Wednesday, December 12, 2007
There are a few dishes that my grandmother made for me when I was a kid that are so good, I have to make them immediately after I think about them. One of the dishes that she made that I now make is called pollo en pepitoria. It's basically a light chicken stew with some really simple ingredients used in really cool ways. Not to mention, it's a really great way to use up some random items in your fridge and pantry. A few potatoes, eggs, some nuts, even those wings you've had in the freezer forever will all go to good use in this dish.
This week, as the weather turned rainy and cold, I was reminded of the first time my grandmother made pollo en pepitoria. I was a teenager, just getting home from school on one of those blustery, is-it-rain-or-is-it-snow days. The walk home from the bus stop was brutal, not to mention slippery and damp. I usually ate a second lunch when I got home from school before doing my homework, so I was looking forward to something delicious and warming like mac and cheese. When I finally made it inside the house I was greeted by my grandparents, my dog, and a steaming hot bowl of this stew. It looked and tasted like nothing I'd ever eaten, most closely resembling a chicken soup, only with more body, a brighter color, and a few flavors that I couldn't pinpoint.
I didn't know at the time, but what gave the soup it's special flavor were ground almonds. Like several ingredients in this dish, the almonds are multi-taskers, serving to add both texture and a subtle sweetness to the broth. The canary yellow color of the broth comes from a surprising and natural source: egg yolks. Brilliant! Two hard boiled eggs are used a myriad ways, from grinding up the yolks and adding them to the broth as a thickening and coloring agent, to cutting up the whites and adding them in for texture and a nice cool topping. For years I assumed that my grandmother, a genius cook in her own right, had made up the recipe, but after consulting several cookbooks (and my mother) it turns out that it's actually a very old and popular dish in Spain.
We've always made it with wings in my family (mostly because they cook faster), but you can really use any cut of chicken on the bone, although I'd stay away from breast meat which imparts the least flavor and isn't as moist as other cuts. We've also always made it particularly soupy because that's how I like it, but if you want it to be more saucy, you can always add less water when cooking, so the sauce will be thicker and less abundant. Here's how to make it my way, but please, change it up as much as you'd like!
Pollo En Pepitoria
10 chicken drumettes (or equal quantity your favorite cut of bone-in chicken)
10 garlic cloves
1/2 cup almonds
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in large chunks
1 small onion, thinly sliced
6 cups chicken stock
2 hard boiled eggs
4 cups cold water
3 Tbsp white wine
1/8 tsp saffron (optional)
1. In a large bowl, mix chicken with 4 minced garlic cloves and plenty of salt and pepper. Marinate mixture in the fridge for 3 hours (it can be less if you're in a hurry, but it imparts a really nice flavor if it's 3 or more).
2. While the chicken marinates, hard boil 2 eggs and set them aside.
3. Heat olive oil on medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the chicken and brown on all sides (you may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pot). Remove chicken from pot and set aside. Add onion and 3 cloves minced garlic to pot and cook until onions are caramelized. You may have to add more olive oil if it looks dry.
4. While the onions cook, grind the almonds, yolks from the hard boiled eggs, saffron and remaining garlic in a mortar and pestle. Add the white wine so the mixture becomes a thick paste. Set aside.
5. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the stock and water, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Add the almond paste mixture and diced potatoes. If you use a thicker cut of chicken than the wings, wait until the chicken is 3/4 cooked to add the potatoes.
6. While the stew cooks, thinly slice the egg whites. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked through, add eggs whites, saving a few for garnish. Plate up and enjoy!