Often mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the victory of a small Mexican army over a much larger French force at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, during the French occupation of that same year. This small but symbolic triumph signaled to the world Mexicans' determination to remain free of foreign interference. Today this event is remembered with fiestas, feasts, and parades, particularly in the border towns of Mexico and the United States, where entire communities come together in an enthusiastic display of appreciation for the shared history and heritage of both cultures.
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Although I can't claim any Mexican ancestry, I still find great fun in inviting a few friends over to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Since I have a long day ahead of me before I get home tonight to kick back with margaritas, I want to keep things simple when it comes to providing food for the festivities. My husband is a big fan of taquitos, crunchy, little stuffed tortillas you see in the freezer aisle at your local grocery chain. I'm not disputing their tastiness, but for one reason or another, I can never bring myself to actually buy them. To give my husband the taquito experience he's crazing, coupled with the authenticity I like in my own cooking, I've decided on chicken flautas as a perfect compromise - plus, they get me in and out of the kitchen almost as quickly as if I had given in to the freezer aisle.
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A rainbow of salsas and homemade (or store bought if you don't have time) tortilla chips can be made ahead of time, while simple beef tacos, classic guacamole, homemade jalapeno poppers, and chile con queso round out our Cinco de Mayo menu. Add a few margaritas and refreshing micheladas, and you've got a party!
- Classic Frozen Margaritas
- Tex-Mex Michelada
- Jalapeno Poppers
- Mexican Salsa Trio: Spicy Mango, Salsa Verde, and Pineapple Salsa
- Tortilla Chips
- Shredded Beef Tacos with Lime and Avocado
- Baked Chicken Flautas
- Pineapple, Strawberry, Tamarind-Chile, or Rice Pudding Flavored Paletas (Mexican Ice Pops)
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Recipe: Baked Chicken Flautas
Although flautas are usually deep-fried until fully cooked, in this recipe the corn tortillas get just a brief flash-fry, just to soften them for filling and rolling. They're then finished in the oven, which both saves hands-on time and keeps them a bit healthier than their retail counterparts. If you don't want to sacrifice authenticity, then by all means fry away: just increase the amount of oil you'll need to one cup and fry the flautas in batches of six for 2-3 minutes per side (10-12 minutes total), until deep golden and crispy. Place finished flautas on a paper towel-lined tray and keep them in a 200° oven until ready to serve. Whether you fry or bake, to maximize margarita time, you can make the chicken filling and salsa roja up to a day in advance. MAKES 24 FLAUTAS
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. dried oregano flakes
¼ tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (approximately 1 lb.)
6 Tbs. canola oil, separated
1 large white onion, half thinly sliced and half chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
8 oz. cotija cheese or queso blanco, crumbled
4 plum tomatoes, stemmed and chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped
4 sprigs cilantro, torn
24 six-inch corn tortillas
1. Combine spices and 2 tsp. of salt and sprinkle evenly over chicken breasts. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add chicken, sliced onion, and 1 clove garlic. Cook until the chicken is browned and no longer pink in the center, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken, onion and garlic to a medium bowl and allow to cool until able to handle.
2. While the chicken rests, make the salsa roja: Puree the chopped onion, remaining garlic, tomatoes, jalapeño, and cilantro in a blender until smooth, about one minute. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the sauté pan and heat tomato mixture until slightly thickened and reduced to two cups, about 18-20 minutes. Season the mixture to taste and transfer salsa to a serving bowl, reserving ⅓ cup.
3. Using your fingers, shred the cooled chicken, and toss with the reserved salsa and the crumbled cotija, mixing well. Season with salt to taste and set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 425°, with racks in upper and lower thirds, and line two 11"x17" rimmed baking trays with foil. Wipe out pan and add remaining oil. Fry tortillas one at a time for 2-3 seconds per side until just soft; remove from oil and place on one of the prepared trays in sets of four. Place 2 Tbs. filling in a vertical line down the center of each softened tortilla, and roll up tightly. Place seam-down on the second tray, leaving 2 inches of space between each flauta. Repeat with remaining tortillas, arranging half on each tray. Bake 30-35 minutes, alternating racks and rotating trays halfway through cooking time until flautas are crisp and deep golden. Serve warm with salsa roja on the side.
Note: If spicy isn't your thing, remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeño prior to pureeing.
More About This Menu
- You can easily use store-bought corn or flour tortillas for the tacos and flautas, but if you're feeling adventurous, try making your own tortillas from masa (cornmeal). We've got step-by-step instructions for corn tortillas as well as a simple recipe for flour tortillas if the process is new to you.
- Check out this alternate Tex-Mex menu, featuring Puffy San Antonio-style chicken tacos, prickly pear margaritas, and spicy pinto beans.
- For a healthier twist, you can serve the shredded beef with avocado and lime over chopped romaine instead of with tortillas, dressed with extra lime juice and a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- We have even more fun and delicious variations on the margarita (including pomegranate, sparkling tangerine, and the sangria margarita) in our collection of party-ready margarita recipes.
- To get inspired by more great Mexican food, check out our collection of Authentic Mexican Recipes.
RECIPE: Mexican-Style Pineapple Ice Pops
Pineapple is one of the hundreds of flavors of paleta that you'll find in Mexico. Other delicious paletas include arroz con leche, tamarind-chile, and strawberries and cream (pictured). You can find ice-pop molds at your local kitchen goods store or online. MAKES 8 ICE POPS
1 cup sugar
4 cups minced fresh pineapple
1. Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.
2. Put the chilled mixture and half of the pineapple into a blender; purée. Set a fine sieve over a bowl and strain puréed pineapple mixture, discarding solids. Stir the remaining pineapple into the mixture and pour into eight 3-oz. ice-pop molds (go to www.centralchef.com for a source).
3. Transfer molds to the freezer and freeze until slushy, about 1 hour. Insert a Popsicle stick into each mold and freeze until pops are solid, about 3 hours more. To release ice pops from molds, run the bottom of the molds briefly under warm water.
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