May. That wonderful month of the year that is the true heart of spring. The time when April showers give way to May flowers, or in our case here in central New York hopefully all the snow has melted off and the ground has thawed. May comes marching in to greet us with a little thing we like to call Cinco de Mayo. A glorious celebration of the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla over the French in 1862…who am I kidding, it’s a day for gringos to indulge in free flowing margaritas and eat tacos, tacos, tacos!
I myself am a transplant from the sunny climes of southern California. When it comes to tacos in California carne asada is king. Marinaded and bursting with classic Mexican flavors, charred bits of skirt steak on a small corn tortilla sourced from a local tortilleria with a simple topping of chopped onions and cilantro and served on a paper plate with a wedge of lime and a couple radishes. It is hands down one of the grandest eating experiences one could hope to have. Today however, I offer up the clucky cousin of the classic beef asada taco, pollo asado al carbon! Sounds fancy doesn’t it? No worries, I’m going to show you how to turn a humble chicken into a taco that will rival those of any taqueria from SoCal to Austin. So grab a cold cerveza and some lime and let’s get to it!
First thing we need to do is acquire a whole chicken. Not one of those circus freak chickens fed on a steady diet of hormones and then pumped up with salt water. No, what we are after here friends is a small fryer about 2.5 pounds. Now this is the most difficult part of the recipe, we need to cut the backbone outta this bad boy, and for that we’ll need to grab some poultry shears or at the very least a really strong pair of scissors. Can’t get that backbone out of the chicken? Just sweet talk your butcher into doing it for you (and save that backbone for stock at a later date!) Now that we’ve got our spineless chicken let’s build a spa for it to soak in for a while…
Our cast of players for the chicken:
½ cup lime juice
½ cup seville orange juice
3 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoon cumin seed (lightly crushed)
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon achiote paste (or crushed annatto seeds)
1 ½ tablespoon ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon ground allspice
5 large garlic cloves (crushed)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk in a mixing bowl and take half of it and set it aside. Pour the remaining marinade into a ziplock bag and toss our formerly feathered friend into the pool and massage it around a bit to make sure we get flavor in to all the nooks and crannies. Now it is time to refrigerate and step away for a couple hours to enjoy a frosty adult beverage or two while we prepare our grill.
I used a charcoal grill to cook our bird, I prefer the flavor of charcoal to that of a gas grill. By all means, use a gas grill if that is what you have available. If you’re using a charcoal grill follow the next set of directions. Remember, we are cooking with indirect heat so don’t place the bird directly over the flame.
We need to get a good pile of coals going and let them get grey and ash over. At this point we’ll be separating the coals into two piles on either side of the grill. We’re going to be cooking this beast on indirect heat for 45 minutes or so without flipping it over and we don’t want it to burn. We’re looking to get our temperature to about 325 degrees. Once the coals are primed and separated (and the grill is clean) it’s time to toast the bird.
Place the chicken (breast side up) on the grill between the coals and close the lid. Every 10-15 minutes use the reserved marinade to baste the chicken. After 45 minutes flip the chicken onto the breast side and cook for 10 minutes more. Check to make sure the juices in the bird are running clear and remove the chicken to a sheet pan or cookie sheet to rest. The chicken should rest for about 15 minutes, then we simply debone the meat and roughly chop it up. Now it’s time to assemble some tacos!
Use your choice of flour or corn tortillas to make your tacos, I myself prefer a nice homemade corn tortilla. I use a simple topping of shredded cabbage lightly dressed with a little vinegar, lime juice, and salt. I top the whole thing off with a jalapeño aioli loosely based on the coveted dona sauce from Tacodeli in Austin, Texas. It couldn’t be simpler to make and it really rounds out all of the flavors of this taco. Step lively with this one though as it’s got a little bit of ass on it!
The cast of players for the aioli.
2 large cloves of garlic
¼ cup of vegetable oil
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in our jalapeños and one clove of the garlic. Reduce the heat and simmer the peppers for about 10-15 minutes then remove from the heat into cold water. When the peppers are cool enough to handle deseed them and put all ingredients into a blender and put the spurs to it. Drizzle the oil in a light and steady stream into the blender as it’s whipping away at our pepper puree. After a minute or so of drizzling the oil into the mixture you’ll notice it begin to thicken and take on a pale light green hue. Let it whip for another minute or so and it’s done.
Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy the spoils of our labor. Crack open a cold cerveza, pour a margarita, or if that’s not your thing enjoy a nice agua fresca and throw back some delicious tacos! I hope everyone enjoys this pollo asado al carbon and have a fabulous Cinco de Mayo! Buenos dias and eat well amigos!