The city of Chicago has become famous for its upscale Mexican restaurants, but I will remember it for its humble taquerias spread throughout the city, little neighborhood joints each with their own specialties. In its time, one of my favorite spots was El Norte, a little Mexican diner on the corner where for weeks I lived on burritos and tortas stuffed with pollo and guacamole. At a lesser place, pollo could mean a piece of dry chicken breast, but El Norte’s was chicken braised in a sauce of tomatoes and green peppers, a less-smoky version of the Mexican tinga. Years later the thought of it still makes my mouth water, so when I found out that owners of El Norte unceremoniously closed its doors one day, I went to work trying to recreate it.
Pollo del Norte
a few tablespoons of olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 28-oz can of tomatoes (whole or diced)
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp cumin
salt, to taste
Rinse and dry the chicken thighs, season them well with salt, and set aside. In a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat, saute the peppers and onions in a few tablespoons of oil for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, just until fragrant. Add the whole chicken thighs, tomatoes, bay leaf, and cumin, cover the pot, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Remove the lid, turn down the heat to medium low, and continue to simmer for at least two hours, until the tomatoes have broken down and the chicken easily shreds when stirred. Shred the chicken well and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or cumin if necessary. Serve over warmed tortillas with guacamole, cilantro, sliced radishes, or any other condiments you like.
1/2 small onion, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
salt, to taste
lime juice, to taste
Half the avocados, remove the pits, and scrape the flesh into a bowl or a mortar. Toss in a pinch of salt and mash the avocado with a pestle or a fork until fairly smooth. Mince the onion, jalapeno, and garlic, and add to the avocado, stirring to combine. Season to taste with salt and a squeeze of lime juice.
Guacamole tastes best if made a little in advance; to keep it from turning brown, place a sheet of plastic wrap down over the top of the guacamole so that it touches the surface and blocks any air from getting inside. This method also works well for keeping leftover guacamole fresh.
Jeffrey Ozawa is a writer and cook living in Chicago. His blog, Gorumando, explores life’s pleasures through food.
(Photo: Jaimie Lewis of Machins Choses)