I have become the girl who puts an entire wad of wasabi on one piece of sushi. I add hot sauce to my burgers and fries. I use spicy mustard on a daily basis. I challenge my taste buds to fight the spice, because I know it’s worth it.
I wasn’t always this way. I had to develop a tolerance for tasty, red-hot toppings. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the heat too.
The human body performs an amazing function called sensory adaptation. When our brain cells receive a specific stimulus, like putting a hot pepper into our mouth, our body transmits an intense reaction to the spiciness of the pepper. Our eyes water, our tongue burns, and our senses tell us to drink water. Repetition of this stimulus to the brain reduces the output signal to the area of the body that receives it. Therefore, the more spicy food you eat, the less spicy it seems. If you stop eating spicy food for a month, then the original heat sensation will return since the stimulus of spice has subsided (1).
Don’t believe me?
Add 1 tsp of salt to 1/2 cup of water. Mix until the salt has dissolved into the liquid. Place a drop of this solution on your tongue for a few minutes. Do you notice the salty flavor dissipating? This is sensory adaptation at work (2).
Are you ready to spice up your life? Then you have to make my Kickin’ Chicken Taquitos.
Taquitos are small, Mexican roll-ups. Each taquito is wrapped with a small corn tortilla and filled with spicy meat.
Have you noticed that many countries with warmer climates utilize hot spices in their recipes? Latin American, South American, and Asian countries (like Thailand) have adapted their palates to heat for many reasons.
Firstly, the taste is fantastic. Secondly, people who live in warmer climates may be attracted to spices because they aid immunity. Warm temperatures create breeding grounds for microorganisms, especially on meat products. Adding spices to dishes naturally prevents the overgrowth of bacteria and pathogens. This idea, known as “Darwinian medicine,” aims to reason why humans have adapted to specific eating patterns. Paul Sherman, a neurobiology and behavior professor at Cornell University, has studied cultures and their taste palates to piece together how the diet coincides with traditional medicine and fighting diseases (3).
Ready to put the heat to the test?
For the corn tortillas: 2 cups Masa Harina (Mexican corn flour), 1 1/4 cup water (divided into 1 cup and 1/4 cup).
***Please Note: You may purchase corn tortillas instead of making them yourself.
For the chicken taquito filling: 1 1/2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken breasts, 3 1/4 cups chicken broth (divided into 1 1/2 cups, 1 1/2 cups, and 1/4 cup), 1 can (7.5 oz) chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (chopped), 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp ground black pepper (optional), shredded cheese of your choice.
Place the Masa Harina in a large bowl and add 1 cup water. Mix the dough thoroughly with your hands for two minutes. Slowly add 1/4 cup of water to the dough, mixing while you add it. As soon as the dough feels like a firm ball, stop adding water.
Make 16 smaller dough balls from the larger dough. Cover the large bowl with plastic wrap to keep the dough moist.
Put some plastic wrap on a baking sheet, and place one dough ball on top of the plastic wrap. Cover the dough ball with a second piece of plastic wrap, and flatten it with a rolling pin. The plastic wrap will prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, then you can use a cup.
Peel the plastic off slowly. Put a small skillet on the stove at high heat. Add the corn tortilla dough and heat it for 30 seconds. Flip the tortilla over and heat it for another 30 seconds. Flip the tortilla over a third time and heat it for 15 seconds. Remove the tortilla from the heat and place it on a plate.
Repeat this procedure until all of the corn tortillas have been cooked. Put another plate on top of the finished tortillas to keep them moist. Set them aside.
Add 1 1/2 cups chicken broth to a large skillet. Place the skillet on the stove and let the chicken broth come to a boil. Add the chicken to skillet. Reduce the heat, and let the chicken simmer for about 5 minutes.
Cover the large skillet and allow the chicken to cook for 15 more minutes. Set the skillet with the chicken aside.
Chop 1 can (7.5 oz) of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Add them, along with 2 tbsp of olive oil, to a medium saucepan. Stir the ingredients for one minute.
Add all-purpose flour to the small saucepan. Stir one minute.
Add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, cumin, garlic powder, and black pepper to the small saucepan. Stir constantly. Reduce to medium heat, and cook the sauce until it’s thickened. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the thickened sauce to a blender or food processor if you have one. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth. Blend until smooth. If you don’t have a blender or food processor, you can beat the chicken broth into the sauce using a fork or a whisk.
Remove the chicken breast from the large skillet. Shred the chicken breast in a large bowl using two forks.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and stir.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets.
Take a corn tortilla and place it on a baking sheet. Add 2 heaping tablespoons (or more, at your discretion) of chicken filling onto the left side of the corn tortilla. Add shredded cheese.
Place the taquitos in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the corn tortilla turns crispy and golden.
If desired, add some avocado slices on top of the taquitos. This will not only absorb the spice from your tongue, but it will add a creamy texture to the dish.
“Variety is the spice of life,” especially when it comes to food.
1. Lawless, H. “Lecture 12: Smell, Trigeminal, Astringency.” FDSC 4100 Sensory Evaluation of Food. [PowerPoint]. Fall 2011.
2. “Lab 4: Sensory Evaluation of Food.” Teacherweb.net. Accessed 19 June 2014. Available at http://www.teacherweb.com/NV/TMCC/HHimler/121lab04.pdf
3. Roach, John. “Why Some Like It Hot: Spices Are Nature’s Meds, Scientist Says.” National Geographic News. 11 November 2005. Accessed 20 June 2014. Available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/1111_051111_spicy_medicine_2.html
© The Baking Tour Guide, 2014