28 April 2014


Ok, for those of you who aren't familiar with Cancun's in Bellevue (Nashville, TN), let me explain. It is rice, chicken, and queso. I first learned of this specialty dish in early high school. My brother once went thirty-something days in a row eating it at least once a day, building a beautiful friendship with his requested server, Jová. I'm pretty sure he had it shipped on dry ice down to FL when he lived there too. My husband was more of a Matzatlan kinda guy in our high school days but ordered the same thing. You can get a half or full order but always over rice, not chips. That's because your chip is your utensil- an edible spoon of sorts to scoop the appropriate bite after mixing to evenly distribute the ingredients proportionately to each other. Hubs likes to immediately pour the salsa before mixing. I prefer to dip the chip into salsa or more queso before scooping the bite.

To the distain of our informed fellow Jim Nachos connoisseurs probably, Hubs and I found a version in Fayetteville, NC at El Cazador on Skibo that is decidedly better. The chicken is plumper and the queso more generous. It is called ACP Nachos there, and we couldn't really taste the magic so much in Nashville after this unintentional find.

Anyways, the dish is one we have had no luck ordering elsewhere. My bro asked just a week or so ago if I had tried to imitate it and honestly, it hasn't really crossed my mind. Not because I haven't thought of the food, but simply because I thought it couldn't be done.

Now, I knew Pinterest was magnificent resource for all things DIY and/or inspirational. I just never thought it would behold such a specific personal request. Finding it was an utter accident- I literally stopped scrolling because the picture just looked so darn similar. However, it was termed chicken fundido, so I was skeptical to say the least. 

Anyways, when I mentioned my brother's nudge and the possible discovery to Hubs about trying to replicate one of his favorite treats, I figured he would shrug it off because any attempt would fall short of the real deal. Why set us up for disappointment? Instead, with raised eyebrows he inquired, "do you think you could make it like ACPs?"

Challenge accepted. Although, I continued to chat up the risks of possible failure to him as to not get his hopes up or his expectations high. I had a plan B for dinner if we had to admit defeat. 

But, alas, we did not.

Here's what I did.

I printed this recipe for chicken fundido that I retrieved from Pinterest as a loose guide.

1 box Mexican Rice 
1/2 white onion
1 pack of unfrozen chicken breast tenders
Chili Salt (see directions below to make)
1 12 oz package of El Viajero Mexican Dipping Cheese
1 4 oz can of chopped or diced green chilies
Chips and salsa

Step One: Make the Rice Per Box Instructions
I was lazy on the rice. The recipe above didn't call for it, so I just found the easiest Mexican rice in a box. This is the brand we always use, so I knew it would be edible even if it had little similarity to the restaurant style. I was more concerned about the chicken and cheese anyways. If I could make queso anywhere close to what we knew and loved, I could tweak the rice situation to match. It was definitely more moist, but the flavor was muy comparable. Approved.

Step Two: Chicken and Chili Salt
I just bought a normal pack of unfrozen chicken breast tenders, rinsed and sliced. The first key component the recipe offered was the seasoning sprinkled over while sizzling. She called it chili salt. This is great to make beforehand or also a wonderful task for the Hubs while you are doing other prep work. I only used about half or less of what was made, and the reminder is now stored in our pantry in an airtight container.

Chili Salt (makes 1/2 cup): 
1/4 c sea salt
1/4 cup pure chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of ground oregano

The recipe called for onion, which is not in the original dish, but we went for it anyways.
Sautée half a white onion (thickly diced) in a lightly greased skillet. I used a small drizzle of olive oil (tsp?) over medium heat and cooked until onions turned brown on some edges.
Move the onion to a small bowl when done and set aside. I then added about a tsp of olive oil in the same pan. 

Next, put in your pollo and pour a generous amount of chili salt over the top. When the chicken cooks down, the juices and oil allow the chili salt to coat the chicken as you turn each piece to cook on both sides.

Step Three: Queso
I found the brand of Mexican dipping cheese pictured below, as the blog recipe foretold, at our local Walmart. This was a major score because I oftentimes find specialty items don't ship to our lower arctic stores. The only variation is in that she suggested the jalapeño flavor, while we found only original. I cubed it, melted with milk per package directions (we used about 6-8 ounces), stirring almost constantly. Once melted, we added one 4oz can chopped green chiles, drained-- the perfect subtle kick and solution to the little something missing. Spot on. One vital element to this step is a sweet, stirring husband so you can supervise the rice and give attention to the chicken. You want the queso to finish at the end of all other cook times because it cools quickly and creates a firm film on top as it does. There's nothing wrong with that- totally still edible- I just like it best smooth and steaming.
The blog also referenced two other brands that may be worth a try if you cannot find the exact one: Ole Original Queso Dip and El Viajero White Mexican Dip.

Step Four: Make your plate and Enjoy!
Layer rice, chicken, cheese. 

Serve with chips and salsa. We tried to get as close as we could to restaurant style. These proved to be quite the adequate at-home options.

There you have it! Leftovers? No mas.

At first I thought Hubs was trying not to express his disappointment because he made neither eye contact nor sound (other than chewing), but when I asked what I could do differently next time to make it more authentic he mumbled with his mouth full, "nothing. This is it!" I'll probably just slice the chicken a little thinner next time. Hubs said he loved me more than he did before. Success! I had made the most legit representation of this mouth-watering Mexican meal possible. I was one proud señorita. 

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