I could eat Chipotle every single day. It’s the one “fast food” restaurant I can visit and feel like I got my money’s worth and didn’t ruin all previous exercise and dietary efforts. If I haven’t had enough vegetables recently (something that happens over the holidays or when I’m traveling), I can reset my system with a healthful, filling burrito bowl or salad. If your food allergies aren’t affected by potential cross-contamination, virtually all people with dietary restrictions can find something to eat at Chipotle. This week I am setting out to deconstruct a Chipotle burrito bowl, recreating recipes with a Copycat version.
I’ll start with the elusive Chipotle Chicken marinade recipe. I am not the first person to undertake this. Many have come before me, most notably Matt Silverman of ChipotleFan. His recipe has inspired my version in a very direct sense. However, I have made it enough times that I think I can offer some original unique insights into the preparation and use of the ingredients as well as the recipe itself.
For example, did you know that the marinade for the chicken will yield about 2 cups? And that 1 cup will flavor about 5 pounds of chicken? And since 5 lbs. of chicken is a lot, you can freeze half (1 cup) of marinade for another time. This is wonderful news as the marinade itself is rather labor-intensive, so it’s nice to know you can make a large batch at once and save part of it for later.
I’d also like to point out that soaking the dried ancho chiles takes a long time – at least 12 hours. Once they have softened, I like to open them up, remove the stems, and rinse out the seeds. If that all sounds too exhausting for you, you can also purchase Ancho Chile Pepper powder and use that instead. 1/4 c. of the powder is equivalent to 2 oz. of the peppers (stems and seeds removed, ground up). The recipe also requires a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (that is what gives the marinade its delicious smoky flavor). Use the adobo sauce but not the chipotle peppers (you can discard them or use them in another recipe such as my Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers). I strained the sauce to keep out the seeds and extract as much liquid as possible. For additional heat, add in seeds from the chipotle peppers.
A note on gluten in chipotle peppers with adobo sauce: Many brands do not have gluten, especially imported brands such as La Morena and La Costeña. If gluten is of interest to you, please read the label before moving forward as some contain wheat.
On to the chicken: Chipotle uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs which yields tender, juicy pieces of chicken. You may use boneless skinless chicken breasts, but your chicken will probably end up dryer than if you use dark meat.
Finally, the cooking method. Grilling is a great option if you have the equipment and talents. I have neither. I have tried using a flat-top indoor cast-iron grill pan with a foil-covered brick (to flatten the chicken) and a large cast iron skillet with a cover. I preferred the skillet because it helps prevent a lot of grease and marinade spatters. Also, being able to cover the skillet meant the chicken could cook through more easily. Last, the cast iron skillet collected bits of fond which contributed to the most delicious, caramelized pieces of chicken in the whole batch. This was probably true with the cast iron grill pan as well, but I was so concerned about grease splattering that I failed to appreciate the fond in that instance.
Tangent: the foil-covered brick. Yes, I went to the gardening section of my local discount store and picked up a paver for forty-eight cents. I covered it in foil. I laid it on my cooking chicken in various stages. I found the whole thing to be very awkward and scary. For one thing, the brick became extremely slippery. So here I am, trying to pick up this slippery brick while standing over an extremely hot cooking surface that is covered in splattering oil. Not a pretty picture. Add in a curious toddler and you officially have a recipe for a disaster! If you’re really into that sort of thing, a safer idea is to invest in a cast-iron grill press. It has a handle and has other uses as well if you’re into grilled sandwiches. Who isn’t?
Obviously no Chipotle experience is complete without cilantro-lime rice, seasoned black beans, grilled veggies, pico de gallo, and of course the famous Chipotle guacamole. Be sure to check back all this week for more Chipotle-inspired, thoroughly tested recipes!
*Please note, my marinade recipe below yields 2 cups of marinade. However, the assumption is that you will use half immediately (enough for 5 lbs. chicken thighs) and freeze half for later. To use the full marinade, please double the quantity of chicken to 10 lbs.
- 1 (2 oz.) package dried ancho chiles, soaked at least 12 hours (see notes)
- 1 (7 oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ c. canola oil, divided
- 5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
- Split open each softened ancho chile and rinse the inside to the stem and all seeds (wearing gloves is recommended). Place in the bowl of a food processor or blender.
- Strain adobo sauce into a small bowl, discarding peppers or reserving for another use. Press down on the peppers to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have at least ¼ c.). For an especially spicy dish, add chipotle pepper seeds to taste. Add strained liquid to the food processor.
- Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, 5 tsp. salt, and 2 tsp. pepper to the food processor. Pulse several times until a coarse paste develops.
- With the motor running, pour ¼ c. canola oil through the feeding tube and continue to process until smooth. You should have two cups of marinade. Reserve one cup for immediate use and freeze the remaining for future use.
- Meanwhile, place half the chicken in a large freezer-safe plastic bag. Spoon in half the marinade, close the bag, and mash around to distribute. Add in remaining chicken, remaining ½ c. marinade, and repeat the mashing until all chicken is evenly coated. Place the plastic bag in a dish and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
- To cook, preheat a grill, indoor grill pan, or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with 2 T. canola oil. Grill the chicken in batches, turning occasionally until the internal temperature reaches 160°F on a thermometer and bits of caramelized fond have begun to cling to the outside of the chicken, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 – 2 T. oil to your grilling surface between batches.
- Remove to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. Season to taste with salt. Serve on tortillas or in bowls with additional toppings as desired.
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