One of the first foods I learned to make for myself was a quesadilla, where I would fold some shredded cheddar inside a flour tortilla and nuke it until the cheese melted. It wasn’t authentic or texturally balanced, but it was good enough for a 7 year old.
But even at 7, I probably could have managed a “proper”quesadilla. After all, all you have to do is heat the tortilla in a cast iron skillet and replace the cheddar with Oaxaca cheese, then pan fry until the cheese is melted (I like it when it spills out and creates a frico-like border). You can more protein if you’d like, but I usually don’t, at least not until I saw this recipe for Danny Trejo’s fried chicken quesadillas on Food52.
I first encountered Trejo when my stepfather took me — an 11 year-old — to see Con Air at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. I liked the movie, and I’ve liked Trejo in everything else I’ve seen him in sense, but I love this quesadilla more than I love most movies. His recipe is thoughtful and balanced, with homemade fried chicken and a spicy-but-creamy chipotle cabbage slaw.
You can — and should — make Trejo’s quesadilla exactly as dictated in the recipe, but you can also add leftover fast food fried chicken to any quesadilla, which is what I did yesterday afternoon.
I went to Popeye’s and picked up a spicy eight-piece, ate a drumstick immediately upon entering my home, then chopped up some of a breast, along with plenty — and I mean plenty — of crunchy, salty skin. I then placed a large flour tortilla in a skillet set over medium heat, let the tortilla warm up a bit, then flipped it and sprinkled an even layer of Oaxaca and chopped fried chicken on top. Then I folded it over on itself and cooked it for a minute or so on each side, until the cheese melted. (I also made a very lazy version of Trejo’s crema by blending a chipotle in adobo with 1/2 cup of sour cream.)
You don’t need to be a food writer to guess that this tasted good. It’s hard to go wrong with fried chicken or melted cheese, and combining them is almost cheating. (Except there is no cheating in food, only sports and board games, which is why I prefer food to sports and board games.)
So yes, I recommend listening to Danny Trejo and stuffing your quesadilla with fried chicken, but I’m going to take it a step further next time and omit the meat for a skin-only quesadilla — a decadent, crunchy, cheesy, melty, salty affair — because the skin is the best part. That definitely feels like cheating, but again, there is no such thing.
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