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Monday, April 02, 2007

Pollo en Pepitoria

Another Spanish Specialty

Almost every meal I make happens spontaneously, kind of like a car accident but usually a lot harder to clean up after. I rarely say to myself, “I think I’ll make chicken cacciatore tonight,” and then go out and make it happen. I usually start out by thinking to myself, “I can probably get enough nutrients from the beer I drink and the free peanuts that come with it and skip cooking,” before I devolve into whatever meal planning I eventually stumble into at some point in the evening. This could mean some dried figs and a glass of milk or a full-blown cooking orgy—depending on a host of variable factors that even I don’t fully understand.

This meal began with a cup of coffee. I went to my usual hangout for a cup of café Americano. I like to sit outside and read their copies of the fine Spanish magazine called Magazine. I read this week’s edition from cover to cover, finished my coffee, and headed home. I stopped short after a few steps after remembering that my favorite butcher shop, located right next door to the café, is open on Saturday evenings. I needed something for Sunday’s meal. I did an about-face and walked into the shop.

My butcher was taking care of a woman customer who was buying a truly prodigious amount of meat—my kind of gal. My butcher loves to talk and he was going a-mile-a-minute when I walked in and closed the door behind me. The woman was from Ecuador and he told her that his wife was from Colombia. They went back and forth over her meat order as he talked about his visit to Colombia and what shitty drivers they are there and how the cocaine dealers run the country and how the food is really good but they don’t have very good pork there like in Spain.. I don’t think that he even came up for air as he kept up an admirable stream-of-consciousness monologue about meat and poultry, the political situation in Colombia, all the while pumping her full of questions about her native land.

She ordered a half of a gallina and I told him that I’d like the other half in an effort to spare him the trouble of putting away the other half, but he was too involved in the story he was telling to pay me any mind. The woman looked at me sympathetically because it was obvious that he wasn’t listening. He was telling her about the time he was in her country. He said that he was in some city named after a saint but he couldn’t remember which saint. He began to rattle off a list of names in an effort to jog his memory of the patron of the Ecuadorian city he had visited, “Antonio? Juan? Jose? Jaime? Cristobal? No, era Cristobal.” She looked at me and I at her. I think we both realized that this guy was slightly nuts. I gave her a frightened face and she almost cracked up laughing.

I always welcome the wait when I am in his shop and I will often let someone go ahead of me so that I have more time to decide. I also learn from the way other people order. The Ecuadorian woman finished her order and I was ready. I got some dried sausages and the other half of the monster chicken that she had ordered in front of me. I’d worry about what I would make with it later.

That’s usually the way it works here. You buy whatever looks good that day in the market and figure out how to cook it when you get home. Today I had a gallina, or hen, or chicken on steroids. I wasn’t really sure what it was but it looked good and my butcher assured me that it was great in stews and soups. I trusted him as I always do.

When I got home I came across a recipe for Pollo en Pepitoria at www.notesfrompain.com. I couldn’t very well copy their recipe verbatim without feeling like a plagiarist so I looked up about ten variations of this traditional Catalan dish and morphed them all into the one I eventually used.

To accompany this dish I made lentils which are a staple of my diet. I pre-soaked the lentils earlier in the day in cold water. I diced an onion, some garlic, green pepper, and some long red pepper thing in olive oil. After cooking them for a few minutes I added the lentils along with some chicken stock. I seasoned the dish with salt, pepper, cumin, and a bit of oregano. They were ready in a few minutes and turned out very well. I can cook beans in my sleep as I’ve done it for so long.

I also wanted rice to go with this dish and I bought some sort of brown variety at the local market. I have pretty much lived on rice for most of my life but I have never, not once, cooked it myself. I have made risotto and other types of dishes that require rice, but I have never just cooked a pot of plain rice. I have relied on a rice cooker as does every self-respecting Asian. I have had nothing but perfect rice ever since my family bought its first rice cooker when we lived in Hawaii when I was 15. Now I was forced to cook rice without a rice cooker. I’d rather walk a tightrope without a net.

I actually had to Google how to cook rice. I was fairly overwhelmed by all of the variations and after reading through about ten recipes I became extremely intimidated. “It’s fucking rice,” I thought to myself, “How hard can it be?” I’m so used to dumping rice into a rice cooker, adding double the amount of water, pressing a button, and having perfect rice a few minutes later. Note to self: find a fucking rice cooker here in Spain.

The rice turned out OK. I’ve definitely had better—like every other time that I have made rice using a rice cooker. It wasn’t anything a lot of butter couldn’t fix. Now all that I had to do was to make the main dish.

Pollo en Pepitoria

Chicken cut into pieces
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Olive oil
12 toasted almonds (ground)
2 hard boiled eggs
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
3 Bay leaves
Salt + Pepper
Saffron pinch

Wash the chicken pieces, allow to dry, season with salt and pepper, and then cover with flour. Heat about ¼ cup of olive oil in a deep skillet and when it begins to smoke, brown the chicken pieces a few at a time. Remove the chicken when browned. Pour off some of the oil and sauté the onion, and garlic in the same pan. Add white wine, stock, bay leaves, and saffron. When the pan comes to a boil, add the chicken pieces. Allow this to simmer at low temperature until the chicken is tender. Crumple the hard-boiled egg yokes into the pan along with the ground almonds and saffron. Just before serving add the chopped hard-boiled egg whites to the pan.

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