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Creamy Chicken and Greens with Roasted Poblano and Caramelized Onion

This image courtesy of Professor Paul Elledge

When you’re setting out some small dishes for friends to enjoy nibbling through, this is the creamy go-to dish to balance your tangy and less-saucy offerings. For me, this dish has the perfect balance: meaty from chicken, vegetable-y from greens and onions and roasted poblanos, creamy from crema. It’s straightforward good cooking that practically everyone finds incredibly delicious. A few notes about ingredients: (1) Though the chicken is delicious sautéed, as described here, in summer I grill it to add a little smokiness. (2) I’ve made this dish with all kinds of greens, and each adds something special. Spinach is sweet and velvety, chard is more toothsome and bold flavored, lamb’s quarters are meaty and richly, sweetly green tasting (like French beans). (3) Many of the commercially made cremas available in Mexican grocery stores are more like mild sour cream (though they’re a little less curdy) than Mexican crema, which is rich and velvety. For true Mexican taste and texture, make your own crema (see Notes) or use store-bought crème fraîche.

Makes4 cups, serving 8 to 10 as a soft taco filling or tapa

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe CourseAppetizer, Main Course

Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Gluten-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free

MealDinner

Taste and TextureCreamy, Hot & Spicy, Meaty

Ingredients

  • 2 fresh poblano chiles
  • 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, plus a little more if needed
  • 3 medium (about 1¼ pounds) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • Salt
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 5 cups (lightly packed) coarsely chopped, stemmed greens (about 1-inch pieces are good)—you’ll need about 6 ounces spinach, 4½ ounces Swiss chard, 3 ounces wild lamb’s quarter
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • A little fresh thyme, if you have it
  • 1 cup Mexican crema (see Notes), crème fraîche or heavy (whipping) cream

Instructions

  1. Roast the chiles. Roast the poblanos directly over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for a flame, about 10 minutes for the broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and cool until handleable. Rub off the blackened skin, then pull out the stem and seed pod. Briefly rinse to remove any stray seeds or bits of skin. Slice ¼ inch thick.

  2. Brown the chicken. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Generously sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt on both sides and lay them into the pan in a single layer. When browned underneath, about 4 minutes, flip them over and reduce the heat to medium. Cook on the other side until browned and medium-rare (a little slit in the thickest part will reveal a rosy interior), 5 or 6 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.

  3. Finish the dish. To the skillet (still over medium heat), add the onion. If there isn’t enough oil to lightly coat the onion, add a little more. Cook, stirring regularly, until richly browned and sweet. 8 or 9 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the chicken into ½-inch cubes.

  4. Add the garlic and chile slices to the skillet and cook 1 minute, then add the greens, broth and thyme (if you have it). Raise the temperature to medium-high. Cook until the liquid is nearly gone and the greens are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the crema, crème fraîche or cream and cook until it is noticeably thicker (it’ll be a rich glaze) and the greens are fully tender, about 5 minutes more.

  5. Taste and season the mixture in the skillet with salt. Usually ¼ teaspoon. Stir in the chicken, let heat through for a minute or two, scoop into a serving bowl and enjoy without hesitation.

Notes :

  1. Working Ahead: 

    The poblano can be prepared and the chicken cooked a day or so ahead; store separately, well covered, in the refrigerator. Pick up the preparation at Step 3 shortly before serving.
     

  2. Mexican Crema:

    A tub of crème fraîche will provide you the closest thing to real Mexican crema, since, to my knowledge, there are no artisanal Mexican dairies producing high-quality traditional creams and cheeses in wide distribution in the United States. Crème fraîche and crema are essentially the same, meaning that they are both cultured creams and that there is a lot of variety from brand to brand, region to region, season to season.

    You can culture your own crema using the long-standing recipe: Add 1 tablespoon live-culture buttermilk to 1 cup heavy cream slightly warmed to 80 degrees. Let stand until thickened (usually 6 to 12 hours) at warm room temperature, refrigerate until very thick. It’s complexly delicious and nutty-tangy and much less expensive than a tub of crème fraîche. But it will quickly melt into a puddle when you spoon it on anything warm.

    To avoid the quick melt, you can make your crème fraîche with the sour cream alternative: Mix equal parts of very good quality sour cream and heavy cream, let stand at warm room temperature until noticeably thicker (about 6 hours), then refrigerate for several hours until very thick. This version isn’t as nutty as crème fraîche, but it’s rich, tangy and substantial enough to stand up to warm foods.
     


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