notes from the mexican kitchen

Chipotle Chicken Salad Tacos: Not Your Grandma’s Picnic Food

TacoTuesdayLogo_blueThere’s this Mexican tradition of turning just about any leftover into a taco filling, and today we’re going to honor that in a big, delicious way.

Take chicken salad. No, not the boring old mayonnaise-and-celery version. This recipe evolves the summertime picnic classic into a fresh mix of grilled or roast chicken with creamy avocado, quick-steamed potatoes, crunchy Napa cabbage and the magical spark of a tangy, smoky, spicy chipotle vinagreta. (I developed this recipe as a way to showcase leftover grilled chicken, but feel free to buy a rotisserie bird if no leftovers exist.)

Although I really do love this salad as-is — it’s long been a go-to at my house — the recipe is flexible enough to welcome pretty much anything you can dream up.

Not in the mood for meat? Try grilled vegetables.  Or replace chicken with tuna.  Add crumbled fresh goat cheese, blue cheese or Mexican queso fresco if that appeals. Swap the romaine for Napa cabbage or frisée. Substitute steamed broccoli, chayote, asparagus or zucchini for the potatoes.

You get the picture.

Tacos de Ensalada de Pollo Enchipotlado con Aguacate, Papas y Lechuga Orejona
Servings: 4


  • 1large red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potato, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • Salt
  • 3tablespoons vinegar (cider vinegar is good here, or use balsamic if you like more sweetness)
  • 1teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 2canned chipotles en adobo, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4small white onion, finely chopped
  • 6ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) coarsely shredded cooked chicken (I use either the meat I've pulled from a rotisserie chicken, or leftover roast or grilled chicken, or a large boneless chicken breast that I've gently simmered in salted water for a few minutes until tender)
  • 2cups sliced romaine leaves—slice them about 1/4-inch across
  • 1ripe avocado, pitted flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 12 warm corn tortillas


Scoop the sliced potato into a large microwaveable bowl, drizzle with 1/4 cup water and sprinkle generously with salt. Cover with plastic wrap, poke a couple of holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) for about four minutes, until tender but not mushy. Scoop the potatoes onto a cutting board, leaving the liquid behind, and let cool.

Add the vinegar, oregano, chipotle chiles and onion to the bowl with the potato-cooking water to make a dressing. Mix well, then taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon.

Use a fork to break the cooled potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, then scoop them into a large bowl. Add the chicken, then drizzle on the dressing and toss everything together. (If there is time, refrigerate the mixture for about half an hour to blend flavors.)

Just before serving, add the lettuce and avocado to the bowl. Drizzle with the oil and toss to combine everything. Serve with the warm tortillas for making soft tacos.

Riffs on Salad Tacos: The idea of a substantial salad becoming a taco filling is flexible enough to embrace just about anything you can dream up — through I personally don't think mayonnaise-dressed salads work as well as those with a vinaigrette. Think beyond chicken salad to tuna (or other fresh seafood), steak and grilled vegetables. Or go all vegetarian: crumbled fresh goat cheese, blue cheese or Mexican queso fresco are wonderful featured in a salady taco like this. The potato can be replaced by other vegetables — broccoli, for instance, or chayote, zucchini or asparagus, all cut into small pieces and microwave-steamed the same way as the potatoes. Though I love romaine's sweet crunch, the filling will also welcome the more substantial Napa cabbage, the slightly bitter, toothsome frisée or the more tender (but not too delicate) Bibb lettuce.




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