Thinking Inside the Packet

Summer calls for easy cooking. It also calls for flexibility. When you find you've stayed late at the beach with your family or vacation traffic keeps you from getting home early, there's really something to be said for having a plan for dinner that doesn't involve a lot of prep time. Or when you look at the thermometer and it tells you that you don't want to know how hot it really is out there and the thought of turning on the oven makes you want to cry, having a meal that can be cooked in the oven or on the grill can absolutely save the day. And when the same meal also involves minimal cleanup, it's time to look into this idea. And when this idea puts delicious chicken tacos on the table in less than half an hour, it's time to embrace the idea of cooking with foil packets:

The idea is simple: put lots of tasty things in a foil packet, seal the packet (leaving some room for steam to form and cook your dinner), and bake it in the oven or grill it on the grill and … presto! Dinner is served. In this particular recipe, tender chicken is paired with a great combination of black beans and fantastic veggies to make a filling for tacos that will have your family cheering for you. You could choose any number of fillings, but I kept it simple with what I had on hand and thought would stay moist without becoming a sloppy mess. If you opt to use juicier ingredients, like zucchini or ripe tomatoes, poke a few holes in the bottom of the packet and drain off the liquid before serving the filling alongside tortillas and condiments.

I like putting together the packets prior to cooking so that I have a quick meal on hand when I get home. If all it takes is 20 minutes of baking or grilling when I get in the door, there's really no excuse not to cook when things get busy. You could make one big packet, but I find splitting it into two packets make tears less likely and everything easier to move in and out of the oven or on and off the grill. You could go with even smaller packets, but you might have to check them after 15 minutes of cooking, as they might be done sooner. These also make fantastic camping meals. So enjoy the summer and stay flexible!

Tin-Foil Southwestern Chicken Tacos

  • 20 oz. boneless skinless chicken breasts (~2-3 large chicken breasts), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 c. frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 c. chopped red pepper
  • 1 c. chopped white onion
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground red pepper -- choose a variety to suit your desired level of heat
  • 1/4 c. chopped green onions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees or prepare a grill for medium-high temperature grilling. Place two large pieces of foil (each at least 1' in length) and spray them lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Top each foil piece with half of the cubed chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, combine the black beans, corn, red pepper, white onion, cumin, paprika, and ground red pepper. Divide mixture among the two foil packages, evenly topping the cubed chicken.

Pull up the long sides of the foil and crimp them together, then fold up the short sides of the foil and crimp. Leave extra room in each packet for steam. Place the sealed packets seam side up a baking sheet. You can also bake/grill the packets directly on the oven rack or grilling surface.

Bake or grill the packets for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from oven or grill and open each packet carefully. Sprinkle each packet with the green onions and serve with flour or corn tortillas, cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

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