According to Danny Trejo, Fried Chicken Belongs in Your Quesadilla

Everything we learned from the actor and restauranteur.

August 12, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

You might know him from movies like Machete and Bad Ass, but these days, you’re just as likely to find Danny Trejo in the kitchen of one of his LA restaurants as on a movie set. In fact, it was at one of these restaurants—Trejo’s Tacos in Santa Monica, California, to be precise—that the actor, cookbook author, and restaurateur walked listeners through his method for making Pollo Frito Quesadillas on the latest episode of Food52’s podcast, Play Me a Recipe. Described by Trejo as “mouthwatering,” these quesadillas aren’t your average after-school snack—they come stuffed with super-crispy fried chicken, slaw made from green cabbage and chipotle crema, fresh chiles, and cheese.

Here's what we learned cooking with Danny Trejo:

  1. First and foremost: Fried chicken belongs just as much in a quesadilla as it does on a waffle with maple syrup. “This fried chicken is delicious on its own, but when we pair it with salsa and load it into a quesadilla, it’s a whole other level of delicious,” says Trejo.

  2. Salting your chicken 30 minutes prior to dredging and frying creates a light curing effect, “[making] the meat even more flavorful.” This technique, similar to a dry-brine, also ensures a moist, juicy final product. (But, in a pinch, any leftover fried chicken will work just as well—just make sure it’s roughly chopped prior to assembly.)

  3. If you like spicy chicken, introduce multiple sources of heat. To provide “a little bit of kick” in this recipe, Trejo seasons the fried chicken dredge with cayenne pepper, plus garlic and onion powders, dried oregano, and sweet paprika. Then, he loads the quesadilla with spicy, chipotle crema and thinly-sliced serrano chiles.

  4. As for building the quesadilla, Trejo emphasizes the importance of making sure each component is “evenly spread” to ensure a balanced mix of fried chicken, cabbage slaw, chiles, and cheese in each bite.

To hear more from Danny Trejo, check out the latest episode of our podcast, Play Me a Recipe. Or, you can find the full recipe for Trejo’s Tacos’ Pollo Frito Quesadilla below.

What's your favorite unexpected quesadilla filling? Let us know in the comments!
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Anabelle Doliner

Written by: Anabelle Doliner

Staff Editor

1 Comment

judy August 14, 2022
Love quesadillas. They are a blank canvas for lots of options. Good cheese, with roasted veggies or salsa, or chicken as in this article, or beef in any form. I live in an Assisted Living. Our chef makes a version with cheese, grilled shrimp and marmalade. I was very skeptical. But it is delicious! Served with lime, avocado and cilantro. So many options for this easy meal. clean out the fridge type ones as well. I also like to use Corn tortillas for mine. Thanks for the article.