Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Singing Canaries and Beastly Dogs?

When I first found this recipe for "Pollo Con Migas y Limon (Chicken with Bread Bits and Lemon)," from Penelope Casas, a well respected authority of Spanish cuisine, I saw that it was a traditional recipe from the Canary Islands. This immediately grabbed my attention! After all, the original founders of San Antonio, Texas (one of my most beloved cities, for more see Remember the Alamo!) were transported from Spain's Canary Islands in 1731, to join the existing military/mission community and populate the province of Texas. At the time, low prices in the sugar market caused a severe recession to the islands' sugar-based economy. The decline was caused by successful sugar production in Spain's American territories. It sucks when a government ruins their own economy!

Anyway, although people correctly associate the Canary Islands with canary birds (which were originally brownish green when found on the islands and highly prized for their beautiful singing), the Canary Islands were actually named for their infestation of particularly large and vicious dogs, from the Latin word "canis" meaning dog. Dogs are even present on the Canary Islands Coat of Arms!
So, the islands were named after the beastly dogs, and the birds were named after the islands. Got it?

While this recipe calls for a larger bird, specifically chicken, the addition of ham, onions, and a little white wine makes a very fine dish indeed! Fried bread bits (known as migas and traditional in Spanish cuisine) are perfect to soak up the wonderful flavors of the sauce! Chopped parsley and a touch of lemon brightens the flavors and balances this savory dish! Although this isn't the most beautiful entree to grace your table, no one will care when they taste it! It makes a surprisingly wonderful meal that you will be proud to serve family and friends! I like to serve it with oven roasted potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a generous pinch of paprika! Yum! What to drink? A Spanish wine, of course!

Pollo Con Migas y Limon (Chicken with Bread Bits and Lemon)

Serves 4


1 cup bread without crusts, torn or cut roughly into 1/2" pieces
2 tablespoons plus 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1, 3-3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces (Chicken thighs also work well.)
Flour for dusting
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped Spanish mountain cured ham, prosciutto (which is what I used and was able to find already diced), or capicollo (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/2 lemon, in thin slices
Minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


Place the bread pieces on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 5 minutes. (It took about 10 minutes in my oven.)

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt, then dust them with flour. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a shallow casserole or large saute pan and brown the chicken on all sides. When the chicken pieces are nicely browned, set aside on a large plate. To the hot casserole or pan, add the onion and ham and saute until the onion has turned translucent. Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the wine and broth and scatter in the lemon slices. 

Bring to a boil, then transfer to a 350 degree oven and cook, uncovered, 45 minutes, adding more broth if necessary. (I added an additional 1/2 cup broth during the cooking time.) When ready to serve, sprinkle with the bread pieces and parsley.

Recipe adapted from iDelicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, by Penelope Casas.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mexican Pasta?

I am happy to report that I am feeling better, and was actually hungry for lunch! Because I've been under the weather, I really wanted to make myself something comforting and from my childhood, specifically, "Sopa de Fideos!" Sopa de Fideos is a type of "Sopa Seca," meaning dry soup, made with fideo pasta and very popular in Texas. Fideo is a type of Mexican pasta much like vermicelli, which can be substituted easily. In Mexico, this dish is typically served as a second course following a soup course, then a meat course, then concluded with dessert. However, this is a favorite lunch or snack for kids and adults alike.

This recipe reminds me of a passage I read from Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia, which writes, "Because so few cookbooks were published in Spain - John C. Super maintains that there were probably no more than eight cookbooks published in Spain in the first 350 years after the printing press was invented - the transmission of cooking knowledge from person to person was vitally important for the households, palaces, and ecclesiastical institutions of colonial Mexico. Diego Granado's cookbook, Libro del arte de cocina, published in 1614, was one of the first cookbooks used in Mexican kitchens. This book contained a large number of Italian-inspired recipes and thus Italian food influenced Mexican cooking and dining far more than French food did."

This delicious homey dish pays homage to Italian ingredients and illustrates how two food cultures based on very similar ingredients can have such contrasting results. These differences are the consequence of very different culinary techniques, and of course, the use of local herbs and spices. For instance, in Sopa de Fideos, the pasta is fried in oil like a pilaf, then cooked in broth until "dry," as opposed to simply boiling the pasta, as they would in Italy. In addition, with the omission of basil, for instance, cilantro proudly takes over. And finally, as there are endless recipes for Sopa de Fideos, some calling for the addition of diced potatoes, shredded meat, chorizo, and/or chiles, feel free to try it and then make it your own. To truly appreciate this comforting classic, I insist that you garnish it with crema (creme fraiche would be a good substitute), avocado slices, cotija cheese (parmesan would be a substitute), and a sprinkle of cilantro!

Sopa de Fideos

Serves 4


2 tablespoons canola oil
5 ounces fideo (like La Moderna) or vermicelli (if using vermicelli, break the strands in thirds)
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken stock (If I don't have home-made, I use "Better Than Bouillon" Reduced Sodium Chicken Base)
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste

For garnish: Mexican crema, avocado slices, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped cilantro


Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmery. Add the fideo or vermicelli and stir to coat the pasta with the oil.

Continue to stir and turn over the pasta until medium brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add the tomato, onion, and garlic, and continue to stir for a couple minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Pour in the stock and tomato sauce. Stir in the salt, cumin, and chili powder.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

Serve warm, garnished with crema, avocado, cotija, and cilantro.