Uno Effort, Dos Dinners


I recently hosted a casual weeknight dinner for six neighbors who wanted to discuss the political climate and how to change it. Overnight, it mushroomed into a dinner for 20, which was good news in terms of the level of engagement we were generating, but challenging news for the cook.

Undeterred, I set to work on a crowd-pleasing Mexican braised chicken, which was easy to multiply, buffet-friendly and could be wrapped in tacos, spooned over rice or just eaten with a fork.

Even better, the braising liquid, which I saved for future use, yielded a scrumptious Mexican chicken soup. The broth freezes well, so, even if you don’t want to use it right away, stockpile it for later.

My family is partial to white meat, and I was in a time crunch, so I used boneless breasts. Boneless thighs would work well if you are feeding a dark meat crowd. Using skin-on, bone-in pieces yields more flavor, but also requires more work.

For sides, I made a pot of vegan rice and beans to ensure that all guests were covered and a big batch of Mexican slaw.

Dessert was a tray of oatmeal cookies brought by a helpful neighbor.

Stanislav Ostranitsa/Thinkstock

Mexican Braised Chicken

Serves eight

  • 4 large boneless chicken breasts or 6 boneless chicken thighs (approximately 4 pounds)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 whole lime
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ½ cup crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil and sauté the onion, garlic and spices. When fragrant, add the chicken.

Sear the chicken pieces on both sides.

Cut the lime and squeeze the juice onto the chicken, then add the lime halves to the pot. Pour in the salsa, chicken stock and crushed tomato.

Bring the ingredients to a boil, then cover and lower the heat. Add the chopped cilantro. Simmer for 2 hours until the chicken falls apart when pricked with a fork.

Shred the chicken, and drain almost all of the cooking liquid; reserve the liquid. If desired, reserve 1 cup of the shredded chicken for soup. (Note: The shredded chicken should still be moist; do not it drain to the point of drying it out.)

Serve over rice or with tortillas with lime wedges and chopped fresh cilantro.


Mexican Chicken Soup

Serves four

If your braising liquid does not stretch to 6 cups, you can supplement it with good quality chicken broth. A note on the rice: I used cooked brown rice because as a whole grain it is far healthier — and in a dish like this it is disguised enough by the variety of textures and flavors that picky eaters will be none the wiser.

  • 6 cups braising liquid from Mexican Chicken
  • 1 cup cooked chicken (either leftover from braise or from another source)
  • 1 cup cooked rice (brown is healthier)
  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can sweet corn, drained
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon canned chipotle peppers in adobo (chili plus sauce)
  • 1 avocado, cubed, for serving
  • Lime wedges

In a large pot, heat the braising liquid and add the chicken, rice, beans, corn and ½ cup chopped cilantro.

Mash the chipotles with adobo sauce and add it to the soup.

Simmer the soup until the flavors meld; you may need to add salt.

Serve the soup with cubed avocados, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.


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