There’s something poignantly beautiful yet profoundly sad about a taco.
What is it that gives us the audacity to create life knowing full well its brief, messy existence will ultimately leave it spilled across a plate?
At NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, fans can be reminded of the fragility of beauty and the transience of youth by chowing down on three Battle Red Tacos.
This spin on the Mexican-American classic features chicken deep-fried in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos adorned with Sriracha mayonnaise, mango pico de gallo and shredded red cabbage.
I tackled deep-frying with Cheetos when I made AT&T Stadium’s Mac N Cheese Balls, but I knew the Battle Red Tacos would be an entirely different challenge. The trickiest part of frying chicken is striking the delicate balance between three defining qualities — tender, crispy and not riddled with salmonella.
I took my first step toward potential food poisoning by slicing a chicken breast into three thin strips. Each was coated with a mixture of flour, black pepper, cayenne and ground paprika before taking a dip in a slurry of beaten egg and flour.
I tried not to dwell on the fact that I’d dunked a slab of chicken in its own unfertilized embryo while I rolled the tenders in a dish of Cheeto crumbs.
Finally, the strips entered an awaiting pot of hot canola oil.
After six minutes, I removed the thickest piece and partially cut it through the middle. A brief inspection of the inside assured me that if this meal killed me, it would be from sudden coronary failure as opposed to a foodborne parasite.
Once the chicken no longer registered an internal temperature equal to the surface of the sun, I began assembling the tacos. One upside to this dish is you can prepare the toppings beforehand.
The pico de gallo was a simple matter of dicing mango, tomato, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro and adding a squeeze of lime.
In lieu of the Sriracha mayonnaise, I combined Greek yogurt, vinegar, cayenne, garlic salt, chili powder and lime juice. This might not have been a totally faithful rendition, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. As far as marriages go, chili and lime are the Barack and Michelle Obama of seasonings.
I thinly pared and soaked the red cabbage in a bowl with vinegar and sugar for a few hours prior, but you can forgo this if you like your cabbage to taste a little less sweet and a little more like the ground whence it was plucked.
Heating your tortillas is also critical. Dedicating so much effort to fillings only to wrap them in a cold shell would be like swaddling a baby in an outdoor welcome mat.
I spread a spoonful of my makeshift mayonnaise over each tortilla, effectively fixing the chicken in place. Then came a hearty dollop of mango salsa and a garnish of cabbage.
The tortilla became a blank canvas for an impressionist painting alight with purple, golden and crimson flames from the ingredients within.
At long last, my mouth got to share in the delight upon which my eyes had greedily feasted. My teeth passed through the soft tortilla without any resistance before meeting the satisfying crunch of the chicken tender. Mango juice and half-melted spicy sauce intermingled with the chicken, forming the essential trifecta of sweet, heat and meat.
This must be the first time I replicated a concession stand menu item and it was actually good. Sure, I enjoyed the deep-fried Mac N Cheese Balls and the Apple Pie Nachos, but that’s largely because I’m a disgusting animal who will consume anything remotely edible.
I realize Cheeto fried chicken might be a big crispy red stop sign for some people, but don’t let that impede your enjoyment of everything else these tacos have to offer. I’ll happily accept any excuse to eat that mango salsa.
Of course, like with any taco, there is a certain degree of collateral damage involved. Though I savored every bite, I did not escape without a plate covered in errant drippings.
Just as I ushered the tacos into this world, I swiftly took them from it like a vengeful god. I can’t claim innocence in the kitchen anymore. There’s too much blood on my hands.
Well, technically Flamin’ Hot Cheeto dust. It’s all the same to me.
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