Log In / Join Now

8 & $20 Recipe: Chicken Tacos Made for Wine

A smoky chile and tomato sauce with refreshing avocado calls for a smooth Spanish red

Jennifer Fiedler
Posted: May 10, 2011

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our new feature, "8 & $20." We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Chicken tacos: Awesome. Wine: Also awesome. But chicken tacos and wine? Not the most obvious combination. However, editor at large Harvey Steiman reminded us—in his blog on choosing wine matches for Indian-, Asian- and Mexican-inspired recipes at a “Mainstreaming Global Flavors” seminar—that, yes, wine and tacos can, and should, share the table.

This easy taco recipe is inspired by one from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, which my dad bought for me almost 10 years ago and has become, I’m pretty sure, my most well-used cookbook. If you’re in the market for a cookbook, I cannot recommend it enough—it has come through for many a meal, from big birthday parties to late-night snacks.

To save time, use store-bought rotisserie chicken. A little trick: Reheating the chicken in the sauce keeps the meat tender and adds a depth of flavor to the sauce—a sort of instant chicken stock. However, if you want more control over the spiciness quotient, keep the chicken separate and spoon the sauce over the meat when you assemble the taco.

To make the dish wine friendly, dial down the heat. Add just one minced chile pepper to start. After the sauce has reduced, add more, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it has the sort of kick you’re in the market for. For simplicity, keep the toppings to the essentials: Sliced avocado will help to counter the acidity of the tomatoes and heat from the peppers.

The good news about wine pairing: More of the wines we tried with this dish turned out well than not. There’s a lot of room to play around. The fruity notes in an off-dry German Riesling were nicely brought out by the spice in the dish. A deep pink Spanish rosado also held up well, but the acidity in the tomatoes left an odd bubblegum-like flavor on the finish. In the end, a Rioja Crianza took the night. The dark smoky flavors from the chipotle resonated with the smoky notes in the wine, and the tannins were smooth enough not to get tripped up by the spice.

Chicken Tacos in Tomato-Chipotle Sauce

Pair with: A red Rioja, such as Bodegas Ramírez Rioja Ramírez de la Piscina Selección Crianza 2007 (88 points, $15)

Total Time: 30 minutes

Approximate Food Cost: $22

  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • Can of chipotle chiles in adobo; 1 chipotle, finely chopped, to start
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, meat coarsely shredded
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 avocado, sliced

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, toast the unpeeled garlic cloves over medium-high heat until the skin begins to brown, around 5 minutes. Peel the garlic. Puree the tomatoes, garlic and chipotle chile in a food processor until smooth.

2. Pour the mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over high heat until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the shredded chicken and the juice from one lime. Let this mixture cook until the sauce has thickened, around 20 minutes.

3. Toast the corn tortillas over an open flame on a gas burner until the tortillas develop a nice char, flipping once. (Alternatively, wrap the tortillas in damp cloth towels and microwave on high until warmed through, around 3 minutes.)

4. Adjust the seasoning of the chicken with salt to taste, and add more minced chiles, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed. Assemble the tacos with the chicken, avocado, cilantro and a wedge of lime. Serves 4.

Note: You can easily substitute mushrooms, sliced steak or lamb in this recipe.

Andrew J Grotto
Washington, DC —  May 10, 2011 10:01pm ET
Try substituting canned smoked tomatoes (Muir Glen is a good brand) for the crushed tomatoes - that's my secret for tasty homemade salsa from a can. I would mash the salsa in a mortar and pestle (or with a potato masher in a sturdy bowl) until it's broken down just enough to not be absurdly chunky, and drain excess liquid in a sieve; it's actually easier to eat this way in a taco, compared to a puree from a blender, which tends to drip everywhere and make fresh tortillas soggy. And I would serve it raw with the rotisserie chicken, rather than simmer it with the chicken until thickened - it'll keep the flavors a bit more clean and precise. Nice with a sprinkle of cotjia cheese, if you have it handy. IMHO!
Jennifer Fiedler
New York, NY —  May 11, 2011 9:31am ET
Thanks for sharing Andrew -- sounds delicious!

Jennifer Fiedler
Wine Spectator
Mark R Guglielmo
Wood Ridge, NJ, USA —  May 14, 2011 2:16pm ET
Any chance someone could make a recommendation for a far more widely available (in the Northeast if I may be so bold), comparable Rioja?
Joshua Hull
Lancaster, Pennsylvania —  May 20, 2011 11:03pm ET
Mark - I was very impressed with the Vina Zaco from Bilbainas, the 2006 was a top 100 wine and the 2007 scored very well also. I can get it in smaller stores in PA so you may be able to find it.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.