I got Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless for my birthday and, that night, I flipped through most of the book, mentally dog-earing over half of it. I’m a big Bayless fan – I find his recipes to be pretty easy and with a short list of (good) ingredients. Not to mention, I had a really great experience at Topolobampo recently. I really need to go back ASAP!
One thing Bayless does in this book that I enjoy is that he will give you a recipe for something, and then add a “riff” on that recipe at the end. It could be an ingredient swap-out, or a way to take something like a salsa and use it as a meal. The riff on his Toasty Arbol Chile Salsa (baking it with chicken thighs) stood out to me immediately because, as you know, I am a big, big fan of the chicken thigh. Plus, the salsa recipe sounded simple and spicy. I love arbol chiles! I’m not really into fruit with meat (and peaches are actually one of my least favorite fruits) BUT they added some sweetness to the dish and were a good counterpart to the heat.
One taste of the salsa and I was in love. It was just so simple. Three ingredients and a quick whir in the food processor? Easy peasy. Ok, so there are actually four ingredients, apparently. See, I *completely* missed the part about the garlic. I didn’t realize it was in the recipe until I went to type this. D’oh! I really did love the salsa as is, but I’m sure it would be even better with the garlic because I kind of think that everything is better with garlic.
Rick Bayless says you should use skin-on chicken for the best flavor, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. I actually tested this theory by using 4 skin-on thighs and 4 skinned thighs (all bone-in). I actually prefered the ones without skin because, to me, if skin isn’t crispy there’s no point. Now, of course the fat from the skin renders and makes the sauce more delicious so that is one reason to use the skin. But I think using bone-in thighs really helps with that, too, and using half skin-on more than did the trick.
While I loved the salsa, I didn’t think it penetrated the chicken enough during baking. It was more like a chicken with a sauce than something that was cooked altogether. Next time, I’ll marinate the chicken in the salsa for a little bit before baking it. That said, the leftovers the next day were really, really good. No doubt the flavors had more time to mingle overnight.
Spicy Baked Chicken with Toasty Arbol Chile Salsa and Peaches
8 bone-in chicken thighs or 4 bone-in chicken breasts
1 batch arbol chile salsa (recipe follows)
2-3 diced peaches or 1 peeled and diced mango
Arbol Chile Salsa
1 Tbsp. canola oil
15 dried arbol chiles (1/4 oz.), stemmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tomatillos, husked and cut in half
Preheat the oven to 400.
To make the salsa: Roll the arbol chiles between your fingers to loosen the seeds, and then break them in half with your fingers to shake as many seeds as will come out easily. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the chiles to the hot oil. Turn occasionally until they have changed color slightly and are aromatic, about a minute. Use a slotted spoon to move the chiles to a food processor or blender, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, and then set it to heat on medium-high. Add the tomatillos, cut-side down, and the garlic. When the tomatillos are well-browned, about 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. Add to the food processor/blender and pulse to combine with the chiles. Add some water (I added about 1/3 cup) and salt (I used about 1/2 tsp.) to get your desired taste and consistency.
To make the chicken: Lay the chicken in a large baking dish, and then pour the salsa over it (or, you could marinate the chicken in the salsa for a while before making this, which is what I will do next time). Scatter the diced peaches or mango across the top. Bake until cooked through, about 40-50 minutes. Skim the fat from the sauce, and then lightly mash in the peach/mango. Serve the chicken with the salsa.