This 5-ingredient chicken dish has become my go-to on weeknights — and most weekends, too

Happenstance resulted in an amazing variation on the beloved Cuban staple, vaca frita

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published June 3, 2024 11:37AM (EDT)

Cilantro lime shredded chicken meat (Getty Images/Cavan Images)
Cilantro lime shredded chicken meat (Getty Images/Cavan Images)

When I was in high school and college, the bulk of my friends' birthday and celebration dinners were practically all held at a local Cuban hotspot.

It was also immensely packed and egregiously loud, with sangria pitchers overflowing at every table. The dining room itself was quite dark, but the outside of the restaurant (and the outdoor patio area) was chock full of enormous plants and trees which added a fun, bright aesthetic to the bustling downtown area.

Truthfully, though? I never loved the food — until I discovered ropa vieja and vaca frita. From then on, I looked forward to any time I could get my hands on Cuban food so I could order one of those two dishes, usually opting for vaca frita with its superb crispness, the bright acidity of the lime, the frizzled edges of the onions, and the unique mouthfeel of the meat itself.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and while I haven't been back in quite a while (and I no longer eat beef), I inadvertently happened to discover that arguably my most frequent meal is actually sort of a remarkably similar amalgamation or iteration of the vaca frita that I used to eat voraciously in my earlier days. 

For a good five years or so now, I've been making a very standard dish of poached-and-shredded chicken which I then crisp up in oil. For the longest time, I'd serve it over lettuce or over rice and call it a day. It takes some time, actually, to get the chicken crisped up just right, but the whole process is so simple and calls for so few ingredients.

Sometime in the past few years, though, I opted to add a sliced onion, a sliced shallot and some garlic to the dish. As I have been removing most gluten and sugar from my diet lately, I found that this crispy-chicken-with-onion-and-garlic has been a meal I eat maybe three or four times a week — and I literally never even remotely tire of it.

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A month or two ago, I decided to spritz some lime juice on my bowl, and it was only then that I realized . . . wait a minute, this is practically vaca frita, but with chicken instead of beef! And since then, I have now been eating it even more, if that's possible (I literally had it last night, ha!)

Another bonus is that it's devoid of gluten, dairy and sugar, and it only calls for a base five ingredients, not counting any additional spices or seasonings you might add (this brings to mind Claire Robinson's excellent show and cookbook "Five Ingredient Fix," but I'll sing her praises another day).

I love this dish — obviously. Be patient with the cooking process the first few times and you'll be thrilled with the results. I usually eat it plain, but it's great over rice, in salads, in tacos, alongside tostones or platanos, atop an arepa, or however else you might want to enjoy it.

I'm notorious about finishing this all in one sitting, but perhaps you'll actually wind up with leftovers. Unlike me. 

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Poached-and-shredded-and-crisped chicken with onions, salt and lime
2 to 3 servings
Prep Time
05 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes


1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Stock, broth, bouillon, water - whichever you'd like - enough to cover the chicken

Kosher salt

2 to 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed

1 to 2 onions, peeled and sliced

1 to 2 shallots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 limes, juiced

Seasonings or spices, if you wish (I sometimes add garlic powder, onion powder, and/or Adobo) 

Finely chopped fresh herbs, like mint, cilantro, or parsley, if you wish (I don't use any herbs in mine, but it could def. add a bright burst of color and flavor)


  1. In a pot large enough to contain the chicken and enough liquid to cover, add chicken and your choice of cooking liquid (or water plus bouillon, if you so choose). Place over medium heat.
  2. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the chicken should be cooked. If it's slightly under, no biggy, since you'll be crisping it up and cooking it further anyway.
  3. Transfer chicken to a plate or cutting board, and using two forks, shred the chicken thoroughly. Let cool slightly. 
  4. In a skillet or grill pan, heat oil. Add chicken and alliums, salt or season well, and let sit for at least 5 minutes before disturbing or stirring.
  5. With tongs or a "flipper," bring the chicken that had been crisped in oil to the top, letting any un-crisped chicken get better direct contact with the pan.
  6. Repeat the above step, multiple times, until the onions and shallot are frizzled and the chicken is crispy and darkened. When you're almost done, add garlic and toss again.
  7. Once you've reached your desired level of crispiness, transfer to a bowl, garnish with lime juice and more salt and serve immediately. 

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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