Mexican Themed Date Night

Despite what you may have concluded from our previous posts about preparing meats in our new smoker (here and here), smoking meats isn’t always an all-day affair. In fact, thanks to this book that I scored at Barnes & Noble, when our date night card suggested making a Mexican meal from scratch and watching Like Water for Chocolate, we knew that Wiviott’s recipe for Chicken Mojo Criollo, a pleasantly citrusy dish, would totally fit the bill and be ready in only 2 hours, and wouldn’t necessarily have to include rice and refried beans.

Well, okay, only 2 hours of I-have-to-pay-attention time. We halved our whole chicken (from a local farm and that has been sitting in my freezer for about a month) and marinated it in half a bottle of ready-made mojo criollo, setting it in the fridge to get happy happy while we went to the gym and ran some errands. So if you count the time it took to thaw the chicken in the fridge and marinate it the morning of, well, then we’re pushing the same amount of time that it takes to smoke a pork shoulder.

What we loved about Wiviott’s book is that he doesn’t try to get all fancy-schmancy with BBQ equipment and bazillions of recipes. Rather, the book is structured as a series of five lessons, progressing in difficulty as determined by the size of the meat and the length of time it takes to prepare. Chicken Mojo Criollo is the first lesson in the book, and it is super simple so that the aspiring barbecue chef can pay attention to things like cultivating the perfect smoke to fire ratio and judging a meat’s doneness using common sense. And you know what? It was dang good.

Further, Wiviott empowers the home chef to understand a marinade or a dry rub for what it is and what it’s purpose is, thus encouraging a bit of creativity as we work to create our own secret recipes and sauces. Ultimately though, as we discovered last time we smoked meat, if it’s done right, it hardly needs any supplemental sauce at all! Anyway, as we work our way through the book, we’ll share some thoughts, ideas, and successes, and maybe I can even finagle a guest post out of Alex, the BBQ master himself – would you like that?

In the meantime, let’s take a look at our date night dinner. (We didn’t end up watching the movie yet, primarily because I insist on eating at the table, not the sofa, but it’s in our queue).

From left to right, we’ve got half of our smoked chicken, sliced up into manageable pieces; a sautee of summer squash, green beans, and corn (frozen); and homemade flour tortillas.

If you’re interested in making any of these beauties for yourself or for someone you love, you can check out my tortilla technique here. The vegetable saute is just 1 summer squash, 2 handfuls of green beans, and about 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels sauteed (in that order) in 2 tablespoons of butter seasoned with 1 clove of smashed garlic and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. When it was finished, I grated some Parmesan cheese over top (okay, okay not truly Mexican, but you could use Manchego cheese if you’d prefer) and served it with some lime wedges for squeezing over.

But I guess the pièce de résistance that you’re all waiting to hear more about is the chicken (and perhaps me admitting that I do not speak Spanish nor have much experience in Spanish or Mexican cooking…).

I wedged a whole chicken in half by cutting along both sides of the back bone, and then splitting open the breasts with the palm of my hand.

Each half was placed into its own 1-gallon zip-loc bag along with the marinade. Our marinade was:

– 2 cups prepared mojo criollo
– 1/4 onion, diced
– 4 garlic cloves, smashed
– 1/4 teaspoon (thereabouts) Tabasco hot sauce
– pinch of salt and pepper

(I am including this marinade because even if you don’t have a smoker or plan to cook your chicken using smoke, this would make an excellent marinade for grilled chicken breast or kebabs).

After marinating in the fridge for about 6 hours, we removed the chicken, patted it dry with paper towels, and sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Alex prepared them in the smoker with some hickory wood chunks for flavor at an average temperature of 270F (with an oops moment where it was at 400F+ for about 7 minutes). After 90 minutes, when we were assured that the juices were running clear and the meat thermometer was pushing 165F, we removed the chicken to a plate and covered it with foil to rest while I finished flipping my tortillas.

When it was time to serve, I could easily pull the bones out of the drumstick, thigh, and wing – the meat was legit falling off the bone. I had reduced down a bit of the marinade with some white wine on the stovetop and served that over top of the chicken (but it didn’t need it, really).

Oh and hey, we prepared a whole chicken, but we only ate half in one sitting – and we were full. So there is a lot of chicken left in our fridge waiting eagerly for sandwiches for the coming week. Just something to keep in mind if you decide to make this yourself.

Sometimes I am not a fan of citrusy marinades on chicken because it can come off a bit too mild or flavorless. But done well, it’s brilliant, and this mojo criollo stuff, combined with the smokey flavor Alex summoned from the smoker, was delicious. The only thing possibly missing from the meal was a bit of pico de gallo or guacamole or something cold and fresh to complement the other warming flavors we had going on – you know, food’s way of dating with opposites attract and all that good stuff.

And we couldn’t end the evening without something sweet. With some of the first peaches of the season arriving this week, I snagged a few strawberries from the freezer to make an addictive strawberry-peach ice cream.

So what do you think? Is this date night-worthy food? Did I leave anything out? Buen provecho!

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