Last night, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Are we Mexican? Well, my mom’s dad’s mom was from Hermosillo, and Sandra’s beau is half. And any reason to thumb our noses at the politics of Arizona and eat tacos is a good reason.
I went nuts at New Seasons Market. We had fresh cotija cheese, cubed avocado, shredded cabbage with lime juice and cilantro, the pico de gallo my grandfather taught me to make (so, technically Costa Rican), neon pink cebollas encurtidas (aaaand Ecuadorian), and my homemade corn tortillas. Which I argue also fall into the category of “stupid easy,” but I digress. I made two fillings: a sweet-hot ancho chili- and cumin-spiced sweet potato and red kidney bean vegetarian option and killer shredded chicken for the omnivores.
I first made this chicken last fall in a fit of frugality. I bought a whole chicken and planned to use the resulting shredded meat for a number of meals throughout the week–soup, salad, casserole (or a “bake” as my Midwestern stepmom and I call it, thinking ourselves above the stereotypical “hot dish” of our region). I wasn’t prepared for the succulent results and between Jesse, Rachel, and me (yes, me not I) the chicken was gone within two days, filling impromptu tacos or eaten surreptitiously and cold out of the fridge.
Minneapolitans–the chickens they sell at the Whole Foods in St. Louis Park are fabulous. I, of course, used my Costco chicken.
Stupid Easy Shredded Chicken
Slow cooker big enough to fit your chicken, but not much bigger
Tongs (makes the bone removal easier)
1 4 lb.-ish organic chicken
1 yellow onion*
1 (big!) head of garlic
Half a lemon, any variety
2-3 T good-tasting olive oil
1 T paprika
2 T kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper, at least 1 tsp and more to taste
1 T lard or rendered bacon fat** (optional… sort of)
1. Prep your veggies: peel and cut the onion into slender crescents. Peel the entire head of garlic. Plop all of the onion and half of the garlic cloves into your slow cooker.
2. Prep your chicken rub: combine salt, pepper, paprika, and olive oil to make a paste.
3. Remove giblets and skin your chicken. Or have the butcher do it for you. Or buy skinless BONE-IN chicken thighs, legs, and a few breasts. If those Costco chickerms weren’t in our freezer, I’d probably have gone this route in order to bypass the skinning. As it happens, I went a little Hannibal Lecter and decided to skin the thing in one piece, the way some people peel an orange. It took 20 minutes, but I did it. I’m afraid to think too hard about what this might say about me.
4. Slather the chicken in the paprika-salt-pepper-oil rub. Use it all. Have too much? No you don’t. Dump it into the slow cooker, too.
5. Put the chicken in the slow cooker. Put the half lemon and the rest of the garlic cloves into the chicken cavity.
6. Cover the slow cooker, turn that sucker to low, and walk away. Go do other stuff for 6 or so hours. I went for a hike with Sandra in Tryon Creek. The exact timing will depend upon your slow cooker, really–I used one that by Velveteen Rabbit standards is Real at this point, and since I wasn’t sure if I could trust it to do what I wanted, I started out with the thing on high for a couple hours and then had my future father-in-law switch it to low before he headed out for his daily walk a couple hours later. Seriously. Walk away. Don’t mess with the chicken at all–it’ll make it much harder to get the bones out later if you do. Don’t worry that there’s no cooking liquid, or much fat; there’s enough fat, and the onions and lemon and garlic and bones will produce enough liquid. Trust.
7. As you’re prepping all your other taco accoutrements, pause to de-lid your slow cooker and, tongs in hand, gingerly begin removing the bones. If you haven’t messed with the chicken, an observant eye and a very basic understanding of chicken anatomy (“there are the legs! there are the wings! there are the ribs and the backbone!”) will help you hone in on each bone. You might still want to warn your fellow diners to keep their eyes peeled, however. Once you’ve gotten all the bones you can find, go nuts with those tongs. Shred that chicken. You could probably just look at it hard and it would shred itself.
8. About 10 minutes before serving, mix in that tablespoon of lard or rendered bacon fat. This turns the shredded chicken from something amazing into something aMAZing–as you stir it in, you’ll see the chicken turn a richer shade of brown. It adds and element of silkiness and sabor you simply can’t get from anything else.
9. Serve! And be amazed that such a simple combo created such deliciousness.
*My grandfather taught me that the flatter onions are the sweeter onions. I don’t know if it’s true, but he was pretty adamant and it’s guided my onion selection for my entire culinary life.
**Are you not saving your rendered bacon fat yet? Pour it off into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (mine’s a PB jar) and let it cool for a while before you pop it in the fridge. You can also buy lard, aka manteca, at some Latino groceries that also prepare food. It’s worth it.