box lunches: chile rubbed chicken + tomatillo salsa + mexican rice

I know that Friday afternoons are not usually the best time to consider the following work week, but I do all my meal planing on Fridays.  I hate spending the whole weekend doing chores and shopping and cooking, so I plan out the following week’s meals on Friday nights, shop on Saturday, and usually spend Sunday in a whirlwind cooking up delicious things to feed me and Mike for the next week.  Spreading out the process makes it seem far less daunting (and it gives me ample opportunity to add forgotten items to my grocery list).

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This week I bring you one of the oldest box lunches in my arsenal.  It’s one that I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s a favorite in our rotation:  chile rubbed chicken with tomatillo salsa and Mexican rice.  I use this Food Network recipe for the chicken and salsa.  I use 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and usually double the marinade.  I also tend to double the salsa recipe because it’s delicious and I like to eat it with chips, on tacos, with quesadillas…you get the point.

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When I lived in my mom’s house, we would cook the chicken on the grill, which gave it a great smoky flavor.  Now that I’m trapped in a teeny tiny apartment, I cut the chicken into strips before marinating overnight and cook it on a foil-lined pan at 425° for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

This combination of recipes (and 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts) yields 8 box lunches, with some rice to spare.

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I’ve played my Mexican rice recipe over the last few years and have finally got it down to a science.  The trick for a great Mexican rice is to prepare the salsa the night before you plan on cooking the rice.  This lets the flavors deepen and creates a much more flavorful end result.

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Mexican Rice
6 medium tomatoes on the vine
2 large jalapenos
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, divided in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups medium grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 lime

Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet in your broiler for about 10-15 minutes per side, flipping halfway through.  You’ll know they’re done when the skin shrivels and blackens.  Let tomatoes cool.  Once cool, peel the skin off the roasted tomatoes and discard.

While the tomatoes are roasting in the broiler, place unpeeled garlic and jalapenos in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Roast vegetables until blackened on all sides.  (If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, this step can be done in the broiler while the tomatoes are cooling.) When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic and roughly chop the peppers.

Place the chopped onion in a colander or strainer and rinse under cool water for a minute or two, then shake out the excess water.  This will help to remove the sharp raw onion taste and will help the salsa flavors meld together more evenly.

Puree garlic, jalapenos and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor to form a paste.  Add the tomatoes and their juices and puree until you reach your desired consistency (I like to puree until smooth, but if you like a chunkier salsa in your rice, go for it).  Next, add chopped onion and pulse until everything is incorporated.  Chop half of the cilantro and add to the salsa mixture.  Pulse a few more times to evenly incorporate the cilantro.  The salsa can be used immediately to make the rice, but i find that the flavor is much better if left in the fridge in an airtight container overnight.

Be sure to take the salsa out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before continuing onto the next step.

To make the rice, preheat your oven to 350° and heat a ceramic dutch oven on the stove-top over medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add oil and allow it to heat up for a minute or two.  Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes to, stirring occasionally. Don’t worry if some kernels brown.

Add the salsa mixture to rice and let it sear for 1 minute.  Then, add the chicken stock and the remaining teaspoon of kosher salt.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, stir it once before covering with a tight-fitting lid.  Baked at 350° for 25 minutes. After removing the rice from the oven, keep the lid on and let it stand for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.  Lastly, chop and add the remaining cilantro and the juice of 1/2 of a lime.  Fluff the rice with a fork and it’s ready to eat!

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My favorite way to eat this meal is to reheat the chicken and rice, then mix in the cold fresh salsa.  The salsa offsets the heat of the chicken and rice, so it’s a a refreshing way to have lunch at your desk.

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