To celebrate the arrival of spring, this edition of What’s Cooking brings you bright and flavorful chicken tacos with a tangy and versatile vinaigrette. Not at all shy, these Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos are bright, fresh and simple enough to prepare for a weeknight meal—but special enough for a sunny weekend gathering with your favorite people.
With another easy-to-follow recipe developed by our corporate chef, Michael Northern, and his small army of chefs and contributors, our blog editor Jeff Powell proves (with his photographic evidence) that you don’t have to be a professional chef to transform beautiful ingredients into irresistible food that’s meant to be shared with family and friends.
This recipe combines two of my favorite sunny-weather ingredients: cilantro and lime. The vinaigrette really takes these tacos to the next level—with a bold, well-balanced dressing that’s a little sweet, a little sour and a little spicy, it’s a recipe you’ll want to have in your arsenal.
The chicken is equally as tasty and moist thanks to the use of thigh meat (as called for by our chef). My market only had ground breast meat, so I opted to grind skinless thigh meat myself instead, to ensure that the chicken didn’t end up dry. I chopped the thighs into 1/2-inch pieces and put them into the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm slightly before pulsing in my food processor in two batches for about 15 seconds—just until it all looked nicely ground.
Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos
from the Nordstrom Flavors Cookbook
(serves 4 to 6)
“These are not your typical chicken tacos. In many of our restaurants, we have a popular chicken salad that is dressed with a unique cilantro and lime vinaigrette. That dressing is put to good use here as a condiment for brightly colored—and flavored—tacos. Purchase ground chicken that includes all dark meat, rather than breast meat only, or the taco filling will be too dry.
“When preparing this recipe, use both the stems and the leaves of the cilantro. And be sure to use the dressing within a few hours of preparation, as the flavor and the color diminish noticeably when held overnight.” —Nordstrom Corporate Chef, Michael Northern
Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce
Pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, patted dry with paper towels and firmly packed
To make the cilantro lime vinaigrette, in a blender, combine the vinegar, lime juice, honey, garlic, chile and salt and process until smooth. With the machine running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream to form an emulsion. Add the cilantro and process until the vinaigrette is deep green with small flecks of cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then set aside.
Chicken Taco Filling
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground dark-meat chicken
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
12 taco shells
1/2 head romaine lettuce, finely shredded crosswise
4 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
1 cup crumbled queso fresco
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish
To make the chicken taco filling, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the chicken, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring and breaking up any chunks with a wooden spatula, until the chicken shows no sign of pink (about 8 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the lime juice and soy sauce and cook until they are almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
To assemble the tacos, divide the chicken mixture evenly among the taco shells. Top with the lettuce and drizzle each taco with about 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette. Add a scattering of tomato and yellow pepper, and garnish with some of the cheese and a cilantro sprig. Serve immediately, and pass the remaining vinaigrette around at the table.
Chef’s Note: The same ingredients used for these tacos can be used to make tostadas. Simply replace the taco shells with flat fried tortillas and assemble in the same manner.
To compose these tacos at Blue Stove and Bar Verde—where we currently serve them—we fill the shells with meat and dress it with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette. We then add the romaine and dress that with the vinaigrette. Finally, we decorate the tacos with diced yellow bell peppers, diced tomatoes and queso fresco. This method ensures that there is enough dressing throughout the taco.
Editor’s Note: Rather than buying them at the store, I made my own taco shells by frying white corn tortillas (as they do in our restaurants). More flavorful than premade, these can be easily created at home by shallow-frying the each tortilla individually over medium heat. Hold half the tortilla above the oil with tongs (forming the taco shape). When browned, turn to submerge the other side and fry it as you did the first—holding half the tortilla above the oil with tongs. These are well worth the extra 10 minutes to prepare.
Download a PDF of this recipe to print it, and find more tempting dishes in our Nordstrom Family Table Cookbook. Have a favorite recipe from our restaurants or cookbooks that you’d like to see featured? Let us know in the comments!
[Photos by Jeff Powell]