Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cuban Flavors- Fricase de Pollo

My cooking around the world continues. This time I am exploring some Latin flavors, but nothing like the Americanized "Mexican" food so many of us are familiar with. Instead, I've been reading up on Cuban flavors, traditional recipes, getting ideas. Since we live in the country and closest grocery store is quite small, our choices for meats is a little limited, so I tried to stay with ideas that used either chicken or beef. 

Fricase is a long lost cousin of classic French cooking. In the late 18th century a flood of French immigrants landed in Cuba and brought their cooking styles with them. While the classic French "fricassee" might have a white sauce and light herb flavors, the Cuban fricase is a flavor knockout with a Spanish influence in the tangy olives and capers, peppers and onions, with a hint of sweetness from raisins and citrus.

Since the weather outside isn't exactly picnic weather, a nice stew-like dish would hit the spot perfectly, so a version of the traditional fricase de pollo sounds like the right way to go. I found loads of different versions. Some with peas, some without. Some with half a pantry of spices. Some were creamy, others were more tomato based. Deciding on the best way to make it work for me was easy- leave out what I don't have or don't like (like the raisins- doesn't sound even remotely good, so I won't be using raisins, or capers, but only because I am out and don't want to drive to the city to get another jar) and braise the chicken and vegetables.

So let's make some Fricase de Pollo. 
(adapted from about 15 different versions)

1 package chicken pieces
1/2 cup orange juice, unsweetened
olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper (I used half red and half green), sliced into julienne strips
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
big pinch oregano
big pinch cumin
2 tbs tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
handful green olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place the chicken pieces in a large zip-top plastic bag, pour orange juice over. I also zested some of the orange to get really good flavor going, but that is optional. Allow the chicken to marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. I used a package of chicken legs, but you can use whatever pieces you like. Boneless and skinless chicken has less flavor, so use whole pieces. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in deep heavy skillet. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until browned all over; remove to a plate. Do the chicken in batches so you don't crowd the pieces- they will steam instead of brown if too crowded, adding more oil if needed.

In same skillet add the onions and peppers. Cook and stir for a minute or two to soften slightly. Add the garlic and herbs; cook for a minute. Add the tomato paste and stir. Deglaze the pan with the stock. Add the wine and reserved marinade. Return the chicken to the pot, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes and olives. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes until vegetables are tender and chicken is done. I had a handful of baby purple potatoes to use up so those went in along with a couple small white potatoes.

This dish is really pretty. Lots of great color and texture and served over rice, is delicious. Make sure you have some bread on hand. The pan juices are so delicious with the spice, the orange, the olives- so savory and wonderful. Now I want to really get out the atlas, cookbooks and go for a cookbook tour of lots of Latin locations and cook all sorts of interesting new dishes!

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