I have a love-hate relationship with Florida. On one hand, it's hot and bad there. On the other hand, it's where The Beloved grew up. On one hand, I lived in Florida during the hanging chads debacle. So there's that. On the other, Florida is where my Beloved used to ride his bicycle in front of Patrick Air Force Base and past the I Dream of Jeannie steps, where he had his first job as a stock man at Publix, going to high school full time and working nearly full-time bagging groceries during store hours and stocking shelves after closing, where he lived when we found each other again.
Because we fell in love again while he was living in Cocoa Beach (again), certain of my memories of the area are bathed in a golden mist. Certain place names evoke an almost adolescent yearning, not necessarily because I love those places, but because, while we were living apart, I always yearned for him.
The Pineda Causeway.
Taco City, Cocoa Beach, FL
The Beloved took me to Taco City for the first time the summer between our junior and senior years at college. We went with a group of his friends, and all of them spoke of Taco City "TC" in reverent tones. By the time we got there, I had high hopes. Hopes that were somewhat dashed by the unassuming look of the place. It's a bit dive-ish, but in a great way. A joint where it wouldn't seem gauche to walk up from the beach with your surfboard, prop it up against the wall and head inside for tacos and a beer. Inside TC, the impression is dark wood with photos from the heyday of the space program adorning the tables under thick layers of clear epoxy.
Taco City is the embodiment of Cocoa Beach of the 70s and 80s. Open since 1980, it's a bit sleepy. A bit eclectic. And unashamedly Florida-Beach. The food TC serves is Mexican in name only--tacos, burritos, enchiladas. Taco City doesn't try to be Mexican, though. The website describes their cuisine as "southwestern," but I prefer to think of it as Florida-Mex. The food is plentiful and inexpensive. The salsa is not half bad, and the bean dip still makes me swoon. But the one menu item that I used to dream about, and the one I'm sharing with you today, is Chings Junior Style.
See what I mean about not being Mexican food? Chings? Seriously?! Yes. Seriously. It may sound funny, but once you try them, you'll understand and be able to order them with a straight face.
Chings are basically fat flautas stuffed to the gills with moist shredded chicken, deep fried, cut into segments, and stood on end in a circle on the plate. Inside the circle lies guacamole salad. Chings (the beef version is called Chongs) come in two "styles:" Nirvana Style means the chings are topped with pickled jalapeños and onions, and the Junior Style Chings come buried under a thick layer of melted cheese.
I am all about the Chings Junior Style.
Once I heard our theme for this month's Progressive Eats Dinner was Memory Lane (thank you, Lana from Never Enough Thyme for choosing such a wonderful theme!), I knew right away I wanted to make Chings Junior Style for you guys. And for The Beloved, too.
I was down in Satellite Beach in early December visiting my dear friends Jamie and Cheryl, and for lunch one day, I asked if they'd be cool to go to Taco City, a short fifteen minute drive from the house. I told them as long as they weren't expecting authentic Mexican food that they'd really like it, and I think they did. Once seated at the same tables I remembered from almost 30 years ago, I texted The Beloved a photo with a "guess where we are?" He couldn't quite place it but said it looked familiar, but when I shot him a picture of the Chings Junior Style that I of course ordered, he was excited for me that I had taken my friends to one of his favorite old haunts, but I know he was sad that he couldn't partake. Until now.
I emailed Joel, the owner of Taco City, to ask if he would share how he makes Chings Junior Style. He graciously sent me a detailed how-to, minus their proprietary chicken recipe. Thank you, Joel! If you make the Chings (or Chongs, for that matter), don't forget to tag Taco City on Instagram and tell him hi from me!
What I'm sharing with you is a bit spicier than the Taco City version, but it's every bit as delicious. As a bonus, each individual Ching makes a great little two-bite appetizer, should you have some sort of football-watching party coming up in the near future.
Stay tuned after the recipe for all the delicious "Memory Lane" foods shared by the talented members of the Progressive Eats group, too!
Chings Junior Style
The chicken filling in the TC original Chings is moist and flavorful but not particularly spicy. I decided the best way to come close was to make an easy "chicken tinga." That's basically shredded chicken simmered in a flavorful mixture that's often but not always tomato based. I chose to use a can of Ro-Tel as my base--easy and full of flavor--to which I added onions caramelized with chipotle powder and one chipotle chile in adobo sauce. A quick puree in the blender was all it took and then in went the chicken I poached. Once thoroughly shredded with two forks, I let the chicken simmer in the sauce until it had soaked up all that flavor and was moist but no longer soupy.
The trick to making the chings--or any stuffed burrito, I guess--is to start with cold filling. Joel specified 40F, so pretty much straight from the fridge. Five minutes in 350F oil take the chill right off!
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- enough low-sodium chicken broth to barely cover them in a pan
- heavy pinch of salt
- ¼ of a sweet onion, roughly chopped
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ of a sweet onion, diced
- pinch of salt and several grindings of black pepper
- ½-1 teaspoon ground chipotle
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small can Ro-Tel
- 1 chipotle in adobo plus any sauce that clings to it
- all the poached chicken
- 10" or 12" flour tortillas
- enough vegetable oil to fill a deep 12" skillet to a depth of abut 1"
- Sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- your favorite guacamole
- your favorite salsa
- sour cream
- black olives
- diced tomato
- pickled jalapeno
- Place the chicken breasts in a small pan just big enough to hold them. Pour enough chicken broth (or stock, if you have it) to barely cover the chicken. Toss in the onion and a bit of salt.
- Bring the heat up until the chicken reaches an active simmer and then turn the heat down until the broth is barely bubbling. Slowly poach the chicken to an internal temperature of 165F. You will want to turn the pieces of chicken a few times to ensure even cooking. The whole process should take maybe 15-20 minutes
- While the chicken is poaching, heat a large skillet over medium heat.
- When hot, add the oil. When the oil shimmers, add the onions and spices. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to brown and the spices darken a bit, about 7 minutes.
- Put the onions in the jar of your blender. Add the can of Ro-Tel (tomatoes and green chiles) and the chipotle in adobo.
- Puree and add back to the skillet. Turn off heat if the chicken isn't ready.
- Once the chicken has reached 165F, remove from the poaching liquid and place in the tomato mixture in the skillet. (Strain the poaching liquid and save it to cook rice or something).
- Using two forks, thoroughly shred the chicken and let simmer in the sauce until most of the juices are absorbed and the chicken is nice and moist but not at all soupy, about 10 minutes.
- Spread the chicken on a sheet pan and place in the fridge or freezer to chill quickly. If you're not making chings right away, refrigerate the chicken until ready to cook.
- Start with a 12" flour tortilla. (I could only find 10" tortillas, so that's what I used)
- Steam it well so it's pliable and easy to work with. (I wrapped my tortillas in damp paper towels and steamed them in the microwave for 30 seconds on high power)
- Fill it with 5 to 6 ounces of COLD (40 degrees) cooked shredded chicken and roll it up tight. (For 10" tortillas, I used 4 oz of the chicken). Use a couple of lubricated tooth picks to keep the tortilla closed. (I just dipped mine in the oil before it got hot. They were easy to remove once the chings were done.)
- Put the whole thing in a deep fryer or pot of vegetable oil and cook at 350 degrees for about 4 min or until outside is golden brown. Make sure it's completely submerged in oil. (I shallow fried mine for 2½ minutes per side)
- Remove from oil, place on cutting board, REMOVE TOOTHPICKS, (Yes!)
- Cut into 10 sections and arrange on a plate. (The meat on the ends of my chings were black from the oil, so after trimming off about 1" from either end, I was able to cut each remaining length into 6 pieces.
- Sprinkle shredded cheese generously on top and put the plate in the oven on broil, high. Careful not to burn, shouldn't take but a min to melt the cheese. (Since I didn't want to burn my wooden plates and I doubt my regular plates are broiler safe, I arranged the chings on foil-lined sheet, topped them with cheese, broiled everything and then transferred them to my serving plate with a spatula.)
- Put what u like in the center of the plate, we garnish it with a guacamole salad in the center. (I used the obligatory guacamole, some salsa and sour cream. I meant to use black olives but I totally forgot).
- The Chings Junior Style were spectacular. You will love them!
And Now, the Rest of the Line-Up!
Memory Lane Comfort Food
- Cheesy Spinach Dip from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Welsh Rarebit Crostini from The Wimpy Vegetarian
- Stuffed Cabbage from Mother Would Know
- Chole Aloo (Chickpas & Potatoes) from Spice Roots
- Old-Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie (Gluten Free) from The Heritage Cook
- Chicken and Rice Casserole from Miss in the Kitchen
- Texas Tater Tot Casserole from Stetted
- Chings, Junior Style (Copycat Recipe) from Pastry Chef Online
- Chicken Cordon Bleu All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
- Chicken Nilaga-Boiled Chicken Stew from Asian in America
- German Chocolate Cake with Rum Glaze and Buttercream from Creative Culinary
- Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Never Enough Thyme
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. This month's theme is Memory Lane and is hosted by Lana Stuart who blogs at Never Enough Thyme.For our Memory Lane dinner, we all created recipes based on comfort foods which evoke feelings of nostalgia and warmth
If you're unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
We have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.
Thank you for taking the time to read today. Enjoy the Chings Junior Style, and thank Joel for sharing the hows of it all.
Take care, and have a lovely day.