I didn’t have a grandma who cooks. No. I have no beautiful stories of my grandmother cooking all day and serving sumptuous 4 or 5 courses meals. What I have are beautiful stories of her being practical, vividly reciting poetry and loving anything lacey. She was pretty modern, somewhat rebel for her time. With 8 years she had to stand up to her dad to go to a regular school and not learn with tutors. She moved to the city to study science and became a nurse. And then married at age 28. Pretty individualist for a woman who was born in 1920.
Nevertheless, I have in my mind memories of sharing with her some foods that she really used to enjoy, either bought food or a couple of recipes she had under her sleeve. We could sit in our dining table and, living in a tropical island where windows are always open, we could share them mid morning or mid afternoon while feeling the warm breeze of gardenias on our faces and everything being lit by the strong highlights of the sun. There she would ask me about my life and my dreams, and probably recite me a 6 verse poem that she would remember from school. I miss her everyday.
These days I want to recreate the recipes of the foods she taught me to love, cooked by her or not. One of those dishes is the traditional chicken fricassee, or pollo guisado as we call it in Puerto Rico. Is basically a chicken stew with very mellow flavors. And you pour it over white rice so it absorbs all the sauce of the stew.
To give it a modern spin I decided to experiment with Middle Eastern spices. Puerto Rican cuisine shares lots of flavoring and spices with Middle Eastern cuisine, such as oregano, garlic, cumin, anise, ginger and cloves. This recipe is a good start if you are experimenting with Middle Eastern flavors or don't want to have the typical strong earthy flavors of it. This is just a touch of Middle Eastern seasonings on a mellow chicken dish.
I also used recao, also known as long or spiny coriander. This is a pungent peppery and lemony herb and is used in many Puerto Rican dishes. You could find it in Latin or specialty food stores. I don’t recommend substituting it entirely with cilantro, I think a better way to substitute recao is with a mix of 2/3 cilantro and 1/3 basil to get a closer flavor.
The traditional dish also has potato cubes, which I exchanged for chickpeas in order to add more complex carbohydrates. And to keep with the theme I served it with couscous under lots of cilantro, but also had to make some white rice, which is the traditional way this dish is eaten, to keep everyone happy on the family!
Chicken Fricassee Middle Eastern Style
4 to 6 persons
Total time - 2 hours Active time - 30 minutes
Equipment – Cast iron pot or medium deep casserole
For the marinated chicken:
Organic chicken thighs – 6 pieces, 2 – 2 ½ lb
Fine sea salt – 1 ½ Tsp
Garlic, finely minced – 2 cloves
Paprika – 1 Tsp
Olive oil – ¼ cup
In a rectangular pan or large bowl season well the chicken with the salt, garlic and paprika. Pour over the olive oil and let it rest on the refrigerator for 45 minutes minimum, up to 1 day.
For the fricassee:
Olive oil – 3 TBSP
Yellow (or Spanish style) onion, finely cubed – ¾ cup, approximately 1 whole medium
Carrots, finely chopped – 1 ½ cups, approximately 1 medium
Fine sea salt, divided – ¼ Tsp + ¼ Tsp
Recao, finely chopped – 6 leaves, 3 TBSP
Bay leaves – 5
Dried oregano leaves – 2 TBSP
Gound cumin – 1 ½ TBSP
Ground cardamom – ¾ Tsp
Ground turmeric – 1 Tsp
Green spanish style olives, pitted – 1 cup
Canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed – 1 cup
Tomato paste – 2 TBSP
Tomato sauce Spanish style – 8 oz, 1 cup
Organic chicken stock – 2 cups
Clean filtered water – 2 cups
Raw sugar – 1/8 Tsp, approximately a pinch
Take out the chicken so it begins to loose the cold.
In the cast iron pan heat the olive oil at medium heat just a bit, 1 or 2 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and salt and sauté for 2 minutes (when sautéing in this early stage I like to move everything every 20 seconds or so in order to not let anything burn). Add the recao, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, cardamom and turmeric and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes more, until you see the onions a little bit transparent and the edges of the carrots are starting to caramelize.
Add the olives, the chickpeas and the tomato paste and sauté for 3 minutes more, stirring everything every couple of seconds. Pour ½ cup of the chicken stock for deglazing the pan, 1 or 2 minutes more. Push the ingredients to the border of the pan and place the chicken skin side down, letting it sizzle for 1 minute.
Pour the remaining chicken stock, the water, the remaining ¼ of salt or to taste and the pinch of sugar. Combine everything well, cover the pan and bring down to simmer. Cook for 1 ½ hour.
Bring the heat again to medium, uncover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes so the sauce thickens a little bit. Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
You can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.
For the couscous:
Chicken stock or water – 2 ½ cup
Couscous – 2 cups
Olive oil – 1 TBSP
Fine sea salt – ¼ Tsp or to taste
Cilantro – bunch of leaves to serve
In a medium sauce pan bring to a rapid boil the stock or water. Add the couscous, salt and oil. Mix everything, retire from heat and cover for 7 to 10 minutes. Fluff the couscous and serve with the bunch of cilantro.