Sunday, February 5, 2017

Vintage California Cuisine -- Chicken in Almond Sauce

I was in the mood to try something different.  World War Two recipes came to mind but I didn't find any that peaked my interest.  Then I rediscovered a book I had purchased a few years ago after discussing California cuisine with a history nut.

ISBN 978-0-9795510-0-0
This fun little book dabbles in a variety of sources:  "300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State."  Its emphasis is to show how early California cuisine was influenced by many cultures, including New England, the South, Paris, the Quakers, the vegetarian movement in the late 1800s, and of course, Mexico.  All the books cited were published between 1872 and 1915.

The recipe that caught my interest was called "Chicken in Almond Sauce."  (page 95).  It was taken from El Cocinero Español, published in 1889 and written by Encarnación Pineda.  More on this later.

I was intrigued by the ingredient list.  Along with chicken and chorizo sausage it called for chiles, almonds, raisins, and pineapple.  I really wanted to know how those flavors combined!

Chicken in Almond Sauce

Put the stock used for cooking the hen in a saucepan.  Add sliced tomatoes, garlic, slices of peeled and cored pineapple, chorizo sausage, a tablespoon of vinegar, raisins, almonds, small pickled chile peppers, salt, pepper, and the de-boned pieces of hen.

My Notes

I cooked a 4 1/2 pound hen by simmering it gently in a pan of water.  Then I cooled both the bird and the stock, then strained the stock to remove sediment.  The remaining stock was approximately 3 quarts in volume.

To that stock I added my estimation of how much of each ingredient would make for a tasty, balanced dish.

2 tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
4 ounce can diced mild green chiles
12 ounces beef chorizo sausage
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 ounces de-boned chicken, sliced

And the stock.
This filled my six quart pan so I brought it to a slow simmer and left it, covered, for about an hour.

The Result

My impression was that this was supposed to have a stew-like consistency.  This was not even close.  It was soup and when I tasted the broth it was weakly flavored.  The ground almonds were an unpleasant interruption in the liquid.

A beautiful color!
Should I serve it as a soup?  I didn't want to so I used a slotted spoon to scoop out the ingredients and then added just a little broth to each bowl.

I love the puffy raisins.
The stew was garnished with some shredded Cheddar cheese and served with some quality tortilla chips on the side.

The chunks of chicken are appealing.
The Verdict

It was good!  Flavorful and the surprise bits of sweetness from the pineapple and raisins was pleasant.  The chicken held together in chunks which helped the dish feel like the chicken was the focus and the vegetables were the support team.  We all liked it and had seconds.  Success!

How I Would Change My Redaction

I think that I should have placed all the ingredients in the pan and then added enough broth to make it moist enough to cook.  If convenient, you could probably put the whole thing in a casserole dish and bake it slowly to blend the flavors.

Two tomatoes was right for the amount of chicken used.  I would use two cloves of garlic, though, for more flavor and 8 ounces of the chiles as I couldn't tell they were there except visually.  One cup each of pineapple and raisins was right, too, and I think chunked pineapple would also work well.

The chorizo was put in in chunks but the long, wet cooking caused it to dissolve into little bits.  Perhaps using less liquid would keep it in larger pieces.  It did flavor the mixture nicely and color it red.  It made the dish more fatty than I like but that wasn't really a problem.

I used ground almonds because I thought they would make the dish creamy, like they do when making almond milk.  They might have if less broth was used or more ground almonds.  I don't think big almond chunks in the stew would have worked at all.  Sliced almonds may have been a good garnish.

More on Encarnación Pineda

I also have a copy of Encarnación's Kitchen, by Dan Strehl, which contains a selection of recipes translated from her book.  After cooking the Vintage California Cuisine's recipe, I looked up "Chicken in Almond Sauce" to see his version:

Aves o carnes en almondrado
(Birds or meat in almond sauce)

Grind together clean roasted almonds, a slice of toasted bread, two hard-cooked egg yolks, parsley, onions, and finely chopped garlic (understand that you should only use two or three cloves at a time).

Parboil the mixture, then add the broth the poultry or meats were cooked in. 

Then season it with cloves, cinnamon, and capers, and add wine, vinegar, and a spoonful of sugar.

Let the sauce thicken before placing the cooked poultry or meats in it.

Wow, this is very different from the version I worked with!  I'm not sure how the translations could differ so much.  I wish I could read Spanish so I could see Ms. Pineda's version myself.

Mr. Strehl's book has ISBN 0-520-23651-3.  From the comments about it, I suspect his version is more authentic than the Vintage California Cuisine's version.  But it was still good!  To be fair, Ms. Pinedo might have supplied several recipes with similar titles.  This often happens in older cookbooks.

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