True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chicken flautas with citrus slaw and spicy avocado creme

I remember eating flautas as a small child at the El Chicos in Longview, Texas on Hwy. 80 about every other weekend. (Flautas and those to-die-for hot pickled onions from the relish dish.)    I loved everything about flautas.  I especially loved to order them just to hear myself say 'flautas' out loud. Quite melodic, don't you think? -- (which is appropriate because flautas translated into English means 'flute.')
Fast forward thirty-five years and my love affair with flautas hasn't changed much.  Although they are referred to as tapatios at times and some are made with *gasp* flour tortillas instead of corn, MY definition of flautas is corn tortillas stuffed with a seasoned, shredded meat - beef, chicken or pork- rolled tightly and fried to a brown, crispy heavenly flute.

In San Angelo, Texas, flautas/tapitios are served with cabbage piled on top and at my favorite neighborhood little Mexican hole-in-the-wall, they add this incredible tomatillo/avocado/jalapeno/cilantro creme over the flautas and lemon slices on the side.  OMG, OMG, OMG - I can't get enough of it.

Last night, I attempted this dish at home for the first time, tweaked it a little to make it my own, and had exceptional results.  Heads up:  This isn't something that you can just 'throw' together - it takes a little time and can be somewhat messy.  But the end result is very impressive. (I would have taken a picture of the completed plate but my camera's batteries ran out of juice.Yes, I said damnit. At least three times.)

Also, when I cook, I seldom go by a recipe, unless I'm baking, so I'm not good at recording exact measurements, especially with this dish.  But I'll give you what I can and trust that you can eyeball and taste your way through whatever you need to.

Chicken breasts - enough to make a couple of cups of shredded chicken
3 Ancho chilis,  (these are dried poblanos and although they are optional, they add such a flavor to the chicken)
Small package of white or yellow corn tortillas - I use white for no specific reason
Oil for softening  tortillas and oil for frying

First cook the chicken slowly in liquid for about 2 hours so that it shreds easily. I cooked them in a large, deep skillet last night on the stovetop. I quartered my breasts, poured a stout beer over them with  some water, added those delightful ancho chilis, covered and let them slowly cook, adding a little water as needed.

While your chicken is cooking, prepare your spicy avocado creme.
Take one ripe avocado, cilantro to taste, jalapeno to taste, (I used 3 UNseeded) a dollop of fresh sour cream, 4 tomatillos, and blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Add buttermilk and keep blending until the consistency is that of a relatively thick salad dressing.  Add a little garlic powder and  sea salt to taste and blend again.

At this time you can also get your slaw ready to go.  This is SIMPLE but you don't want to add your dressing until the last second to keep cabbage super crisp.  In a large mixing bowl add a package of shredded slaw and one med sweet onion, chopped.  In a cup mix the juice of 2 lemons, 1 lime, a teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Set aside.

Take out your ancho chilis, seed and peel off clear coating.  Chop and return to cooking chicken.

When chicken is tender, remove and shred with fork or chop up with knife and place in medium bowl.
Add garlic, cumin powder, chili powder, sea salt and black pepper to taste. Also add the cooked chilis and a little of the DELICIOUS pan juices to moisten the chicken.

Now here comes the messy part.  I have found NO other method of softening corn tortillas as effective as heating them quickly in hot oil. So, in one skillet, heat about a 1/4 inch oil on medium heat for softening tortillas. In another skillet, begin heating 1/2 oil over medium/high heat for frying the flautas.

Quickly add tortillas, one at a time, to med hot oil leaving only a second, GENTLY turn over with tongs for another second and GENTLY remove and let drain on paper towels in a tortilla warmer if you have one. If not, a large deep bowl will do to keep warm.  12 tortillas should be plenty for two people.

Using an oven mitt or  some paper towels, (the tortillas will be HOT), take each tortilla, add a heaping tablespoon of the chicken mixture to the side and roll tightly, securing with a tooth pick.  Add to hot oil, no more than three at a time. Fry until light golden brown on the bottom, then turn until the other side is lightly browned.  Watch carefully because they will brown quickly if your oil is hot enough.   Drain on paper towels.And yes, at some point you will need to remove the toothpicks.

Pour citrus dressing over cabbage and quickly mix.  Put four to six flautas on a plate, drizzle generously with spicy avocado creme, top with cabbage and garnish with a cilantro sprig.

I finally got this on the table at about 8:30 last night -- but it was well worth the wait.  The warm flautas with the cool, crisp sweet-tart slaw and the spicy avocado creme -- the BEST of this East/West Texas' girl's Tex-Mex cuisine.


Carla C said...

Girrrrlll!I can't wait to try these. I remember eating flautas as a little girl in El Paso. No flautas up here in North Georgia!

Tavern on the Concho said...

Of course, I want to try them using crawfish. :)