Lindsey sent me this recipe and the next day I had this moment: Did I dream that? One sheet pan dinner + tacos? Could it be true? My family has gobbled up every recipe in the sheet pan dinner series so far, and like pretty much everyone in the world, my family gobbles up tacos too. So this couldn’t be a better fit for us. Are you feeling the same way?
Good. Then let’s jump into the recipe, but before we do, I’m curious, what’s your favorite Mexican food restaurant? And I’m talking about Mexican food in the broadest sense possible — from the totally authentic taco truck downtown through any Americanized version you’ve come across. As for me? We have loads of excellent taquerias in the Oakland, but for after hours, I admit I am very familiar with the late night Taco Bell drive-thru (and I can pretend to not be embarrassed about that since I read this.) If I’m at the mall, I’m also a dedicated fan of Rubio’s fish tacos. How about you? Where do you go for Mexican food?
Here’s Lindsey with the dreamy recipe:
The running joke in our house is that I need curry every day. And while that’s mostly true, my other true love is Mexican food. And by Mexican food, I mean any kind of Mexican food — the real deal, TexMex, burrito bowls, and whatever else is loosely lumped into the category. I frequent Chipotle more than I’d like to admit. When I visit California, I eat tacos 2-3 times a day, minimum. Tacos are everything, am I right?
At my house we often lean towards chicken tacos. That’s where our handy friend, The Sheet Pan, comes in. I totally dig the one pan dinners, but this one uses two…because can we talk about the Roasted Tomatillo Salsa that goes with these Sheet Pan Chicken Tacos? Holy moly. Hold onto your hats, this salsa will change your life.
Before we get to life-changing salsa (no exaggeration), let me tell you a bit about the chicken.
First we cut the chicken into thin strips, then we marinate the chicken in a sweet, tangy, spicy honey-lime cumin marinade before it goes into the oven. That marinade…sigh…so delicious.
And by cutting the chicken into smaller pieces/strips, it absorbs the marinade more quickly. The chicken doesn’t need long in the oven. Only 15-20 minutes. (The salsa needs a tad longer, which is no problem. That sheet pan goes into the oven first.)
I don’t necessarily mind the chicken strips, but if you want to go the extra (flavor) mile, give the cooked chicken a rough chop and place it back on the pan to absorb the extra pan juices. (If there aren’t many, add a tiny bit of water and scrape up any browned bits.) We’re talking major flavor explosion here, friends.
So the plan is this: marinate chicken, start roasting salsa, roast chicken, chop chicken (if desired) and toss with pan juices, keep warm, blend salsa, sit down and eat.
Okay, so this salsa. I call this life-changing salsa because it literally changed my life as a 20-year old. I ate a tomatillo salsa that this version is based on at a dinner and it blew my mind. I didn’t know anything so delicious could be made at home. (That was also the night I had the best homemade raspberry ice cream I’d ever tasted.)
I eventually bought the cookbook the recipe was from (Rick Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time), and haven’t looked back. (I also bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker. The tomatillo salsa that night, I’m telling you, was another step on my culinary journey.) My husband, not a fellow lover of Mexican food, loves this salsa. My children, even the picky ones, love it. I could drink it. It’s that good.
So what’s in it?
If you have never bought tomatillos, let me give you a quick little lesson. Tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family and related to tomatoes. Sometimes they are called Mexican husk tomatoes. The green (and sometimes purple) fruits grown on a bush-like plant and form inside papery husks, similar to ground cherries. If you have a garden, they are very easy to grow and maintain, and seed very well for the next season.
The fruit has a tart, bright flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. (I like both ways.) The husk has to be removed and the sticky residue on the surface of the fruit washed off before eating. They can be used in place of or in addition to tomatoes in recipes.
To select tomatillos, you’ll want to handle each one. The fruit should feel very firm. It may not fill the husk, or the husk may be split. Even if the husk is discolored, overly dry, or damp, it doesn’t mean the fruit underneath is bad. Conversely, the husk may look beautiful and underneath the fruit is mushy or moldy. They can be stored in the husk or husked. They’re usually found in the cold case in the produce section, but I typically let them sit on the counter for up to 3-4 days if I’m not using them immediately.
Now we get to the heat component. This salsa can be made mild, medium, hot, or burn your face off hot all depending on the type of chiles or peppers used. I go with whatever looks best or freshest at the store. Typically I will combine a more mild pepper/chile like poblanos or yellow chiles, and a smaller, hotter one like jalapeños or serraño chiles.
To those, add onions and garlic. The high heat of the oven caramelizes the sugars from the tomatillos, peppers and chiles, onion, and garlic. If the skin or flesh chars, even better.
Everything goes into a food processor or blender with a full bunch of cilantro. Now I know some people don’t care for cilantro — it has a soapy taste for a percentage of the population. If you’re in the same boat, no worries. You can certainly omit it or use a little parsley, oregano, or epazote to add the fresh, herby component. (It’s also really good with some diced avocado and fresh lime juice added in.) Anyway, blend the salsa, leaving it as chunky or smooth as you like. Add salt, to taste. And that’s it!
You may still be wondering why this is such a life-changing salsa. Well, I look at it as the template of making any kind of salsa you want. It’s versatile too. Use it as a base for tortilla soup (just add stock!), put it in the slow cooker with your choice of poultry or meat, swap out the tomatillos for tomatoes, use different chiles, use it as an enchilada sauce, add to quesadillas before heating, serve over roasted cauliflower or other veggies, stir it into sour cream for a quick veggie dip, etc, etc.
One salsa, many ways to use it. And it tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy. I promise. I’ve tried and nothing even comes close. :)
Tacos are not complete without some crunchy coleslaw on top. And because we eat most of our meals with rice and some kind of bean or legume, I serve our tacos with red rice and black beans. I’ve included my easy recipes in the notes below, but of course, it’s just a suggestion. The tacos are certainly filling enough on their own.
One last thing, you can also use this salsa for pork tenderloin tacos. Just use the recipe directions from this post (minus the veggies) and the marinade from the recipe below and you’ll have another winning recipe.
Sheet Pan Chicken Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for pan
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
12 small flour tortillas or corn tortillas, warmed
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)
Coleslaw (see notes)
Red rice and black beans (see notes)
1. Combine lime juice, honey, 1 tablespoon olive oil, sea salt, chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder in a baking dish or bowl. Add the chicken strips. Toss to coat. Cover and let marinate for 10-15 minutes. (If marinating for longer than 15 minutes place dish in refrigerator.)
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
3. Place the marinated chicken strips plus the marinating liquid onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. If desired, roughly chop the chicken, place back onto the pan and toss to coat in the pan juices. Keep warm until ready to serve.
4. To serve, place a spoonful of chicken onto the tortillas and add desired toppings.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds (about 15-16 medium) tomatillos, husked and washed well
2 poblano peppers, seeded and cut into 2″ pieces
2-3 serraño chiles or jalapeños, left whole
1 medium onion, quartered and thickly sliced
3 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems (see notes)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
Pinch sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle oil on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Cut tomatillos in half lengthwise and place on the baking sheet along with the peppers, chiles, onion, and garlic. Season with a little sea salt. Toss gently to coat in the olive oil.
3. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are softened and the peels have blackened in spots. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
4. Squeeze the garlic from the peel. Remove the stems from the chiles, and if desired for a milder salsa, remove the seeds and ribs. (It should be fairly easy to lay the chile on a cutting board and squeeze out the seeds like you would toothpaste.)
5. Place all of the roasted vegetables along with the cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt into the bowl of a food processor or blender jar. Pulse until finely chopped; it can be either smooth or chunky according to preference. Taste and add more salt, if needed. If the salsa is too acidic, add a tiny pinch of sugar to tame it.
6. Transfer salsa to a lidded jar or container and store in fridge until ready to use, up to 1 week. Salsa can also be frozen up to several months.
Yield: about 2 cups
Substitutions and variations:
– An equal amount of plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes can be used in place of the tomatillos
– Other chiles and peppers can be used in place of the poblanos and serraño chiles. Just try to combine one that is more mild with hotter ones. To make a really mild version, remove all seeds and ribs from the chiles. Heat varies according to variety, but it’s also possible to have two identical chiles, one hot as can be and the other bland.
To make coleslaw:
Combine one 14-ounce bag coleslaw mix with 1/2 cup sour cream, Greek yogurt, or mayonnaise; 2 teaspoons sugar or honey, 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more sugar, salt, if needed.
To make red rice:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil (olive, avocado, or canola) in a 4-quart pot with lid. Add 1 small diced onion. Cook 3-5 minutes until it begins to soften. Add 2 cups long grain white rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until rice turns white, about 3-4 minutes. Add 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water plus 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let rice cook for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. While rice is cooking, place 1 can Mexican stewed tomatoes, undrained, in a food processor or blender. Don’t puree, pulse to chop. Stir into the hot rice and place back on the low heat, covered, to finish cooking, about 5-8 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. (The flavor gets better the next day.)
To make black beans:
I use my slow cooker to make 2 pounds of black beans every week, depending on our weekly menu. You can see the recipe here. We prefer black beans, but pinto or red beans are also great this way.
-Alternatively, 3 cans of undrained black beans (or your preferred bean variety) can be heated in a pan along with 1 bay leaf, 1/2 a yellow onion (no need to chop or dice), and 1-2 whole garlic cloves for 15-20 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Remove bay leaf, onion, and garlic cloves before serving.
Thank you, Lindsey. That salsa really does look life-changing. And I’ve never bought a tomatillo before. I really appreciate your tips on picking out a fresh one!
Okay friends, let me know what you think of this recipe. I can’t wait to try it! And I still want to hear what your favorite Mexican food restaurant is.
Credits: Photos and recipe by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.