Here it is August and I just realized I haven’t made/posted any knock your socks off tacos since my Bahn Mi Street Tacos around Memorial Day. Well, it’s time! Time for Baja Chicken Tacos & Baja Sauce.
What I’ve got here is incredible flavor packed into a fun little taco with some traditional (and some not so) traditional serving options! And while these are glorious done on the grill, they’re fab, too, done inside on your grill, grill pan or on a sheet pan. Instructions are given for the sheet pan, too.
About Baja Chicken Tacos & Baja Sauce:
This taco recipe is based on the classic Mexican Pollo Asada. And while there flavor for days, there’s no heat to speak of at all. I love that, although if you follow me, you know by now, I like a little spice. But I love that this is family-friendly and/or perfect for a wide range of taste and it’s nothing to add a little of your fave hot sauce or salsa for the heat seekers among us. Or for that matter, if you want to jazz up the marinade up front, feel free.
You’re going to find the flavors of lime (reinforced by just a little extra acid from a touch of vinegar) mingling with lots of garlic and spices and just a little touch of clove. Now one of the main flavorings is something that not everyone has in the pantry, achiote paste, Recado Rojo. If you can find it, use it, but if not, I’ve given you a couple of substitutes.
The achiote paste is ground annatto and a variety of flavors and seasonings. The tacos already have some of those flavors, so a substitution will vary the taste but not too far and the chicken will still be fab. The amount used is not huge. The achiote molido is ground annatto, with no other flavors. The whole annatto seeds are shown to the right. The achiote paste and achiote molido have basically no heat, so if using a substitute keep that in mind. You can always taste the marinade before it goes on the chicken. 🙂
The Baja Sauce:
I’ve made a few different “Baja” type sauces before; I think you’re more likely to see it on fish tacos rather than chicken at many restaurants, but I think it’s the perfect complement to these chicken tacos! It’s just an easy mix together sauce and takes nothing to make but has a huge payoff in flavor. It’s tangy, bright, a little herby, and silky deliciousness. Think of it as kind of a ranch, only better!
I have a confession about the sauce, though. I’m a Miracle Whip hater. Long-standing and unapologetic until now. (Sorry!) I’m still sheltering and when I pulled the last jar of mayo from my pantry, guess what? It wasn’t mayo! I gotta tell it upped my game on Baja Sauce…this was the best “Baja Sauce” I’ve ever made. If you’ve got mayo, just add a touch more vinegar and a little more sugar.
Of course, you can pull out all your fave toppings for your tacos, the usual suspects. I couldn’t resist grilled sweet corn. Asada/Asado is “roasted” and doesn’t just refer to a specific dish, but can refer to barbecues and cookouts. And what’s better than grilled/roasted corn, classic, especially in some areas of Northern Mexico?
You might want a colorful lettuce mix, and/or a little cabbage. And a little cheese, queso fresco was my choice. (By the way, Queso Fresco is easy to make, just sayin’) You gotta have lots of lime for these tacos, and of course, the Baja Sauce! A little red cabbage adds so much crunch and color, just as is. If you’re looking for something more, you can’t go wrong with my Mexican Red Cabbage Slaw to dress up any street taco.
Meal Prep & Leftovers:
A recipe like this is so perfect to use for meal prep or to have leftovers to count on. You can marinade extra chicken and freeze for another meal. Or you can grill extra and then rework/remix those leftovers in so many ways it doesn’t even feel like leftovers. Take a bit of care and change things like salsas and sides up.
I reworked my leftovers with some watermelon/mango salsa & black beans for a fun, fresh take. I’ll get the recipe out for that, soon. And before I forget…my leftover leftovers? I just scooped it all in a bowl and used the remaining Baja Sauce as a killer dressing!
Making Baja Chicken Tacos & Baja Sauce:
There’s no doubt there are a few little steps in the recipe, but marinate your chicken ahead, get your sauce mixed, sides and accompaniments ready, and once you grill it’s going to go fast.
Start out with the corn on the grill first; it actually takes longer. And add in the tortillas as you can and room allows. You’ll want to cook this over a good, hot grill; the chicken is thin, and by the time it starts to pick up some good marks, it’s gonna be done. (That corn, btw? I have been experimenting with different methods of grilling corn. And this time, burning it a little, oops. But more on that corn in an upcoming post.)
The biggest takeaways for the best flavor? Cut the chicken breast in half horizontally (if using breast) so it can pick up the most flavor. Give either the thighs or the breasts a light pounding. You’ll want them an even thickness so it grills evenly. And don’t forget the lime. After the chicken is cooked, sprinkle with the juice of a lime (or if very juicy, with half a lime). It mingles with that chicken in the most amazing way.
Saving Money on Baja Chicken Tacos & Baja Sauce:
The greatest effect on pricing is going to be how you serve your tacos and what you serve them with. (You aren’t limited btw to using this chicken just for tacos, but they are one of the more cost-effective Mexican/Southwestern food items because they really don’t hold all that much in the way of ingredients. Tostadas are the same.) Choosing budget options will bring these in at a great price. One hint: avoid avocados!
There’s no need to ever pay full price for chicken – it goes on sale too often. It pays to know the difference between a good sales price and a rock bottom sales price (usually about once a quarter) and stock up at the low. Often these are larger family packs so portion out in sizes suitable for meals for your family and freeze. I prefer breasts which are usually more than budget chicken thighs, although many prefer thighs for being moister.
When shopping for your tortillas, check around your store. You might find them in the Mexican section, on the endcaps, in the refrigerator section and sometimes, even in Minnesota, they’re sprinkled around here and there! The prices can be quite a bit different so do a comparison.
You’re going to find the best pricing on Sour Cream before holidays, and the best pricing on yogurt in the larger tubs. Store both upside down after opening and when using, use a clean utensil & keep the lid on between scoops. Condiments like Mayo are best bought in summer; stock up. If you miss the summer sales, check out pricing around the Superbowl. To see what’s likely to be on sale during any holiday, see my post on Win at the Grocers.
You are going to need several limes for this recipe. In season in the winter months, here, limes might go on sale now and then but are more often found at a discount bagged, The bagged may not be the best quality and sometimes are in bags that have a greenish tint, making them look better than they are. Check carefully and compare before buying. Ignore slight color variations but avoid brown/dry looking rind and weigh several in your hand, then choose the heaviest. They’ll have the most juice. To get the most out of your lime, grate and freeze or dry the rind if not using, then roll the lime on the counter, pressing heavily or microwave for about 30 seconds (or both) to get the most juice. Aldi usually has great prices.
I hope this post is finding y’all well and not too consumed by current events. We lost power in the neighborhood last night during a fast & furious storm. A tree fell taking down the mainline…and I had no internet, no phone, no tv. And for a good long time, no worries! I couldn’t check my site, look at Covid stats, or follow any political shenanigans. But as the storm cleared, I had the most marvelous view of the stars. Not being able to boot up gave me a reboot! Have a marvelous weekend!
Baja Chicken Tacos & Baja Sauce
- Total Time: 30 minutes + marinate time
- Yield: about 16 tacos 1x
- Category: Chicken
- Cuisine: Mexican or Southwestern
For the Chicken:
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 lime, zested and juiced (plus additional, see below)
- 1 tablespoon achiote paste, powder or substitute
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, about a tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/2 to 1 lime, juiced
For the Corn:
- 2 ears of corn
- 1 tablespoon oil
- salt and pepper
- a couple of pinches of cayenne, optional
- 16 corn tortillas (2 per taco) or more as needed
- grilled corn, cut off the cob
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups crisp lettuce mix
- 1 or 2 limes, in wedges
- 1/2 cup crumbled Queso Fresco
- Baja Sauce
- 1/2 cup Miracle Whip
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley
- 1 pinch of sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- a little water if needed
Note, there are 1 1/2 to two limes used for the chicken, and additional lime or two for serving, and a couple of tablespoons of lime juice in the Baja Sauce. Buy appropriately, especially if the limes are “stingy.”
The Game Plan:
The chicken cooks quickly. Prepare the sauce and sides first. Add the corn to the grill first; it takes the longest, about 10 to 12 minutes. After it’s on the grill for about 4 minutes, add the chicken. In the meantime, as the corn and chicken cooks, prepare the tortillas by adding them to the grill where space is available. Heat until soft and lightly charred in areas and then remove them to a clean towel folded in multiple layers (to retain the heat and keep them soft.) As the chicken rests, cut the corn off the cob.
For the Chicken:
If using thighs, trim. For breasts, cut in half horizontally. For both, if needed, lightly pound to an even thickness. Place in a Ziploc bag. In a small bowl, mix together the oil, vinegar, lime juice and zest, the achiote paste (or substitute) the garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, and cloves. Pour over chicken and marinate, the longer the better. A minimum of 1 hour is recommended, overnight is better and two days is optimum.
To cook, preheat grill over medium-high heat (it should come to 425 – 450 degrees). Pat chicken dry and cook quickly, turning as once, about 4 minutes per side. Temperature should be 165 degrees F. Remove to a plate and cover loosely. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with lime; half a lime if very juicy. More may be needed if the lime is “stingy.”
For the Corn:
Prepare and remove husks and silk. Brush with oil. Add to grill, and turn often, until warmed through, slightly softened and colored in areas. Remove and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If desired, sprinkle with a little cayenne.
For the Tortillas:
Add to the grill and grill, turning once, until softened and slightly charred in spots. Remove to clean towel. Depending on the size of grill, you may need to grill one or two at a time.
In a small bowl, mix together the Miracle Whip, sour cream, lime juice, cilantro or parsley, sugar and salt, and pepper. If needed, add water, a tablespoon at a time to thin. Consistency should be almost pourable. Refrigerate until needed.
Serve chicken on double tortillas. Top with a spoonful of corn and lettuce and/or cabbage. Top with sauce and cheese and don’t forget the lime!
To Cook the Chicken in the Oven:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pat chicken dry. Add to a sheet tray sprayed with oil. Roast for about 12 minutes the first side, turn and continue to cook until temperature is 165 degrees F. Rest, lightly covered, for several minutes before cutting into bite-sized pieces.
Keywords: Achiote, Bargain Meal of the Week, Cabbage, Chicken, Chicken Breast, chicken tacos, Chicken Thighs, Lettuce, Lime, Mayonnaise, Mexican or Southwestern, Miracle Whip, Tacos, tortillas, Vinegar