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Seco de Pollo con Cerveza

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    Posted: 24 March 2011 at 12:40
Seco de Pollo con Cerveza
Ecuadorian Chicken Braised in Beer

Ecuador is a small, South American country located on the western side of the continent, straddling the equator, hence the name. It has 3 distinct regions: the coastal lowlands, perfectly suited for crop farming, livestock and fishing; the central portion, which blankets the Andean mountain chain running through it north to south; and the Amazon basin on the eastern side, which is tropical jungle. The country was an integral part of the Inca Empire, and the majority of its rural people today are pure descendants from them. In smaller numbers are those resulting from intermarriage of the Spanish and the Inca.
 
Ecuadorian food is largely based on the Andean diet, except that it has a large tradition of seafood inclusion as well. It has a unique and helpful way of identifying its traditional dishes that are not grilled or fried; they are prefaced by the word “seco” which literally means “dry”, or “aguado” which means “liquidy.” Thus, the diner is immediately aware of what type of dish is which. A seco corresponds to our braised dishes (served on a plate), and an aguado will range from a stew to a soup, served in a bowl. This nomenclature is very convenient! Restaurant menus are often divided into seco and aguado sections.

Another trait of Ecuadorian food is that it is definitely not hot, in the spicy sense. Ecuadorians put "heat" on their food by the use of salsa de aji, which is another ingenious culinary trait that Ecuadorians have. Their food is rich, tasty, deep and delicious. The far ends of the flavor spectrum are saved for the sauces. Maybe it is because the Ecuadorian Andean Inca was the slower, hayseed northern cousin of the more sophisticated Inca farther south in what are now the Peruvian Andes - who knows? I do believe it is only a matter of time before a massive Incan archeological site will be discovered in the uncharted Ecuadorian Andes, rivalling those in Peru. Ecuador has some of the most inhospital and unexplored lands left on this planet, both in the Andes and in its eastern Amazonian basin.

This dish, Seco de Pollo con Cerveza, dates back well before the Spanish Conquista; the Inca were making this dish with turkey or other fowl and chicha, a brew made from corn in the same way beer is made today. There are two kinds of chicha, a light one made from yellow corn, and a dark one made from blue and red corn. Chicha brewing equipment has been found in Incan archeological sites dating back to 950 BC. Once the Spaniards appeared, they introduced chicken, grains (and the beer made from them), as well as spices; consequently, this recipe evolved to include these new ingredients.

This particular recipe easily dates back to the mid 1600’s, making it fairly “modern;” however, that term is relative, as this recipe is still roughly 350 years old. It is a wonderful recipe; the (and I know this is becoming an over-used word here, but it is true) "depth" of flavor is an eye-opener. Of course, it's all due to the wonderful combination of flavours and spices working together, but who would have thought that this magic would happen? There is also an incredible softness of flavor overall - the ingredients all go hand-in-hand, happily and in low-key, dancing on the palate - a very sophisticated dish. It's also very hearty; it's all meat, all good and all fresh - besides, what red-blooded man doesn't want to eat the same food our ancestors did, back in the days of wooden ships and iron men? This stuff is some serious eating. 
 
Here are the ingredients:
 
About 4 pounds chicken (either whole and cut up or pieces)
16 ounces (2 cups) lager or pilsner beer
2 large red onions
2 bell peppers
1 Poblano pepper
1/2 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
5 or 6 garlic cloves
2 small, mild chile peppers (this recipe is not hot; the chiles are there to add a bit of depth)
2 diced tomatoes, or drained equivalent from a can
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon achiote powder
Salt to taste
About 1/4 cup oil (vegetable or peanut)
Lime wedges, for serving and garnish

In order to make this, I used about 4 pounds of chicken thighs, rather than a whole chicken cut up. They all cook at the same rate (which is really convenient, plus we like chicken dark meat as it tends to have more flavor in braised dishes.

For the mise en place, I pureed (in the food processor) 1 bunch cilantro, 1/4 bunch parsley, 1 red onion, 1 bell pepper, the 2 chile peppers and the tomatoes. I then de-seeded and sliced the other bell pepper, the Poblano pepper, chopped the garlic and diced the onion. The pureed ingredients smelled deliciously fresh and green; they also will function to make up the thickness and body of the dish. Next, I measured my spices, Achiote powder is listed in the ingredients list and should be easily found, but we had some achiote seasoning packets with a bit of cilantro powder mixed in, so I used one of them.
 
Prep work finished, I started off by browning the chicken over medium-high heat, just until the skin is golden, crispy and crackley. To do this, I used canola oil, but peanut oil would be just fine too. Both are high-heat oils, and will only smoke at very hight temps.
 
Interestingly, I learned in my research that peanuts are native to the Andes. Yep, the peanut, that good ol' American goober, originated in the Andean hillsides and was "discovered" by the Spanish when they arrived there. The Inca had been using the peanut (and making peanut butter, by the way) back around 1000 BC. The Spanish took the tuber to the West African coast during the 16th Century slave trade, where it flourished and quickly became a staple crop. The Portuguese took it from there during the the 17th Century trading routes to the American colonies in trade for rum, where it too flourished as a staple in our South. Fascinating food history.
 
Once the chicken was done, I got rid of all except about 2 tablespoons of the remaining fat and put the Dutch oven back onto the burner. I then added the diced onion to sautee; the juices it gave off helped deglaze all those darkened bits of tasty chicken stuck to the bottom. After about 8 or 10 minutes, I added the garlic and continued to sautee for a couple more.

Once the smaller bits of garlic were just starting to turn brown, I added the pureed veggies, the spices, the tomato paste and a can of beer (plus a good half mug of what I was drinking, since I needed 16 oz), and let that come just barely to a boil, stirring constantly. The scent coming from this was "oh-my-gawd-what-the-heck-is-going-on-in-the-kitchen" good! Wow. Something about that cumin dancing with the fresh cilantro and onion....whoo-wee!

Somewhere between a simmer and a boil, I nestled in the red and poblano peppers, then placed the chicken thighs over them. I then covered the Dutch oven and put it into the pre-heated 300F oven to braise for 2 hrs.

At the one hour point, there was definitely some serious cooking going on and the smell was really making us drool over here.
 
After two hours at 300F in the oven, covered, I brought out the iron vessel of happiness; the delicious golden, stewey chicken smelled wonderfully, richly meaty, saucy and frankly, darn good! It was need of a bit of de-fatting though, so I used my bread-slice method, laying two slices of potato bread on top of the liquid, then flipping them over as they soaked up nearly all the fat; in moments, the liquids were lean and mean. The resulting sauce was very nicely thick, much thicker than I thought it would come out to be, given all the moisture that bell peppers and onion give off; I cannot describe how rich the sauce was; I could almost stand a spoon straight up in it without worry. The beauty of this is that every bit of it was all vegetable and sauce without one bit of thickener at all. No flour, no cornstarch, no cornmeal - nothing but the ingredients themselves. That’s my kind of thick gravy - seco indeed!

Ecuadorians like to eat bread or tortillas of some kind with their meals. A nice rough rustic loaf of bread would be perfect for ripping into and dredging the gravy in. Typical Andean cooking would also include either rice, boiled potatoes with butter, or some kind of corn loaf. For a side dish, I had prepared a batch of Basmati rice with some onion, leek and carrots plus more of the Sazon Goya achiote. It turned out really nicely, and had a traditional tasty scent to it. I wish I could have remembered to add some bouillon cubes or chicken glace to the water prior to cooking the rice - that would have taken it all the way!

I set the chicken up on a platter and garnished with a bit of parsley and cilantro, along with lime wedges. The peppers held their shape very nicely, adding a lot to the aroma - and believe me, that aroma was driving me crazy with hunger at this point; the bits of goodness embedded in the sauce promised to provide magic morsels of happiness in every bite with the deep tang of the garlic, covered with the sweetness of cooked onion and fresh herbs, then blanketed with the smoothness of the beer and chicken and accented by the lime highlights. It was enough to drive a man mad; if not, or, at least, certainly enough to get his carnivorous fangs hanging out!

On the plate, I added some salsa de aji to my dish; Mrs Rivet opted to skip that particular spicy heat. Mixed in with the cooked food, the salsa tempered down, yet added a very nice kick to the overall flavor. The fresh onion in the salsa shot a tasty clarity of brightness into each bite. If you'd like to try this ancient and traditional Ecuadorian sauce, here's the recipe:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/ecuadorian-salsa-de-aji_topic1189.html

We both loved this dish, unique in its own way, and very easy to make; This was certainly a very nice excursion into historical eating - and I know you will love too, it if you give it a try.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 March 2011 at 13:16
OK...you know how it is when you just read a recipe and it knocks your socks off?
 
WOW! Right out of the ballpark with this one John!
 
I am dying to try this one - chicken thighs are on sale this week too...I'm thinking my kitchen is going to smell really good this weekend.

Question on your achiote powder John...it's seems very light in color compared to most that I have seen...is this due strictly to the brand name you're using, or am I confusing ingredients?

Ok...nevermind...think I answered my own question...it's not pure achiote powder, thus the color is lightened up a bit.

How do you think this would translate to the crockpot?

Great Job! Rivet...this is a post I'll come back to time and time again. Clap
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 March 2011 at 14:05
>>>You know how it is when you just read a recipe and it knocks your socks off?<<<
 
bingo - this is one of those times! looking forward to trying this!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MomInAnApron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 March 2011 at 20:12
Oh wow, wow, WOW. You had me at the pureed ingredients! I will be trying this one!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 March 2011 at 07:32
Originally posted by Hoser Hoser wrote:

OK...you know how it is when you just read a recipe and it knocks your socks off?
 
WOW! Right out of the ballpark with this one John!
 
I am dying to try this one - chicken thighs are on sale this week too...I'm thinking my kitchen is going to smell really good this weekend.

Question on your achiote powder John...it's seems very light in color compared to most that I have seen...is this due strictly to the brand name you're using, or am I confusing ingredients?

Ok...nevermind...think I answered my own question...it's not pure achiote powder, thus the color is lightened up a bit.

How do you think this would translate to the crockpot?

Great Job! Rivet...this is a post I'll come back to time and time again. Clap
 
Yes, I think you are right on this one, it is one of those recipes that are easily repeatable and so tasty you can hardly not make them again!
 
Also, yes you got the achiote question right, pure achiote is much redder.
 
I think this would be perfect in a crockpot. With that you have two options, brown the chicken separately, then put everything in the crock and cook, or just skip the browning step, put everything in the crockpot and cook. Be aware that using that method the skin will be rubbery, but you can just remove the skin from the chicken before putting it in and solve that problem right away.
 
You are going to love this one!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 March 2011 at 10:46
I'm planning on browning it really well and then transferring to the slow cooker John...check back Sunday night to see how it came out.
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kiwi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 March 2011 at 01:30
Outstanding - I gave this a try today and wow, you weren't lying about the kitchen smelling amazing.
 
I followed your recipe almost word for word, but I subbed in the Cooks Thesaurus suggestion of 50-50 tumeric and paprika for Achiote, which we don't see much of in this part of the world, and I threw a couple of lime wedges into the mix while it was cooking.
 
I don't have a Dutch oven (I very rarely cook in this style), so I used my frypan and then transfered to the crock pot.
 
Results were awesome. I cooked my rice with stock, spices, salt, carrots, red onion, spring onions and finely diced celery.

I also served with some fresh garden salsa and a crisp Sav Blanc.

Bloody marvelous. Well done Rivet.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 March 2011 at 08:29
Hey glad you enjoyed it Richard! As you can tell, it can be made in almost any utensil big enough to hold the ingredients. I just used a dutch oven because it was convenient for me. Really thought your idea of putting lime wedges in it was fantastic, and I bet it added a real nice taste ot the dish.   Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 March 2011 at 16:55
Outstanding recipe John...can't thank you enough for posting it...I made this tonight and both Mrs Hoser and I raved over it.

Here it is:


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 March 2011 at 09:46
holy smokes you guys, i missed the results on this one. everything sounds great and richard, your spin on it also sounds very delicious. great job all around! and wonderful picture, dave!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 September 2012 at 11:16
Hoser,
 
This look quite interesting. We had this dish as an appetiser in Lima, Peru years ago.
 
Marge.  
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 September 2012 at 09:25
I'm thinking of trying this with a montana-brewed beer. I'll have to take care with the peppers as the beautiful Mrs. Tas cannot do the hot ones. I am thinking a red bell pepper and either a Poblano or Anaheim, whichever proves to be the least "hot." I have access to Guajillo and New Mexico chiles, but they are dried, and I don't think they will work.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 September 2012 at 03:57
Tas,
 
I am anxious to prepare this Peruvian dish too ... I would definitely use Red Bell Pepper, and it does make such a gorgeous garnish to adorn too.
 
I am going to see if I can get my hands on some Peruvian Beer, from the Latin Markets ... Or perhaps a Dos Equis Amber from Mexico ...
 
I am thinking to prepare this Peruvian / Ecatorian  dish for the October 12th long wkend we have here on the Iberian Peninsula.
 
I would prefer to use the Fallera & Saffron hinted La Bomba Rice as a side.
 
This could be quite lovely for the ocassion if we decide to stay in Madrid Capital verses drive down to La Cazorla, Jaén, Olive Country for the long wkend 3 days 2 nites. We are tossing getting out of city ... La Cazorla is a wonderful Govt Protected National Park, and the town is typically Andalusian chockful of fab Taverns and Tiny traditional restaurants with Jaén local dishes and castles, towers and the stunner park.
 
Let´s check the budget and see if we can find a deal ...  
 
Marge.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 September 2012 at 07:56
Once the Spaniards appeared, and introduced chicken, grains (and the beer made from them), as well as spices, this recipe evolved to include these new ingredients....
 
This is something not discussed enough. We all know, and talk about, the New World ingredients that became part of European cuisines. But we sometimes forget that this cross-fertilization of ingredients was a two-way street, and many Old World ingredients were incorporated into native cooking as well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 September 2012 at 08:58
agreed, brook. john, who originally opened this topic, was extremely fortunate in that he had lived in both spain and in south america when he was younger. as such, he was able to see the two-way exchange of ingredients and cooking methods.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 March 2018 at 15:25
Ron,

Quite some time ago, I had made this dish when I was living next door to a dear friend from Paraguay and had invited her and her boyfriend for lunch ..

It is a truly lovely lunch dish .. Of course, being based in Spain now for 25 years, I had used some substitutes and one of them was, just boneless skinless chicken breasts which were marinated for optimum flavor.  I also used different chili peppers.  Basque Esplette and 1 dried crumbled guindailla shaped like an Italian horn, or what I would call Dried Cayenne ..  And an 1/ 8 tsp of Pimenton and  a 10 saffron threads for the Arborio Valencian rice ..

I prepared the dish in a paellera .. 

It turned out really well and Lily and her boyfriend were incredibly amazed ..

All my best and good luck with it .. It is not a difficult dish to prepare ..  

Have a lovely weekend ..    
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