Chili-spiced Chicken and Sweet Potato Tostadas
I usually approach cooking with a clear purpose—I know what I want to make, shop for just the ingredients I need, and get quantities as close to the required amounts as possible. I find I waste less this way and avoid scrambles to try use up things before they go bad. During these stay-at-home times though, this has changed since I do my shopping on a weekly basis instead of an on-demand one, and I buy provisions that I could potentially use in a slew of recipes over the course of a week. This had led me to create dished based on just what I have in the house, and with some extra chicken thighs and sweet potatoes on hand one day, I ended up with these chili-spiced chicken and sweet potato tostadas.
Tortillas are one thing I like to keep stocked since they're versatile and last a relatively long time, so they've become a fixture during quarantine—we eat them as chips, nachos, enchiladas, and more. Turning the tortillas into tostadas was a simple process of just heating some oil and frying them up whole as basically one giant chip. I fried these tortillas in oil at around 375°F, and they only took a minute or so per side to turn golden and crisp at that heat.
My wife had bought avocados and I didn't realize it, and then I bought some more, so we had excess to use up, making guacamole an easy choice to be a component in the final tostadas. One of the earliest recipes I ever tried out when I was learning to cook was Alton Brown's guacamole, and I still use that same one to this day whenever I need to whip up a batch of the stuff, which gives you an idea of how highly I regard that recipe.
With guacamole bringing a bright and fresh flavor, I considered ways to contrast it with the chicken to build a complex, but harmonious, flavor profile. I felt earthy spices and a little heat would be perfect, so devised a marinade that was mostly chili powders and cumin, with some lime juice for an acid, brown sugar for sweetness, and just a tad bit of oil. Because this was a highly acidic marinade, I applied it less than a hour before I was going to be grilling and just let the chicken rest at room temperature during that time.
I also considered giving the sweet potatoes a similar spiced treatment, then thought it might be overkill on the chilis, so stuck with the simple combo of oil, salt, and pepper. Sweet potatoes can take a really long time to grill, so to speed up the process, I cut them into about one and a half-inch chunks so they would become tender quicker than roasting them in larger portions and then dicing after cooking.
I kept waffling back and forth on how best to approach cooking—roast the sweet potatoes, then sear the chicken, or go the opposite way. Since chicken thighs take awhile to cook, and a good sear was going to be crucial for the flavor I was after, I decided to cook the chicken right after the coals were all lit, and those thighs grilled up beautifully and thoroughly in about fifteen minutes. I didn't want the chicken to be cold when serving though, so after the sweet potatoes were done, I ended up putting the chicken back on the grill for a bit just to warm it up.
Even in smaller portions, I was still expecting the sweet potatoes to take about 30 minutes to roast over indirect medium-high heat, but as I was putting them on the grill, my wife reminded me that we had Zoom date I forgot about and we needed to eat sooner. I was able to speed things up effectively by moving the spuds closer to the fire. I worried they outsides would burn and the insides would be undercooked doing this, but I ended up with completely tender potato portions with great browning in only 15 minutes, which I think is the fastest I've ever cooked sweet potatoes.
I now had everything ready to and went into assembly mode, which started with spreading a layer of guacamole on each tostada and them topping them with chunks of chicken and sweet potatoes. I then squeezed on some sour cream and gave them a sprinkling of cotija cheese and cilantro. Then a with a few slices of radishes placed atop each, these tostadas were ready for consumption.
I usually doubt my abilities as chef and consider myself more of a cook—needing a plan to follow for something to taste as good as possible—but have been learning in quarantine to trust my instincts more with these tostadas being a prime example why. They may have been born out of necessity to use things up in the house, but they tasted like every decision was thought out and carefully considered. The earthy spice of the chicken paired really well with the sweetness of the potatoes, which both needed the fresh and creamy guacamole to feel whole. The tang of the sour cream and saltiness of the cotija rounded out the flavor profile, which got a big boost in texture and flavor from the fried tortilla. They kinda of reminded me of my times long ago in art school when I wasn't always sure why I was creating what I was creating, but it felt right and natural. I guess if I come out of this pandemic with that approach to cooking, it actual represents a big change and a new confidence I didn't have before.
Chili-spiced Chicken and Sweet Potato Tostadas
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Inactive 20 Minutes
- Cook 30 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 20 Minutes
- For the Tostadas
- 2 to 3 cups canola oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- For the Guacamole
- 3 Haas avocados, halved and seeded
- 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice from 1 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup finely diced white onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
- 1 tablespoon finely diced seeded jalapeño (about 1 small jalapeño)
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic (about 1 medium clove)
- For the Chicken
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- For the Sweet Potatoes
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Serving
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup cotija cheese, finely grated
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 radishes, thinly sliced
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- To make the tostadas: Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F. Adjust flame to maintain temperature. Working in batches, add tortillas and fry until edges just start to brown. Flip tortillas over and continue to cook until crisp and light golden brown. Transfer tostadas to a paper towel lined tray, sprinkle with salt to taste, and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Set aside.
- To make the guacamole: Scoop out avocado flesh into a large bowl. Add in lime juice, salt, cumin, and cayenne and, using a fork or potato masher, mash to desired consistency. Stir in onion, tomato, cilantro, and garlic; season with additional salt to taste. Transfer to an airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole, cover, and place in fridge until ready to use.
- To make the chicken: In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, lime juice, brown sugar, salt, chili powder, cumin, and chipotle powder. Add chicken into bowl and toss to coat completely in marinade. Let chicken sit at room temperature while preparing the grill.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place chicken on hot side of grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until well browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
- To make the sweet potatoes: Place potato chunks in a large bowl, add in oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to evenly coat potatoes in oil and seasoning. Place sweet potatoes close to, but not directly over, the fire, cover, and cook until tender throughout, about 20 minutes, flipping the potato slices occasionally. If potatoes have not browned, move potatoes to hot side of grill and cook, flipping as needed, until browned on all sides. Transfer potatoes to a cutting board.
- To make the tostadas: Place chicken back on hot side of grill until warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Spread a layer of guacamole on each tostada round. Top each with pieces of chicken and sweet potatoes followed by a squeeze of sour cream. Sprinkle on cotija cheese and cilantro. Place a few radish slices on each tostada and serve immediately.