Coastal Delaware diners are embracing Mexican cuisine, and not just around Cinco de Mayo

Intro by Pam George  |  Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the May 2015 issue

recipeMAY15 Pollo Delicioso - Delaware Beach LifeOn Cinco de Mayo, patrons in coastal restaurants will pop the tops off Mexican beers and order up a taco or two — even in non-Mexican establishments. But many of these diners don’t understand the holiday’s true meaning. It is not, as many believe, Mexico’s Independence Day. That’s Sept. 16. The May 5 holiday marks the victory of the Mexican militia over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

This year, there’s no shortage of places to celebrate the occasion. The Delaware coast now has a large number of Mexican and Latin-inspired restaurants, from Milton to Fenwick Island. It’s hard to toss a tortilla without hitting a fish taco on a menu, even in fish houses and alehouses. Last September, Billy Lucas, co-owner of Taco Reho, a food truck, pulled up to the curb near Big Chill Surf Cantina on Route 1. Before opening the business, Lucas spent seven years as a tour caterer for musicians and up to 150 crew members. “Everyone loved taco day,” says the Philadelphia-area native, who summered in Dewey Beach as a child. “They also loved enchiladas.”

Full of rich flavors, Mexican food is also gaining popularity in home kitchens. Try Lucas’s chicken tinga, which is popular in Puebla. A straightforward, slow-cooking dish, it successfully blends Mexican spices and herbs. To make the entire dish from scratch, buy a tortilla press. To cut corners, buy salsa verde and premade corn tortillas in the store.

Chicken Tinga

(Serves six)

For the chicken
4   chicken legs/thighs, skin on
2   tablespoons of salt
1   tablespoon of cumin
2   tablespoons of garlic powder
1   12-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
1   10-ounce can of chipotle in adobo
1   white onion, peeled and quartered
6   garlic cloves, peeled
2   tablespoons of Mexican oregano
4   bay leaves
2   cups of chicken stock
Queso fresco (Mexican cheese) and chopped cilantro for garnish.

Season the chicken with salt, cumin and garlic powder. Place in a hot skillet. (You can use nonstick cooking spray or some oil if you wish.) Once the chicken is brown all over, put it in a baking pan with remaining ingredients. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for two hours. 

Once the chicken is cool, remove it from sauce. Debone the chicken, remove the skin and lightly pull apart the meat. Set aside. Place the sauce from the baking pan and any juices from the chicken in a blender and puree. Pour the sauce over the chicken and simmer the mix for 10 minutes.

For the salsa verde
(Yields two cups)

8   tomatillos, husks removed 
3   cloves of garlic, peeled
¼  of a white onion, peeled
2   jalapeños, seeds intact
2   tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped
1   teaspoon of salt

Cut the tomatillos in half. Leave jalapenos whole. Roast the tomatillos, jalapenos and onion in a cast-iron skillet or on the grill until they char. (Put tomatillos skin-side down in the pan to keep juices intact.) You want to soften the pepper and get some color on about two or three sides. You shouldn’t need oil if the skillet is hot enough. 

Puree all the ingredients in a blender until almost smooth. Add additional salt if needed.

For the tortillas
(Makes 20)

2   cups of Maseca (a brand of corn flour)
1½  cups of warm water
1   teaspoon of salt

Turn a skillet or griddle to a medium heat. Set up the tortilla press. Cut a clean plastic trash or storage bag into two square sheets; they’ll keep the tortillas from sticking to the press. Place the corn flour and salt in a bowl. Mix for 20 seconds. Add the water and knead until smooth, about two minutes. Divide and roll the dough into golf ball-size pieces. Place one plastic square on the press. Add a ball of dough. Place the second square on top. Press down. If the tortilla is not thin enough, flip and press again. (Note: too-thin tortillas can stick to a pan and tear.) Cook each tortilla on the skillet for one minute. (Use nonstick cooking spray if needed.) Flip and cook another minute or until the tortilla develops brown spots and begins to puff up. 

Fill each tortilla with chicken tinga. Garnish with salsa verde, queso fresco and chopped cilantro.