Along with Southern comfort food, I've compiled a vast assortment of ethnic recipes to try out. In hopes of branching out from my usual routine, I pulled some of the best-looking recipes from the stacks so when the cooking bug struck I'd know just where to turn for inspiration.
Which is how this recipe for chicken flautas came about. I was craving a kitchen project when a recipe from an old Bon Appétit struck a chord. Theirs looked pretty complex: all-night braised beef, two different homemade salsas with lots of roasted peppers, and an adobo cream sauce to finish it all off. It seemed a little labor intensive for a weeknight; still, I headed to my favorite ethnic market with homemade flautas on my mind. Armed with the market's still-warm-from-the-oven corn tortillas, some chicken breasts from the fridge, and a few standard pantry ingredients, I created my own version of the classic.
Flautas—or taquitos as some of you may know them—are complete comfort food. They're just corn tortillas filled with seasoned meat, rolled, and deep-fried to perfection (or baked if you are more virtuous than me). Served with a variety of salsas and sour cream, it's just plain good-for-the-soul kinda food. You could really use any leftover meat for flautas: just shred it up and spice it to your liking. Another great thing about these is that you can munch on a couple, then store the rest away in the freezer until the craving comes back. And trust me, the craving will most definitely come back.
(Oh, yeah, and my fiance kindly wanted me to tell you that these are way better than QuikTrip's, just in case you were wondering...)
Chicken Flautas with Lime Sour Cream
Makes about 18 flautas
Peanut or canola oil, for frying
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups cooked and shredded chicken (recipe below, or use store-bought rotisserie chicken)
1 teaspoon paprika (regular or smoked)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
24 corn tortillas, 6 to 7 inches in diameter (a few might tear when rolling)
2 cups crumbled queso fresco cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Juice of two limes
Salsa verde and guacamole, for serving
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Fill a Dutch oven or cast iron pot with a few inches of peanut or canola oil and heat on medium-high until it reaches 375°F.
While the oil is heating, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, paprika, kosher salt, garlic powder, cumin, chipotle, chili powder, cayenne, and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until warmed through. Adjust any seasonings to personal taste (note: you want the flavors to be bold in the chicken mixture—i.e. spicy, smoky, salty— because they won't be as strong once you add the cheese and tortilla.)
Heat a stack of three to four tortillas in the microwave for about 20 seconds to soften. Place two tablespoons of chicken mixture into the middle of the tortillas and sprinkle with crumbled queso fresco. Tightly roll each tortilla and secure with a toothpick(s). Using long tongs, carefully add each tortilla to the oil, gently clamping closed for a moment to help the shell set. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature while frying. Cook the tortillas until very crisp and light golden in color, about 1-2 minutes. Shake off the excess oil back into the pot before placing the flauta on a paper-towel lined sheet pan.
Continue rolling and cooking the tortillas in batches, making sure to return the oil to 375° in between batches. Hold the cooked flautas in preheated oven to keep warm until finished frying.
For the lime sour cream, stir together the sour cream and lime juice. Adjust amount of lime, if desired. Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve the flautas with lime sour cream, salsa verde, and guacamole.
For easy poached and shredded chicken: Place four chicken breasts in a deep, flat-sided skillet. Add enough cooking liquid (I used a mix of chicken stock and beer) to completely cover the chicken and sprinkle in a few teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low (try to maintain the temperature of cooking liquid to between 170°F and 180°F) and simmer until the chicken reaches the internal temperature of 160°F, about 15 minutes.
Place hot/warm chicken in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with beater attachment. Turn the mixer on low, then increase power to medium (watch out for splashing!) and mix until chicken is shredded to desired texture, about 30 seconds. (If you don't have a stand mixer, just shred the chicken using the two fork method, or my favorite, the "bear claw.") Return chicken to the poaching liquid to cool. Strain before using. Yields approximately 3 cups shredded chicken. (I made the chicken the night before so the flauta recipe came together in a flash.)
(Images: Nealey Dozier)