25 April, 2016

Chicken Quesadillas

In the spirit of my previous post on Girl Scout cookie milkshakes, I thought I might take a moment to showcase one or two other things I've learned to prepare in the kitchen in the years since I've been living on my own (not alone, but on my own) - that is, things that go a little bit beyond your basic grilled cheese sandwiches and spaghetti dinners. I am by no means a cook - while, as a scientist, I am good at following directions (and the kitchen is basically just a laboratory where all of the chemicals are edible), food preparation involves a lot of mess and multi-tasking, and I like to focus on one thing at a time, in order to make sure it's done right. (I'm also the designated dish washer - and we don't have a dish washing machine - so I'd just as soon pop something in the microwave than dirty up a lot of extra pans and mixing bowls and whatnot). Nevertheless, I have learned how to cook a few things, and among them, my chicken quesadillas are perhaps the recipe I am most proud of.

Chicken Quesadillas

These were inspired by Taco Bell's quesadillas (which I love), although they don't really taste the same (so don't write them off if you don't like Taco Bell). The flavor of Taco Bell's quesadillas are characterized by the special sauce they use, but in lieu of such, the emphasis of my quesadillas are on their cheesy chicken flavor (and they're still really good). They're also crispier than Taco Bell's quesadillas (which is a plus). This may be a side effect of the way I cook them. I'm sure there are quesadilla presses out there (I know Taco Bell uses them), but I basically fry them on the stove. The name of the game, though, is to keep them flat and simple - not overloaded with filling - more like a New York style pizza than a Chicago deep dish. They're perfect for snacking on - try serving them as an appetizer at a party, paired with your favorite salsa - but you can certainly make them into a dinner entrée, as I do. They go great with Spanish rice (basically just rice mixed with salsa - but surprisingly good). Here's how to make them:

What you will need:

* Flour tortillas (look for "taco size", but they're actually a little big for tacos - pan size is what you really want)

* Frozen chicken breast (I'd say one per person is a good amount, depending on size, but if you're a big eater, you might want to use more)

* Shredded cheese (you can use queso blanco for a more Mexican flair, but I prefer the taste of cheddar)

* Basic kitchen supplies: a frying pan, spatula, and vegetable oil


1. Prepare the chicken.
    A. Submerge chicken breast(s) in water in medium saucepan and boil on stove until done all the way through (10-20 minutes or so).
    B. Dice chicken into little pieces. The smaller the better. You want it to be like a purée, not chunky. This actually takes considerable effort cutting with a knife by hand, but if you have one of those electronic choppers, it literally takes three seconds and you're done.

2. Pour vegetable oil into a frying pan (just enough to coat the pan - too much encourages splashing which can lead to burns!), and put it on the stove on medium to medium-high heat.

3. Once the oil is heated (it will sizzle if you flick a drop of water at it), place a tortilla in the frying pan. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on one half of the tortilla (like you're making an omelette). Then sprinkle a layer of diced chicken over top of the cheese. Finally, sprinkle another layer of cheese to seal the chicken in.

4. Depending on the heat and how fast the tortilla is cooking, you might want to wait a moment or two before folding the tortilla over. If it starts to bubble up, you can poke the air pockets with a knife or a fork or the tip of your spatula.

5. Before the cheese melts completely, fold the empty half of the tortilla over top of the other half (again, like you're making an omelette). Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, until the tortilla is crispy and golden brown. I like to watch over the quesadilla as it cooks, and periodically press it down with my spatula to keep it flat, and to crease the corner where it was folded over. Watch for hot oil splashes, especially when flipping the quesadilla over.

6. Remove the quesadilla from the frying pan. If necessary, drain excess oil by pressing (with the spatula - it's still hot!) both sides of the quesadilla into a paper towel. Cut into quarters (like you're slicing half of a pizza - I do this with the tip of the spatula, like I'm cutting a grilled cheese). Each folded tortilla makes four triangular slices.

7. If you're making more than one quesadilla (and you probably will be - I can eat 2-3 in a sitting), you can start the next one. Remember to add more vegetable oil to the frying pan as needed (you may not need to do this every single time, though).

8. Yeah, this one is a little bit labor intensive, especially compared to those milkshakes. But once you're done, you can sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you like crispy, cheesy, fried chickeny foods, then you'll love these quesadillas. Don't forget the salsa!

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