½ bunch cilantro
½ tsp. cumin seed, ground
½ tsp. dark chile powder
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to broil.
2. Halve the tomatillos, toss with ½ fl oz of the olive.
3. Lay on a pan, skin side up.
4. Place in the oven on the top rack.
5. Cook until the skin begins to blister and blacken and the tomatillos begin to release their liquid, about 5-7 minutes.
6. Remove and cool to room temperature.
7. Combine the tomatillos and all their liquid with the yellow onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, cumin seed, chile powder and olive oil and puree with a stick blender or in a food processor.
8. Season to taste with salt.
9. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

To add a little heat, add a roasted jalapeno to the food processor.

Assemble the Tacos:

4 each 6-8 oz chicken breasts
24 each 4-5” corn tortillas, warmed between a clean, damp kitchen towel
Charred Tomatillo Salsa
1# Queso Fresco, crumbled
You can also include any other toppings you desire

1. Season and grill the chicken breast till done.
2. Allow the chicken to cool slightly and cut into thin strips.
3. Lay the corn tortillas, 2 each per taco, on a serving plate.
4. Divide the chicken equally among the tortillas.
5. Top with Tomatillo salsa, queso fresco and serve.

Try with an ice cold lager style beer such as the Prima Pils from Victory Brewing Co. in Pennsylvania.

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