Chefs at Home Series: Taco Tuesday with Jason French & Viola

Chef, consultant (and all-around great dude) Jason French has been a bastion of the Portland restaurant world for nearly twenty years. He ran the kitchen at Paley’s Place and helped open Clark Lewis before heading out on his own to open Ned Ludd and then Elder Hall. Thirteen years later, he can still be found where he is most comfortable…in his kitchen.

When Jason cooks at home, he often employs the help of his daughter Viola. Nearly thirteen herself, she has definitely followed in her father’s footsteps, honing her own kitchen skills. We asked Jason if we could hang out and get a (literal) taste of what kind of cooking he and his daughter collaborate on. He immediately suggested Taco Tuesday, a great way to spice up an otherwise bland day.

Jason chose to make Roasted Chicken, Squash, and Tomatillo Tacos with Refried Beans and Viola’s signature Guacamole.

For the tacos:
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup whole tomatillos, husked
1 medium summer squash, trimmed and cubed (seasonally, acorn or butternut squash may be substituted)
1 C chicken stock
1 T cumin seed, ground
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Peel the husks from your tomatillos.

Cut your squash into large chunks.

Cut the chicken thighs in half, place all the ingredients into a large bowl, and season well.

Separate out in a single layer of a sheet pan and put into the oven. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked and the squash is golden brown.

Cut up the chicken and half of the squash. Put into a heavy-bottomed pot.

Put the roasted tomatillos, remaining squash, and the chicken stock into a large blender. Pulse until chunky and add to the pot.

Keep warm on the stove while you prepare the rest of the food.

While her dad is taking care of all that, Viola is in charge of the guacamole.

For the Guacamole:
1 large ripe avocado
1 T fresh lime juice
2 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop all the flesh into a bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Adjust seasoning as needed.

And of course, get the chefs final approval…

Set the guacamole aside and make the refried beans. In a pinch, there is no shame in using canned refried beans, but if you have the time, and an extra set of hands to help, homemade is always best.

For the Refried Beans:
1 T olive oil or lard + 3 T more for frying
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 T fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 C cooked pinto, black or red kidney beans, drained
1 C chicken stock
Salt and pepper

To make the beans, heat 1 T of oil and slowly cook the onions and garlic until just starting to color. Add the beans, oregano, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the chicken stock. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Put everything in a food processor and blend until smooth.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, add the remaining oil until hot, add the beans and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the beans achieve the desired consistency, continually scraping all the “crusty goodness” off the bottom as it cooks. Adjust seasoning and set aside.

Once everything is ready, finish up your Fixins.

Fixins:
(Feel free to add/subtract whatever makes you happy)
corn tortillas, hard or soft, served warm with dinner
fresh limes, quartered
grated cheddar or Mexican style cheeses like Cotija
scallions, thinly sliced
French radishes, thinly sliced
pickled jalapenos, canned are supreme
fresh cilantro leaves

Finally, heat your tortillas over an open flame (or on an electric burner) and keep warm.

With perfect timing, Jason’s girlfriend Carrie happened to come home just as the last tortillas were being cooked. A bottle of Underwood Pinot Gris was opened and the French Family dinner was a complete success.

We want to thank Jason and his family for sharing their Taco Tuesday with us. If you are somehow unacquainted with Jason’s work, you can check out his restaurant, Ned Ludd, and his event space Elder Hall. In his spare time, Jason also works as a personal coach and consultant.

Finally, from everyone here in the Union Family, we hope you are staying safe. And please get out there and VOTE!

Photography and Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)
Recipes by Jason French. (@jasonffrench)
Guacamole by Viola.

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