Spicy shredded chicken

dinnerFirst, of course, apologies for the unintended hiatus.  The good news is that I’ve spent the last several weeks wrapping up some heavy work travel (not to be repeated for quite a while), as well as enjoying the Midwest’s many leisure-time delights.

There is something about the Midwest that I could never put a finger on.  It is a good something — strong, deep, complex, honest, quiet (or, quieter, at least, than our coastal cousins), very old, and much-revered, even by people whose original roots are set elsewhere.  I’m just now, after just about 31 years of being a midwesterner, starting to get a handle on it, and it’s helping me to understand why I never felt an insatiable need to sail off to either coast for any extended residency.  All of my roots lie within 30 miles of a Great Lake, mainly Michigan and Ontario.  And for all the vastness of any ocean (and maybe this is also characteristic of us midwesterners — putting stock in what can be seen, and allowing any measure of the unseen to float in a greater beyond), I still feel the same very ancient power before any body of water whose opposite shore I cannot see.
The last week in Michigan has given me pictures and memories and feelings and hunches and messages  that, when herded up together, make up some sort of cheesy and amazing postcard of Everything You Thought It Might Be Like Here.  A creaky, airy house by a lake, built in the 1800s.  A broad back lawn, spotted only very occasionally with pastel Adirondack chairs, long arms wide open, leading you down to the small inland lake where you are drawn each day to swim through clear water until you are properly pruned and re-freckled. An enormous screened porch the size of your own apartment.  Cool breezes that literally lull you to sleep (night and, ahem, day).  A completely shaded, completely wooded half-mile driveway to a sort-of-main road, down which you walk each day, looking for deer, wild turkeys, and thousands of perfect pine cones, generally finding all three each time.  Chipped yellow dishes, mismatched silverware, a lopsided staircase that tests the limits of sobriety, campfires, small fish, a wash basin by the back door for rinsing sand off your feet. (It also did not hurt that my oldest and dearest friend gave birth to a beautiful daughter smack-dab in the middle of our time by the lake, which has only helped extend my high now that we’re home.)
All of this confirms my suspicions that I’m hopelessly in love with the Midwest.  I will happily visit any place in the world, even laying down my things for months at a time, but I will always want to be “from here.”
All that said, I do need to take you back to the week before this magical trip.  A week that was somewhat less than magical.  A week planned with care, and the best of intentions.  A week that became — surprise! — rather hectic, leaving me with a fridge half-full of things I meant to cook earlier in the week but — surprise again! — did not.  Lucky for me (and this blog, I suppose), Danny had his own kitchen visions and while I ran around and packed and got my inbox to almost-zero, he calmly pulled out our crockpot and got to work.
What he made was shredded chicken.  The night I ate this chicken in some tacos, I had just finished bemoaning my busy-ness to Danny, declaring this blog doomed for lack of anything notable to share.  One bite turned me around completely, and I demanded Danny tell me exactly how he made it.  It was — one last surprise! — not anything complicated.  In fact, this recipe falls easily in the category of “so simple it’s practically a trick question.”  I often exhaust myself (though joyfully so) chasing ambitious schedules, recipe ideas, seasonal ingredients, and new skills, and lately I feel particularly smiled-upon by the universe when my husband comes out of nowhere with something so easy and versatile.  I am convinced that we will be throwing together a weekly batch of this come fall, and using it in everything from tacos to eggs to soup to salad.
A note:  the only photo I have of this is what my plate looked like shortly before devouring, as this recipe was a surprise candidate for the blog.  Though, due to its simplicity, I don’t imagine you’d really need a photo of the rest of the process.  Seriously, it is that easy.
Get this:
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 jar of your all-time favorite salsa (our favorites are all by Frontera — we really dig the guajillo and the double-roasted tomato)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • A crockpot
  • Seriously, that’s it.
Do this:
 
Dump the chicken into the crockpot.  Pour half the jar of salsa over the chicken (or less — as long as the chicken is pretty much covered).  Set the crockpot to high and simmer for 2 hours.
Pull the chicken out and set on a large cutting board or other easily-cleaned large surface.  Discard the salsa in the pot.  Now bust out a couple of forks and shred the chicken — it should be very tender by now, and will easily shred.  Once it’s to a size you like (we like a couple of big chunks but otherwise a very shreddy batch is what we’re after), put it back in the crockpot, and pour in the remaining salsa. Heat that through and stir once.
Store that bad boy for up to about a week, though I am sure you will not need that much time to tear through it.  Put the chicken in tacos with grilled tortillas, radishes, avocado, sheep feta or queso fresco, and lots of hot sauce (though we made ours pretty spicy to begin with).  Or scramble it into some eggs and spinach.  Or put it on a sandwich.  Or in a salad with corn, zucchini, red pepper, cilantro, lime, and whatever else you’ve got lying around.  Throw it on a pizza for all I care.  Just don’t forget to thank Danny when you do it.

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