When I lived alone, before I met Sandy, I almost never used a cookbook to make dinner. I had a repertoire of stir fries and a bunch of pasta sauces, and I’d usually just go back and forth among these. I’d throw in whatever was on hand, and play with it until it tasted good.
Sandy’s much more methodical and, at the same time, more adventurous than me when it comes to cooking. We use cookbooks and recipes, and we even jot down notes about what we’ve made and how it came out. (These notes are, of course, in an online list. Because that’s just how we roll). We try to make new things all the time, and push ourselves to learn how to work with new spices and vegetables.
But tonight I was home alone, and I returned to my roots. Armed with some generic groceries I’d picked up on the way home (chicken breasts, spinach, onion), I began think of this yummy dish made from shredded chicken in a chipotle sauce that a coworker sometimes brings to work and calls tinga. Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday has a great easy recipe for chipotle shrimp that seemed like a good starting point.
So, with shredded chicken tinga in mind and the cookbook set aside, the breasts went into a pot with some chicken broth, a quartered onion, and a few crushed garlic cloves. (A strategy I learned at the Mexican cooking class I took the summer I studied Spanish in Guanajuato).
While the chicken poached I constructed a sauce based on my vague memory of the chipotle shrimp recipe. Half a big can of crushed tomatoes and a few chipotle chiles, blended with some chicken broth, and, after tasting it, about a teaspoon of sugar and salt.
Then I sliced up an onion and sauteed it with some garlic and half a teaspoon of turmeric. No real reason for turmeric and not, say, cumin or coriander. I just like the color, I think. I shredded the chicken and dumped it in the pan with the onions and poured some of the sauce over it and set it to simmer. I decided at the last minute to throw some spinach in there, too, so I sliced it up, laid it on top of the chicken, poured a little more sauce on, and put the lid on it to steam. At the very end, it needed about a teaspoon of salt.
I served it to myself with some white rice and a few corn tortillas, and, I must say, it was delicious.
It would have made Sandy crazy, the way I cooked this meal. I didn’t prep the ingredients, or even know what all of them were when I started, and it was totally inefficient in every way. Especially since the internet is rife with actual recipes for tinga. There was something really gratifying to me about creating it for myself, though. And in the end, Sandy’s methodical influence has won out: why else would I be writing down all the details?