The story behind this insanely good chicken recipe is one of those could only happen in Israel kind of things… except it happened in Mexico.
Let me explain, a little over a week ago, while my husband and I were in Cancun for winter break, we took a catamaran cruise to one of the Islands off the coast called Isla Mujeres. Like most of these day trips for tourists, theres an “authentic” Mexican all you can eat buffet included in the price, which we were never able to participate in due to our kosher restrictions. I was obviously a little bummed about not being able to try all this great food throughout the trip, but we moved on and packed our tuna packets and granola bars.
As soon as we got to the Island, the tour company allotted us about an hour and a half to shop in the main town area before we had to get back on the boat and head to the next destination on the island. We were not down to do the over priced, touristy shopping that we had experienced our whole trip, so we planned just to walk around and find something interesting to do. And boy did we.
Would you believe me if I told you that the first person we saw as we got off the boat on this random Mexican island was this big, grandpa looking middle eastern guy with a giant kippa on his head? No? Well believe it. This guy, who is apparently a taxi driver on this island, comes and grabs my husband and starts speaking to him in spanish and and a bit of broken Hebrew/english. He tells us there’s a synagogue only two blocks away, and that they have kosher food! Not just tuna packets and granola bars, real, hot, kosher food. I was sold.
So we fought our way through the market place and shop owners yelling at us to buy their key chains (no thank you!!!). And there, exactly where grandpa jewish man told us it would be, was a small restaurant with a kosher sign!! My heart skipped a beat as I imagined the food we would get. As we got closer however, it appeared that the restaurant was quite obviously closed. My heart sank. I should have known better. It was past noon on a Friday afternoon no way it would be open.
My husband popped his head in the door, and found one of their employees who told us just to go upstairs and we could find food there. As we walk up the stairs it hits us… There, right in our face was a huge picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Now this was all starting to make a little more sense.
The synagogue and restaurant Jewish grandpa guy sent us to was really a chabad house, on this random Mexican island on the Caribbean Sea.
Once upstairs, the place was in chaos, cooks running around with raw chicken everywhere. Little children running around. There was tons of Hebrew writings all over the walls, seemingly thank you notes from guests for the hospitality of the chabad house. We finally found someone, seemingly the Rabbi who ran the chabad house, who gave us a menu and told us to sit down. At this point we were in a little bit of a rush to get back to the boat on time but we sat. When he came over to take our order, he said, actually all we have is shabbat food do you want some of that? Starved at this point, I just say sure give us anything you can, but hurry cause we’ve got to go.
We walked out of there (more like ran to catch our boat) with schnitzel, pargiyot (dark meat chicken cutlets), and rice in hand. I was grateful to have real hot food, but still a little disappointed. I was hoping that Jewish grandpa man was there to send us great food so that I wouldn’t feel so bad about missing out on the Mexican buffet. But hot chicken is better than room temperature tuna so I was fine.
We get on the boat and open up the styrofoam containers they gave us. We started with the schnitzel, it was pretty decent. Freshly fried, not super dry. And went very well with the ketchup I had hoarded in our beach bag when I found some kosher packets. But then we opened the pargiyot. Immediately you’re hit with the smell of garlic and onions, and just home cooked goodness. I am being 100% honest when I tell you this chicken was the best food we had our entire trip hands down. Better than anything we tried at the top of the line kosher grill in town. A bite of the chicken, with the onion, and rice which soaked up all the juices, was HEAVEN. The whole meal was just filled with flavor and was so much better than anything I imagined it would be, and I was once again so grateful for Jewish grandpa taxi man who found us.
When we got home from our trip, the first thing I knew I had to recreate was this chicken dish. After a little playing around with the recipe, I almost completely nailed it. I say almost because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never really be able to recreate the exact crazy experience that got me to that chicken. Food is a crucial way to bring us back and to tie us to our memories, be it from childhood or a great trip to Mexico. A bite of this chicken, so simple yet so delicious, brings me just that much closer to our day cruising the Caribbean, and an important reminder that Jews are everywhere to help out, even where we least expect them.
So with no further ado, the ONLY chicken and onion recipe you will ever need!
Spiced Chicken and Onions
- 1 pack boneless dark meat chicken Sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 1 Spanish/yellow onion sliced made ahead caramelized onions can also be used in place of this
- 1 tbs garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1.5 tsp cumin
- 1 tbs paprika
- 2 tbs olive oil
- Salt to taste about 1 tsp .
- Add chicken, 1 tbs olive oil, and spices together in bowl. Mix until chicken is coated evenly. Marinate for at least 30 min, or longer if desired. This step can be done as early as needed, just leave the chicken in the fridge while it marinates.
- Heat pan on medium with remaining olive oil, and begin to soften the onion. Once translucent, add chicken and sauté all together until everything fully cooked (about 7-10 min). Onions should take on the color of the chicken. Dark meat has a lot of leeway with cooking time making it less likely to dry out, so you can leave it in longer if desired to really allow all the flavors to join together, it’s insanely good (another 5 min should do).
- Serve over rice or grain of choice and enjoy!