Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Mexican

THE poblano green chicken chili

Mexican, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This comforting chili is packed with layer after layer of flavor. Smoky roasted peppers and garlic mingle with rich tomatillos, silky beans and tender chicken for a complex but familiar flavor. Poblano peppers, known best for chiles rellenos, lead the way with soft, savory heat. 

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Listen. To my stomach audibly growl. Give. Me. THE. Recipe. 

This recipe is not just chili. This is THE Chili.

This is The Chili people will ask after year-round, and long after that. 

The reason this chili is soooooo-so-so-so-so-so good is because it has so many layers of flavor. We’re not just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping they turn into something good. We’re using techniques to make sure we get extra flavor packed in at every step.

This is a fairly complex recipe in terms of flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult! It just means it takes some time and patience. It’s not fancy, it’s made with love.

And it's unbelievably good.

Chili, as you likely know, is a Mexican dish. But, in terms of technique, it can technically be considered a ragout. Makes sense since both are known as slow-simmering, legendary, magnum opuses in countless households. Ritualized and handed down. These dishes aren't just dinner; they're events in and of themselves.  

 Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Both chili and ragout originated as a way to turn tough cuts of meat and other abundant ingredients into something people would actually want to eat, or more accurately, something people beg for. It's evolved quite a bit over time and space, and there's so much variation. I personally use four separate recipes for different moods, occasions and time constraints. 

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Good chili comes down to a feeling for me. 

When I take a bite—no matter where I actually am—I want to feel like I'm sitting by a fire, under a blanket, surrounded by my favorite people. I want it to be warming and smoky. Thick and rich. Complex and comforting. I want tangy pieces of vegetables, savory-smooth bites of beans and soft, tender bits of meat.

We've smelled this labor of love cooking for hours, mouths watering, and we've earned it. With our patience if nothing else. 

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So what makes this chili embody that feeling? 

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  • Tomatillos and chili peppers are both rich in pectin (the thing that makes jams jiggle), so they make for a thick, gravy-like sauce. That’s one of the things that makes this chili so rich and comforting.
  • We take advantage of the maillard browning reaction that happens when you sear things, both on the chicken itself and in the bottom of the pan. The chicken also cooks in the simmering pot, so the inside stays tender and falls apart further after we chop it. 
  • ROASTED PEPPERS. As I've said in my tutorial on roasting peppers, roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin, enhances sweetness, both the flavor and the texture get richer, and while the flavor intensifies, the piquancy softens. Oh, and this goes double for green peppers, which aren't ripe. 
  • Roasted GARLIC. Ditto. Ditto
  • White and light red kidney beans are like turning silk pillows in a bite of chili. You're still warm and cozy, but you need smooth, cool respite. 
  • India Pale Ale adds a pleasantly hoppy punch that balances out the savory-sweet flavors and heat we've built. It's bitter in a fruity way, like grapefruit. Trust me, you want it there. 

Get ready. I'm about to walk into a fire much hotter than roasted poblanos. 

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As with most beloved things, people have some opinions on chili.

Some keywords here: authenticity, purist, genuine, classic, never, always, must... you get the idea.

Depending on who you ask, chili with tomatoes isn't chili. Chili should NEVER have beans. Chili isn't made with ground beef. I'm honestly not sure where they stand on chicken chili or chili verde (which is what this is, for the record).  

Personally, I don't care as long as it tastes good. 

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Don't get me wrong. I appreciate authenticity for what it is. It's fun to try foods as they originated, and to compare them to what they've evolved into, or how it's translated into a different region/culture/family/etc. I admire people who resist the temptation to complicate things or change to please a broader audience. I'll travel for that experience (or at the very least, turn on the Food Network). 

That said, I think it sucks when people turn their nose up at other versions of food just because it's not the original. If we stuck to the original on everything, every time, food would get real boring, real fast. If an iteration strays too far, we'll just name it accordingly.

This chili is not authentic. It has beans. White ones. The base is made of roasted tomatillos. I didn't travel to Mexico and get a recipe from somebody's great-grandmother (and if I did I would credit it to her!). This was just me deciding one day I was going to try making green chicken chili instead of red, picking ingredients I thought would be good, and coaxing them into giving me all the qualities I want in my bowl. 

Feel free to decide this isn't chili if that's your thing. But you should probably try it anyway. Let me know if you have suggestions for what to call my not chili. I won't use them, but you're welcome to.

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Warning!

If you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot looking for something for dinner tonight—so hungry you could eat a moose—this is not the recipe for today. Seriously! Bookmark it for a day when you have plenty of time, and move on to something simpler for tonight. How about some nice chicken paillard instead?

One more time for the people in the back! Don't rush this one. Set aside an afternoon.

It’s so worth it. I promise. 

Another important note: this calls for roasted peppers and roasted garlic. I linked to the methods for those in both here and ingredient list. Please be certain to check that out for two reasons:

1. So you don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend making this.

2. So you don’t spend half an hour in the grocery store looking for pre-roasted peppers and garlic. For the record, you can buy roasted red peppers, but they are usually in brine or oil, which changes the texture and taste, and that doesn’t really work in this recipe. 

Remember, patience is a virtue.

What's your favorite chili ever? Is it a family recipe? From a chili-fest? Comment and let me know! I'm open to chili of all kinds (I think...).

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

Let's get this chili simmering already!

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If this recipe seems like it has too many moving parts to pull off, I get it. But if it sounds good to you, I'd really love to see you try it! I may be able to help you out with that. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it. 

Tangy, roasted tomatillo sauce

Mexican, Recipe, Sauces, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A tangy, summery sauce that's both comforting and refreshing. Versatile enough to use over meats or in vegetarian dishes, this sauce works wonders over steak, chicken and pork; in tacos, salads or rice bowls; as a dipping sauce and more.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy any of the products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least have researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy. I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy myself. I would love to answer any questions you have!

My belly is growling. Just skip to the recipe pleaaaase.

I like to play this game at the grocery store. I pick one item that I've never cooked with or eaten before, buy it, and learn how to do something tasty with it. Several years ago I put some tomatillos in my cart, and they've been regular LLC cart club members ever since. 

Tomatillos feature in some of my favorite recipes ever. The first dish I created with them was my own take on chicken enchiladas. You can find that recipe for chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce here, as it eventually turned into the first recipe I ever posted to my original blog.

Yes, tomatillos started it all ;)

I’m betting at least a few of you are asking if this is the same thing as a green tomato. No, no, no and nooooo.

Tomatillos are much more flavorful, more substantial and is fully ripe. Green tomatoes are unripe red ones. That’s why they taste so much more “green” than ripe tomatoes. They haven’t had the time and sun exposure to develop the sugars and acids their vine-ripened counterparts are known for. 

So please don't replace tomatillos with green tomatoes in a recipe (or vice versa). 

Tomatillos are used heavily in Mexican cuisine, and they're widely used and grown throughout South America as well.

You can use them cooked or as a raw ingredient, though there's a little something special to them when they're cooked along with garlic and some spice. They’re perfect for sauces either way, because they have a high pectin content.

Pectin is what gives jelly its jiggle. It kindly offers tomatillos a rich texture that accentuates their sour flavor. They're also fairly low in sugar, so while you can enhance their sweetness when you cook them, they don’t lose their acidic punch.

Cook them with savory ingredients and you can take things up several notches.

 Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Tomatillos aren’t necessarily hard to find in the U.S. especially in the South—the growing season is long, and nearly year-round in some places. Still, they’re kind of a specialty item, and it can be hard to find many good-looking, sizable ones at the same time. That’s why when you find a good bunch of them, you definitely seize the opportunity to make them into something delicious.

Another thing that's great about tomatillos? They're super easy to work with. This sauce proves it—when it comes down to it, all you really have to do is roast them with some onions, then blend them up with the rest of the ingredients. 

I use a slightly older version of this Ninja Master Prep Food Processor set for things like this. It was a wedding gift in 2014 and it's still going strong! I do a LOT of blending, and I highly recommend it. 

This sauce has a mouthfeel similar to gravy, and it’s just as comforting. On the other hand, it tastes fresh and light, not heavy and sleepy. It’s familiar enough to soothe, but also refreshing so that you won’t feel bogged down after dinner. 

If there is a healthy, summery comfort food, this is how it begins.

Another reason I love this sauce is that you can use it for SO many things. I developed the recipe when I was doing personal catering for clients on a paleo diet (loose paleo—yes, I know tomatillos are nightshades and discussed that with them :)). I wanted to make sure they weren't getting bored, so I served it over flat iron steak. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. I was a little nervous that it would be drowned out against the strong flavor and texture of the steak, but it held its own with no problem. 

Since then, II've used this sauce over steaks, chicken, pork and sweet potato hash; in tacos and even in salads and rice bowls. It's been to my table more times than I can remember, and it hasn't let me down yet. 

Here it is with its dream date, steak.

Now, for any tomatillo newbies, here's what you need to know to find, buy, clean and store tomatillos. 

I'm kind of a tomatillo expert, just give me the recipe please.

Where to buy tomatillos

I have been able to find them at most large grocery stores, and some farmers markets. If you live in an isolated area—West Virginia born & raised right here, everything is on or between mountains—it might be a little more difficult. 

First, don't be afraid to ask for help if you have trouble finding them. I have found these papery beauties in multiple places in different stores, and even the people who sell them don't always know what they're for (or even what they are, in some cases).

I've found them with the tomatoes, with the garlic and shallots,  randomly placed among the rest of the produce, and in setups just for hispanic foods.

Choosing the best of the bunch

First, make sure you look under the husks before you take your tomatillos home. Typically they're pretty easy to pull back, and if they're too tight, you can just rip them back a little.

Tomatillos should be bright green and plump. The size can range from smaller than a ping-pong ball to almost the size of a billiard ball—the bigger ones will be a little more developed, but it doesn't make much of a difference. They should feel fairly firm to the touch. Not hard like an apple, but not squishy like a tomato.

They shouldn't have a lot of brown spots or wrinkles, and they definitely shouldn't have mold or punctures. If a tomatillo has a few imperfections but they don't look deep or affect the firmness, you can probably just cut the them off and no one will know the difference.

How to clean tomatillos

All you have to do to husk a tomatillo is peel back the papery shells and pop them off.

Once the husks are off, the first thing you'll probably notice is the sticky film on the tomatillos' skin, almost like pine sap. That's perfectly normal, and it's actually pretty easy to remove. 

Just put them in some cold water and rub them with your hands. If they're really sticky, add a little white vinegar to help break it down. You have to wash produce anyway, so this step hardly takes any time. If they still feel a bit tacky after washing, don't worry about it, that's just how they are. 

How to store tomatillos

Unlike their tomato relatives, you can store tomatillos in the refrigerator. I usually keep them on the counter and just use them quickly. You can actually clean and cut them ahead and they'll keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. Just make sure they're dry before packing so they don't get moldy.

By the way...

It's toh-mah-tee-oh.

You may have guessed how to pronounce tomatillo already, but there's a good chance this saved at least a few people from frantically googling it (pretending to be texting someone—I know the drill) shortly before they had to say it out loud.

No judgement here. 

I mean, how could you even bother to judge anyone with this sauce proving the world is full of love and beauty?

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So what would you do with this tomatillo sauce? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Now, let's get saucy!

Braised adobo chicken tacos

Mexican, RecipeLeannda Cavalier6 Comments

I need my tacos now. Jump to the recipe, please!

I feel comfortable saying a passion for tacos is pretty close to universal. Still, for all the time we spend thinking about them, for some reason tacos get a bad reputation in terms of health. It's pretty odd when you consider what a taco actually is—a shell, filling, and toppings.

Well, if you get your tacos out of a box or from a fast food restaurant, yeah, you're probably not exactly going to get gold star for health choices. Lots of processing. Lots of sodium. Probably a lot more cheese and sour cream than you would usually need. 

I have a confession.

When I was little... I thought I didn't like tacos.

I know. 

 A disgusting disappointment. 

A disgusting disappointment. 

In my defense, the boxed tacos were all I knew! I had never even been to a Taco Bell, let alone an actual Mexican restaurant.

To be honest, I still don't like those boxed tacos, and not just because they're filled with sodium. I did learn to love tacos in high school, but I kept the salty-spiced ground beef to a minimum and loaded up on refried beans, salsa and veggies. 

These days I'm all in. I'd say tacos are actually one of my most-eaten foods. They're simple to make (generally) affordable, and there are so many possibilities! Chicken, steak, veggies, beans, tofu, shrimp, smoked trout and so many more. Corn tortillas, flour tortillas, lettuce tortillas, fried, baked, soft... I haven't even gotten into all the variations different seasonings and toppings offer, or the different ways you can cook the fillings.

One of my favorite tacos in the world is made with smoked peking duck and pickled blackberries. Yes, for real. It's at Black Sheep Burritos and Brews in Huntington, WV (& Charleston, WV now too). 

Listen, I'm not saying you need to ditch your lifelong love of box tacos or fast food. If you like them, that's great! Enjoy in moderation. But if you haven't already, I'm begging you to explore what's out there.

Your tastebuds will be happy, and you'll probably feel better after eating them. If you learn to cook some yourself... well that's even better!

Braising

This particular recipe uses braising to keep the chicken tender and make the flavors more complex. To braise, you just sear something over high heat, add a small amount of liquid, seal it up, turn the heat way down, and cook low and slow. It sounds scary and intimidating, but it's honestly one of the simplest and biggest steps forward you can take as a home cook. 

So, let's get braising!

I always love hearing from you, so in the comments tell me about the best tacos you've ever had! If you make these tacos, please let me know—I'd love to know what you think. If you take a picture and post it to social media tag #whipsmartkitchen so I can see! 

Cinco de Mayo, revisited: slow-cooker cilantro lime tacos

Mexican, Slowcooker, RecipeLeannda Cavalier2 Comments

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

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May 5, already! Just got this post in under the wire. Phew. 

One year ago today I began Recipe Repository. I posted a recipe for chicken tomatillo enchiladas, a recipe I absolutely love. It’s full of flavor, healthful and filling.

Though it’s not difficult to make, a quick recipe it is not. I honestly love that about it, as making it requires you to use several techniques and less-than-mainstream ingredients you can learn here and use for other recipes. I wholeheartedly believe making recipes that take time and thought is one of the surest ways to learn to cook, and that everyone could benefit from spending a little more time cooking.

Still, I realize that sometimes you truly need a quick and easy recipe. We’re all running around like chickens with our heads cut off all the time. From work, to class, from the store, to a party that you were looking forward to but now you’re honestly kind of exhausted to go to… all the while you’re still compulsively checking your email without realizing it.

If you still want to make your own meal after all of that, you’re on the superhero fast-track, my friend.

Because I appreciate your super status and your food journey—whatever it looks like right now—I’m going to share the antithesis of chicken tomatillo enchiladas. One of my go-to quick recipes. Slow-cooker cilantro-lime tacos. 

Though slow is in the name, speed is the game.

If you can carve out 10-15 minutes in the morning (or on your lunch break, as I did today), you can make these. When you get home, shred it, stick it in a tortilla and add your favorite toppings.

Here we go!

Slow-cooker Cilantro Lime Tacos 

Makes 14-16 tacos 

Prep: 10 minutes 

 Cook time: 6-8 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil 
  • 3-4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 small white or yellow onions, quartered 
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 TBSP cumin 
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes 
  • 2 tsps oregano 
  • ¾ cup cilantro, chopped and divided in half 
  • 3 limes, halved 
  • Salt and pepper to taste (start with ½ tsp each) 
  • Taco tortillas (8-inch)

Suggestions for serving: 

  • Avocados or guacamole 
  • Salsa 
  • Diced tomatoes 
  • Shredded lettuce 
  • Crema Mexicana or sour cream 
  • Cheese

Instructions: 

  1. Pour oil in the bottom of the slow-cooker, making certain to cover the sides as well as the bottom.
  2. Place the onions in the slow-cooker.
  3. Add the chicken, garlic and bay leaves.
  4. Evenly spread the cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper over the chicken.
  5. Squeeze two of the lime halves over the chicken, placing the (clean) rinds in the slow-cooker.
  6. Place the lid on and cook 6-8 hours on low or (if you’re desperate) 4 hours on high.
  7. Shred the cooked chicken with two large forks*, removing bay leaves as you go.
  8. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the chicken and add the remaining cilantro.

Optional: wrap 3-4 tortillas in a clean, slightly damp kitchen towel (squeeze out as much water as you can), and microwave on a plate for 30 seconds to warm. 

*If any part of the chicken is still pink and will not shred, put the lid back on for half an hour more and check again.

Tip for more flavor: Sprinkle the raw chicken breasts with a little salt and pepper and sear for 4 minutes in a pan over high heat. This is a totally optional step and will make the recipe take longer, but it takes the flavor to a whole new level thanks to the maillard broening reaction that happens when you cook food with higher, direct heat.

Food safety tip: Frozen chicken is a Godsend, but it doesn’t belong in a slow cooker. Unthawing with the slow-building heat of the crock-pot puts chicken in the prime temperature range for bacteria growth for too long. If you want to use frozen chicken, be certain to thaw it overnight in the refrigerator first.

This recipe makes quite a bit, so it’s great if you have guests. Personally I like to make it and then eat off of it for a few days. I’m a big leftovers for lunch kind of girl, so it’s perfect. I know some people don’t like leftovers (explain this to me, please), but what kind of MONSTER doesn’t want tacos for lunch?!

Sorry, got a little carried away there. 

Anyway.

I really can’t believe it’s been a full year since I started this blog. I call it that lightly, because this was never meant to be permanent. Soon I’ll be starting a bigger project (really, it’s almost ready), so be on the lookout here, on my Instagram (@leanndacavalier) and on SnapChat (lcavalier33)! 

Yay for progress! And TACOS. 

Tacos. Mmmmm…

Let me know what you think with a comment or over on SnapChat. I’d love to hear from you!

Chicken tomatillo enchiladas for Cinco de Mayo

Mexican, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

We had our fiesta a little early last night with some chicken tomatillo enchiladas, yellow rice, refried black beans & Alton Brown’s recipe for guacamole.

It seems like enchiladas would be a pain to make because of all the components, but the beauty of this recipe is that the chicken and sauce are a breeze. You can use them to make tacos or even eat the sauce right over chicken and rice. Get creative!

Without further ado…

Chicken Tomatillo Enchiladas

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  • 8 medium-sized tortillas (8-10 inches, to fit in a 9x14 baking dish)
  • 1 batch tomatillo sauce (see above)
  • 1 batch shredded chicken (see above)
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • 8 oz queso fresco, crumbled

Suggested toppings include:

  • Creme fraiche
  • Seeded jalapeños
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Sliced onions
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan.
3. Prepare a plate by covering it with a paper towel. Dredge one side of a tortilla through the hot oil using silicone tongs. Place on plate oil side down and cover with a paper towel. Repeat, stacking the tortillas on top of each other, separated by paper towels.
4. Carefully pour out any remaining oil (not in the sink!) and return pan to stove. Turn the heat to medium. 
5. Spread ½ cup tomatillo sauce in the frying pan and allow to warm. 
6. Spread about 1 cup of the tomatillo sauce into the bottom of your 9x14 baking dish, or as much as it takes to cover the bottom. 
7. Dredge the opposite (non-oil) side of a tortilla through the heated tomatillo sauce using your tongs. Place it oil-side-down on the plate and spoon about ⅓-½ cup shredded chicken near the edge of the tortilla.
8. Roll the chicken up in the tortilla and place it in the baking dish with the seam facing down. Repeat with all tortillas. If you run out of room, just bake remaining enchiladas separately.
9. Pour desired amount of remaining tomatillo sauce (I suggest at least 3 cups) over tortillas, spreading as you go. 
10. Bake 10-15 minutes.
11. Top with any remaining chicken, queso fresco and any other desired toppings. I happen to like creme fraiche, seeded and thinly sliced jalapeños and sliced onions.

Serve immediately with your favorite yellow rice and refried beans recipe and Alton Brown’s guacamole.


Tomatillo Sauce

  • 10 large tomatillos, husks removed
  • 6 green chiles or jalapeños, seeded
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz can diced green chiles with juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large pot, cover tomatillos, fresh chiles, and garlic with water and add salt. 
2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow to cook for 15 minutes. 
3. Remove from heat and use a colander to drain. 
4. Put your cooked ingredients back into the original pot and add canned chiles, oil, cilantro, honey and cream.
5. Using an immersion blender, blend your mixture until smooth. If you don’t have one, carefully use a regular blender, working in small batches. Add water ⅛ cup at a time if you’re having trouble blending or want to thin it out.
6. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep warm until ready for use, or refrigerate if making ahead.


Shredded Chicken

  • 2-3 lbs bone-in chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks (boneless skinless is fine, but packs less flavor)
  • ½ vidalia onion
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 4 oz can diced chiles, drained
  • 1 roma tomato, diced & seeded
  • Juice of ½ lime

1. Put chicken, onion, garlic, salt, cumin and thyme in a large pot and cover with water.
2. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Cover and cook 20-25 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and drain the stock, saving it for another application if you wish. Let chicken cool 5-10 minutes.
4. Remove skin and any gristle from chicken and discard along with onion and garlic. 
5. Remove chicken from bones using your fingers, making sure to get rid of all small bones. Shred the chicken with your hands or two forks. 
6. Melt butter over medium heat in the pot used to boil the chicken. Add chiles and tomatoes and sauté until tomatoes begin to break down.
7. Add chicken, squeeze lime over it, and toss to combine. 
8. Remove from heat and set aside until ready for use.