Sombreros, the Super Bowl, and Sugar and Lard: the Road to Chicken Flautas!January 30, 2007
There are so many reasons to love Mexican/Southwestern food. The generous portions. The fact that refried beans come standard. The toppings: fresh salsa, sour cream, cheese. Guacamole (a reason unto itself). Pulled and stewed meats, cheese sauces, hot spices and fried things. The list goes on…
So when my husband declared that he was going to make flautas — my go-to order at all Mexican/Southwestern restaurants, I pulled on my sombrero, tucked in my napkin and readied my utensils.
Flautas are delicious. They combine the best of so many cooking methods: Slow cooked, pulled meat nestled inside a crispy, crunchy deep fried tortilla. You get that satisfying crunch and then a moist mouthful of well-cooked, juicy, shredded meat. Heaven. I like my flautas mounded with fresh ingredients like homemade salsa and guacamole, sour cream and cheese. All those fresh veggies have to make the fried object they’re obscuring healthy, right? Of course I’m right.
But could my husband pull this off? Were his culinary skills up to the task? My sombrero and I waited in breathless anticipation.
Not to worry… the flautas were more than edible; they were delicious. The technique is a bit tricky, only because the hot oil can easily dry the meat that you’ve worked so hard to season and stew. (I should know, being a flauta connisseur.) But after a few flauta soldiers perished (being merciful, I helped to finish them off), golden and delicious flautas began exiting the cook top.
Yes, you can have good Mexican food at home… now all that’s missing is the refried beans.
I’ve been doing a lot of fancy foods of late. I admit that I’ve been more about experimenting with the flashier side of life and staying away from our comfort food. Yet, when Scott over at one of our favorites, Sugar and Lard, offered up a corn tortilla contest, I jumped at the chance to return to one of my first cooking loves, Southwestern cuisine. Combine this with people needing food for the Super Bowl and my wife’s well documented love for these in every high-end or hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place we go, and voilà I bring you flautas.
While great as a main or a finger food, these little guys require one quick lesson in construction. I knew this lesson. I even double checked this lesson. Yet, in my hubris and hurry, I broke the rules. So don’t be like me and remember: You need to work with warm tortillas! If you don’t, below are the consequences! You will have disaster. So cover them and give them a nice warm place in the oven, or give a pair of them 15 seconds in the microwave to complete the job. But, whatever you do make sure they are warm and workable. Enjoy this dish. Enjoy the game on Sunday. And go enjoy Sugar and Lard!
Yield: 12 Flautas
Time: 90 min
12 small corn tortillas
1 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup queso fresco or cheese of choice
1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
1 qt. (approx) canola or vegetable oil
1 qt. chicken broth/stock
1/2 bell pepper (diced)
1/2 red onion (diced)
6 cherry or 1 regular tomato (diced)
1 carrot (chopped)
1 rib celery (chopped)
1 jalapeño (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lime (juice)
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flake
1. In a large pot over medium heat, add about a tablespoon of oil to the pot. Once the oil starts to shimmer and has coated the bottom, add the spices and let cook for about 1 min. Be careful to watch the oil to make sure it does not burn.
2. Add the bell pepper, red onion, tomato, carrot, and celery to the pot. Salt the vegetables liberally. While stirring regularly, cook for about 4 min allowing the vegetables to start to cook. Add the garlic and 1/4 cup of cilantro and cook again for another 2 minutes. The onions should be getting a bit pale.
3. Add the chicken thighs and lime juice to the cooking vegetables. Let cook for about 2-3 min per side. We are looking for just a bit of color on the chicken. By the time you are through, most of the moisture should be off the vegetables, and there should be a tiny bit of browning on the bottom of the pan.
4. So you can deglaze, add the stock/broth about a cup at a time to the mixture. You want to scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure you get up all the dry, caked on stuff. If you don’t cover the chicken completely, add enough water to do so. Bring the stock to a simmer and cover. Cook for 60 min or until the thighs pull apart easily.
5. Once the chicken is cooked, let cool for 5 minutes. Pull apart, making strands of meat. Place in a bowl with the cheese and cilantro and mix together. Time to taste everything. This is the contents of your flautas, if you don’t like it, change it. It may need salt, it may need pepper, it may need some ingredients I haven’t thought of here. But make sure you like this, because it’s the heart of your dish from here on out.
6. Time to roll! Placing the tortillas in a warm oven or microwaving 2 at time for 20 seconds is crucial. The fat and starches in the tortilla will become malleable and allow you to roll them. Place about two tablespoons of mix into the center of each one. Fold over the ends and then roll tightly. It is important that you do not overfill. If you overfill, it will cause the flautas to open up. Once the little bundle is rolled up, place it seem side down on a plate. Skewer with a toothpick to ensure it stays shut.
7. In a cast iron or other heavy pan with high walls, add enough oil to go about half way up the side of the dish. Place over high heat. You are aiming for 350F. Once the oil is hot enough, add 3 to 4 flautas at a time to the oil. This is a quick fry for about 60 seconds a side. You do not want it too hard. Once cooked, remove from the oil and place on a rack or paper towel to drain. Let cool briefly and then serve hot. Add guacamole and salsa for best results, but most importantly enjoy!