Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla, might have gotten out of hand once in a while in U.S. celebrations. A margarita or two many (sic) along with endless bowls of tortilla chips and salsa sounds great in the short run, but not in the long. Why not skip the tequila hangover (it is, after all, a work night) and invite a few friends over for my chicken and green chili with cheese grits– a supper full of freshly layered happiness?
I’ve been thinking or dreaming of making this little bit of heaven for a long time and finally got around to it. I think the grits have been in the pantry for a few months! The longer I dreamed, the better it sounded. Even while in Northern Michigan on vacation (Dave cooked and cleaned up every meal…), this dish popped into my brain a time or two. It was meant to be.
Here’s how I figured it for you once I finally got home and had to cook: At the bottom of each guest’s large shallow bowl/plate, you’ll spread a circle of well-seasoned spinach spiked with a generous amount of garlic. (No vampires allowed, but make sure your partner eats with you here.) Top that with a smaller cheesy round of grits followed by pan-sautéed chicken thighs with a beautiful green chile sauce. The idea is to be able to see all of the layers at once, so you don’t make each layer the same size, but make each smaller than the previous. Garnish it all with minced green onions and tomatoes along with a squeeze of fresh lime and cilantro. Alternately you might think of layering the whole shebang in one large round serving platter–if you have one– and let folks help themselves. If there’s no dietary or caloric limitation, you could add a large grilled corn tortilla as the bottom layer for textural interest. Go for gorgeous!
Speaking of gorgeous, here’s a view of Lake Bellaire, Michigan, from our condo:
What else? A little guacamole served with fresh vegetables would serve as a starter and for drinks, sip some really cold Mexican white wine or perhaps a Dos Equis or two for the beer lovers. Watch “A Fistful of Dollars” after dinner with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate or coffee and Kahlua for dessert. Wake up feeling great so you don’t have to beg like this little fellow who was sure Alyce would feed him. (Not.)
Try this. No begging allowed:
COLORADO GREEN CHILE CHICKEN ON CHEESE GRITS with garlicky spinach
serves 4 doubles easily
Below is first the road map and then the recipe for each component if needed. Simplify or complicate as you wish. (Use rotisserie chicken? Buy sauce?) Do serve it all as hot (temperature) as possible with very cold drinks. If you’d like it hotter (spicier), you can add a little minced jalapeño or you know where you keep the Tabasco and can leave it on the table. You can also buy canned hot green chiles. This is not a difficult or lengthy meal to make, though it has a few different parts. Skip the grits and of course the tortillas for a lower-carb option.
- Make or buy the green chile sauce. You’ll need about about 2 cups. Use my recipe (below), your own favorite recipe, or buy a jar at the store. Keep warm or heat on low while you make the chicken, grits, and spinach. (Can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.)
- Make the cheese grits –use my recipe (below) or your own favorite recipe. Keep covered to stay warm while you make the chicken and spinach.
- Cook the chicken (see below), ladle sauce over all, and keep warm while you cook the spinach.
- Cook the spinach and garlic. Can be done while chicken cooks. (see below)
- Layer and serve hot. For each serving, layer 1/4 of the spinach on the bottom of a large, shallow bowl/plate around the edges to form a ring. At the center of the spinach place a smaller layer of 1/4 of the grits or a good ladle-full. Spread the grits to make sure they touch the spinach. Top each with 2 chicken thighs and sauce. Garnish as desired with thinly sliced green onions, minced ripe tomatoes, cilantro, and a wedge of lime. A bit more cheese if you have it. Serve remainder of sauce in a pitcher at the table for those who might like more.
ALYCE’S GREEN CHILE SAUCE I learned to make green chile sauce at the Santa Fe School of Cooking years ago and while my own version is by now somewhat different, it’s based on SFSC’s. Go see them in Santa Fe whenever you can or order their book here.
- 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- Generous pinch each kosher salt, pepper, ground cumin (1/8 teaspoon each)
- 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chopped, roasted mild green chile
- 3 cups chicken stock
Heat oil and butter in a four-quart pot over medium heat for a minute or so to melt butter. Add onion and garlic; season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook, stirring, until tender–6-8 minutes. Stir in flour and let cook a minute or two. Add green chiles, stir well, and heat through. Slowly stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook another 20 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Taste and adjust seasonings. You won’t need all of the sauce; use leftovers on or with your huevos (eggs) tomorrow, on grilled pork chops, on a bowl of hot rice, or whatever you choose. I’d choose some more cheese grits!
- 4 cups well salted and peppered water
- 1 cup quick grits
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 cup grated very sharp cheddar cheese such as Vermont Cabot or Dubliner.
- A drop or two of hot sauce
Heat seasoned water over high heat to boiling in a 2-quart sauce pan. Stir in grits; lower temperature to simmer. Cover and let cook until grits are tender–7 or 8 minutes at altitude, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter to melt. Stir in cheese to melt along with the hot sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover to keep warm. (Clumpy grits? Use a pastry cutter or potato masher to break up clumps.)
CHICKEN with Green Chile Sauce:
- 8 boneless chicken thighs
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
Heat heavy skillet over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Season the chicken thoroughly on both sides with salt and pepper. Cook on one side for 5 minutes; turn and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Ladle one cup of the green chile sauce over the chicken and cook until done through. Pour another cup or so of the sauce in a pitcher for the table.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 – 1.5 pounds fresh spinach
- salt and pepper
- 3 large garlic cloves, sliced thickly
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
In a very large, deep skillet, sauté fresh spinach seasoned with salt and pepper in 2 tablespoons olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring, until wilting. Add the thickly-sliced garlic cloves to bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the spinach with the crushed red pepper and cook another minute. Turn off heat. Cover. Stir, taste, adjust seasonings.
- 4 green onions and 1 medium tomato (seeded), minced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 lime, cut into quarters
Reader’s Note: My title includes “Colorado” because this dish originated in Colorado Springs at my house–not because it’s made with Colorado chiles. Our Colorado chiles–grown down around Pueblo just south of us–are guajillo chiles or mirasol peppers. I happen to be using canned Hatch chiles for this recipe–bought in 27-ounce cans at Costco. (above photo courtesy Costco) You could also, of course, roast and chop fresh chiles as available. Some years I freeze enough chiles–bought fresh or roasted on our street corners in the Springs– to last until the following year, but the freezer is now empty. Costco it is!
Printable Recipe: COLORADO GREEN CHILE CHICKEN ON CHEESE GRITS with garlicky spinach
- Read about Cinco de Mayo here.
- A little Mariachi music here.
- Buy a piñata if kiddoes are coming or if you’re feeling on the young and strong side that day.
If you like this, you might also like my Chicken-Guacamole Salad.
Alyce and Her Cook
Below: taken right after I set the menu on fire in a restaurant.