While perusing the magazines at an airport newsstand several months ago, I spied one with a title indicating that all of the recipes had five ingredients or less and could be prepared in 15 minutes. Curious as to what sort of recipes might fill the pages but short on time, I purchased the magazine and headed to my gate.
As I flipped through the pages at 35,000 feet, I noticed a curious thing: most of the recipes had more than five ingredients, and quite a few had 10 or more.
Because so many people feel pinched for time these days, quick-prep meals with few ingredients have become all the rage. Anyone who has searched for these options, however, probably knows that staples like oil, salt, pepper, water, and optional items are rarely included in the tally. Sometimes basic spices and condiments are also considered freebies.
Thinking of one of my favorite busy-night recipes that has just four main components, I glanced at the magazine’s index. Surely salsa chicken would be there.
This simple yet flavorful recipe would have been a perfect addition but, alas, it was not on the list.
Technically, I could call this “Four-Ingredient Salsa Chicken,” but I don’t for several reasons. (Key words like that allow recipes to be ranked higher in online searches, which is why we frequently see modifiers like skinny, healthy, quick, best, and low-carb in recipe names.) Though the basic recipe is full of flavor, we like to top it with a variety of extras like chopped avocado, fresh cilantro or a few crumbled tortilla chips, making it a few more than four ingredients. (Although I did photograph the dish as we sometimes eat it, sans toppings with just a sprinkle of fresh cilantro for color.)
In addition, while a store-bought taco seasoning packet works quite well, I’ve included my recipe for a homemade version—and that has nine ingredients. Of course, you can mix batches of the seasoning well in advance and store them as you would the ready-made option. As an added bonus, the necessary ingredients are likely right in your spice cabinet.
When eating tortilla chips and salsa, my family opts for medium heat, but we enjoy this meal with a hot salsa. Mild or medium may certainly be used, although the added cheese does mitigate the heat. As an alternative, green salsa works just as well as the traditional red variety, and I’ve mixed a little leftover mango salsa in with the basic red. I’ve even tried black bean salsa, and though everyone here likes black beans, the consensus was that it was “fine but not quite as flavorful.” It’s always fun to try new things, and there’s much variety in the world of salsa, so feel free to experiment.
I’ve included instructions for both chicken breasts and thighs so you can choose based on personal preference. When using thighs, I like to cook them at a slightly higher heat. In either case, you may need to alter the recommended cooking time, as there is no set standard for the size of chicken pieces. Also, though the recipe is written for four servings, it’s easy to adjust up or down—and leftovers always taste good.
Yield: 4 servings
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon taco seasoning mix (from a store-bought packet or use optional recipe below)
- 1 cup salsa
- 3/4 cup shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, mozzarella, or a Mexican blend are a few good options*)
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- 1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix (store-bought or my favorite homemade option
- 3/4 cup salsa
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
- Optional toppings: sour cream, chopped avocado, cilantro, scallions, and/or a few crushed tortilla chips
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F for chicken breasts. If using the chicken thigh option, set the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the chicken in a lightly greased baking dish that is big enough to comfortably fit the chicken without lots of extra room. Sprinkle the taco seasoning on both sides of chicken, and pour the salsa over all.
Bake the chicken for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts/thighs, or until the chicken is nearly cooked through (internal temperature should read about 155 degrees F at this point). Remove the baking dish from the oven, sprinkle the cheese evenly overtop, and continue baking for an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the chicken is fully cooked (internal temperature for fully cooked chicken is 165 degrees F). Serve with optional toppings, as desired.
- You can experiment with the cheese and salsa, pairing a spicy pepper jack with a mild salsa or a mild mozzarella or Monterrey jack with a hot salsa—or go all spicy or all mild.