I love turkey, but unless it’s Thanksgiving, I usually don’t have the patience to cook it except in ground form. However, the other day, I really wanted to use a protein I don’t normally cook with, just to mix up our usual routine. So I began scouting turkey recipes thinking that I could maybe take something I found and switch it around to be slow-cooker simple. Enter Food and Wine’s Mole-Spiced Roasted Turkey.
One of the problems with cooking meat in a slow cooker is that it will fall apart. Cooking for that many hours over steam heat breaks the meat down to the point where some shredding is almost inevitable. But Mexican flavors and shredded meat mean one delicious thing: TACOS! And with Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, a slow-cooker based taco meat means that you don’t have to spend time in the kitchen during your Cinco party.
A quick note on moles: contrary to popular belief, chocolate is not what separates a mole from other sauces. While chocolate is often added (usually at the end of cooking), a mole actually is defined by grinding up chilies with other ingredients to form a paste that is later simmered with liquid to form a sauce. Any other Chopped fans out there have, I’m sure, heard Aaron Sanchez mention this. So, I’m calling these tacos mole-inspired, because while they have a lot of the same flavorings, I didn’t technically make a mole.
Besides bumping up a few of the spices, my only real additions to this recipe were the beer (the original didn’t have any liquid so why not add some Mexican dark beer to make up the sauce) and to add some caramelized onions. I love adding caramelized onions to the bottom of the cooker when I’m making tacos or barbecue. They add a nice sweetness and a bit of that char that you don’t get in a slow cooker. The rest was just adapting the techniques for a slow cooker!
I also opted to make my own salsa and taco shells. Making up a quick pico de gallo is super easy and will stay fresh for a day or two while you eat your leftovers (the recipe will be below). Just be sure to add in your jalapenos bit by bit, so you don’t end up getting too spicy too fast. Always remember, you can always add, but subtracting is hard. My husband also made his own taco shells using corn tortillas and this technique. It’s a fun simple “life-hack” that will save you some money, some calories, and some salt. I actually prefer our own taco shells to the store-bought ones now.
Serve with some guacamole, sour cream, hot sauce, lettuce, or whatever you like on tacos. We went with my pico, cotija cheese, and sour cream the first night and just tomatoes and hot sauce the second. It’s a delicious, mild, simple meat so you can play with it however you want. We ate the leftovers too fast to try, but I’m betting this would be wicked on nachos or in a quesadilla as well.
Mole-Inspired Slow Cooker Turkey Tacos
NOTE: I strongly recommend wearing an apron or “cooking clothes” for this recipe. It can get messy!
1 large Spanish onion, roughly chopped*
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, separated
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder**
1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
3 lbs. turkey thighs, skinned and trimmed
2/3 of a bottle of dark beer, such as Modelo Negro (8 oz approximately)
Juice from 1/2 lime
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to turn golden, about 7 minutes (the onion should not be browning—if it is, turn down the heat). Add the garlic and cook another 3-5 minutes until the onions are soft, golden, and aromatic. Add onions to the bottom of the slow cooker in an even layer.
Mix the cocoa powder with the next 7 ingredients (through cayenne). When the spices are well blended, add 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil and the balsamic. Stir until the mixture has formed a thick paste. Rub the paste evenly all over the chicken thighs. This is sticky, messy work. Just try to get as even as you can and don’t worry if some of it sticks to your hands or the cutting board. Add the chicken to the slow cooker in an even layer.
Pour the beer over the turkey and onions. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
When the 8 hours are up, turn the slow cooker off and carefully remove the bones from the meat mixture. Using two forks, shred the meat, and mix it into the liquid so that all of the meat is coated. Add the juice from half a lime and add salt, if necessary, to taste. Put the slow cooker on warm until you are ready to serve.
*You could use any onion, but Spanish onions have a great sweet flavor which I like for slow cooking
**The original recipe called for ancho chili powder, which I couldn’t find. Given that ancho is milder than regular chili powder, I still prefer using regular, as the slow cooker can sap some flavor out, but feel free to try it with ancho and let me know how it goes!
Simple Pico de Gallo
2 vine tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and white part removed from 1/2 of the pepper, finely chopped
1 cube of Dorot cilantro, thawed (pre-chopped, frozen herbs—SUPER useful to have on hand!)
1/4 tsp. salt
Juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp. olive oil
Toss the ingredients together in a small bowl until the oil and juice coat all of the veggies. Refrigerate until ready to use.