The wind was howling and soft snowflakes were swirling from the sky when I arrived at the Jersey Shore last night to cook dinner at a friend's new beach house. They'd just purchased the place, so understandably they hadn't used the stove before, nor knew how the oven worked. The kitchen utensils, left in the mad dash by the previous owners were somewhat limited but after a small search we found a large skillet, and with another shallow pan, made a makeshift 'lid'. Paper plates acted as a cutting board, and without a can opener, we pried open the tomato paste with a pair of industrial pliars. Luckily I'd bought most of the ingredients with me from New York, as a quick whip around in the car last minute, would only glean us a can of watery peas and a dusty box of 'boiled rice in a bag'. Unfortunately the major supermarket is still closed there, shuttered sadly since Hurricane Sandy.
I decided to cook everyone Ecuadorian Chicken Stew, inspired from the recipe from Jose Garces' cookbook, The Latin Road Home. Jose's stew is intensely flavored and an easy weeknight option. After browning the chicken pieces you literally pop all the diced-up ingredients in the pan, and let it simmer for 40 minutes. The strength of the dish comes from the combination of Achiote Paste + Smoked Paprika, which gives a deep, slightly-smokey flavor that's not at all spicy, so it's ideal for a possibly-fickle crowd. As one guest said "It's so comforting, almost like an Latin Chicken Cacciatore."
ECUADORIAN CHICKEN STEW Adapted from Chef Jose Garces recipe for Chicken and Rice Soup with Achiote (Aguado de Gallina) from his wonderful book "The Latin Road Home".
Season 3lb's of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs. Heat Vegetable Oil in a heavy cast iron skillet or Dutch Oven (that has a lid) and gently brown chicken till golden. Set aside. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add 1 chopped Spanish (Red) Onion, 5 or 6 minced cloves of Garlic and 1 diced Red Bell Pepper. Cook, stirring, until translucent. Add 1 tablespoon of ground Cumin, and 2 big heaped tablespoons of Achiote Paste and 2 big heaped tablespoons of Tomato Paste and 1 teaspoon of Smoked Spanish Paprika and cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes. Return chicken to the pan, and add 1 quart of Chicken Stock (or more if you like a soupier stew) and 2 fresh bay leaves and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Stir in 3 diced Plum tomatoes, 1 cup of Long-grain Rice, 3 large Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into a small dice and 1 large Carrot, also peeled and cut into a small dice. Cook, uncovered until the stock begins to reduce and the dish begins to thicken. Then add the lid back on, and cook until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone and the rice and potatoes are cooked through. (About 30-40 minutes). Stir in 1 cup of frozen peas, a small handful of roughly chopped Flat-leaf Parsley, a small handful of fresh Cilantro and season to taste with Salt and Pepper.
Achiote Paste (Recado rojo) is crucial to this dish. Achiote is a Mexican spice blend of Annatto seeds, All spice, Garlic, Oregano, Cloves, Cumin, Cinnamon and Salt, and will give the dish flavor, as well as a rich mahogany hue. It's available at any Mexican grocery store. In New York I found it at Kalustyan's. Click here to get directions and store opening times.
To make your own Achiote Paste, click here.
Because the dish has peas, potatoes and carrot already in it, we saved time and money by skipping side dishes and just served our chicken stew with plain boiled rice. You could also serve it with grains, or even pasta. We drank a nice Spanish Grenache with it, and as you would expect, the stew tasted even better heated up the next day.
Photograph ©Jason Varney from Jose Garces cookbook "The Latin Road Home" To purchase this book, which contains the original version of this recipe as well as other great weeknight options, click here.