This recipe comes upon request from my cast and crew of “The House of Blue Leaves” at Hawaii Pacific University Theatre.
I’ve been making this dish for two actors to eat onstage instead of the “veal with oranges” that the script calls for. Our budget won’t allow for veal, nor do I want to be cooking it on a regular basis. So, instead of veal with oranges, I’ve been making salsa chicken with carrots and onions. Only it’s classed-up a bit.
I marinate the chicken before cooking it and, in lieu of simply covering the chicken with salsa and baking it (which I do too), I’ve been searing it first for more flavor. After three weeks of smelling it onstage, I made a big batch for the entire cast and crew for a between-show meal yesterday. It got rave reviews, and requests for the recipe. I promised that I’d actually write down what I’ve been doing, so here it is. (The next time I make some, I’ll take pictures too!)
This is not a fussy recipe. Feel free to play with it. Chicken breasts could be substituted for the thighs here; cooking in the salsa will keep them nice and moist. You could also add other vegetables if you like. Bell peppers would be a nice addition to (or substitute for) the carrots. You could add frozen peas if you want to up the vegetables even more. Pearl onions might be nice too . . . You get the idea.
“Gourmet” Salsa Chicken
serves 4-6, doubles easily
- 4 chicken thighs, halved
- 2-4 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1 1/2 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 1/2 tbsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. coarse salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds (optional)
- 1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne (optional, if you like it a little spicy)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1-2 carrots, cut into about 1/2″ pieces
- cooking oil
- 2 cups salsa (use whatever brand and style you like)
- chicken stock, as needed
- 3/4 cup grated cheese, whatever you like (a “mexican” blend works, or a nice sharp cheddar, some manchego and feta would be nice too)
Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Toss chicken with seasonings and cover, refrigerated, for 1 – 4 hours, depending on your schedule. Meanwhile, chop the onion and carrot. You should have about equal parts of each.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and get out a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Heat a cast-iron skillet with about 1 tbsp. of cooking oil (for this recipe, I just used canola oil; nothing fancy) over med-high. Sear the chicken for about 1- 2 mins per side, or until it just starts to brown. Place seared chicken in the baking dish. Work in batches if necessary; you don’t want to crowd the chicken or else it won’t sear.
Once all the chicken is seared, add the carrot and onion to the same skillet, with more oil if necessary. If any of the marinade from the chicken is left, add it too. (I’ve been known to toss the vegies into the same bowl and coat them with the left-over marinade.) Saute until the onion just begins to turn translucent, then add it to the baking dish along with the chicken.
Pour the salsa over the chicken. Add enough chicken stock to just moisten everything if needed (the liquid should not quite cover the chicken). Cover, and bake for 15 mins. After 15 mins, uncover and raise the heat in the oven to 350. Bake for another 20-30 mins, or until the chicken is done. About 10 minutes before taking the dish out of the oven, sprinkle it generously with cheese. (If you broil it for just a minute before serving, the cheese will brown up nicely!)
Serve with spanish rice or polenta.