Monday, May 05, 2008

pollo papantla: creamsicle chicken?

Upon reading this article in last week's NY Times Dining & Wine section, I knew I had to try this recipe. And what better time to try a recipe from Veracruz than on Cinco de Mayo? (Okay, it was actually Quatro de Mayo, but that meant I could post about it on the actual Cinco de Mayo.) Anyway, this recipe from famed NY restaurateur Zarela Martinez features chicken legs in a sauce containing orange juice and vanilla. Huh? Like a creamsicle? Vanilla in a savory setting seems to be fashionable right now, I've heard of poaching lobsters in vanilla butter, or making a vanilla sabayon for a meat dish. But I've never actually tried it, and it still seemed incongruous in my head.

The method was essentially the same as your typical fricasee, searing the legs, then throwing in the sauce and setting on a low simmer until reduced and tender. The result was a gorgeous shiny glaze, peppered with the vanilla beans. It was certainly a sweet sauce, but not cloyingly so. The touch of acidity from the vinegar plus the heat from the cayenne pepper offered just the right balance. This was an exceedingly simple dish with surprising flavors, definitely a winner. I added a fair amount of cayenne pepper since we like spicy food, but I wish the article had talked about the actual peppers used in Veracruz. One of these days I'd like to make this dish the way it is actually done in Mexico. Recipe after the jump:

From The New York Times April 30, 2008

6 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, Japanese rice vinegar, or other mild-flavored vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1 vanilla bean, split
A few sprigs of cilantro, for garnish
Cooked rice or tortillas for serving (optional).

1. Season chicken with the salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces skin side down, and brown until golden on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

2. When chicken is browned, pour off any excess fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Sprinkle cayenne and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper over chicken, turning pieces to coat evenly. Taste a pinch of the skin, and add more cayenne if additional heat is desired. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add vinegar, butter and orange juice. Scrape in pulp of vanilla bean and add bean. Stir liquid to blend.

3. Cook chicken skin side up, uncovered, basting occasionally with sauce, until sauce is reduced to a syrupy glaze, 20 to 25 minutes. If interior of chicken needs further cooking (it should be 170 degrees when tested in center with an instant-read thermometer), cover and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or as needed. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot, with rice or tortillas, if desired.

Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

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