There’s something about January that sends me running to Mexican, Latin American, and Southwest cookbooks. Perhaps it’s because the sun has disappeared from the Northwest, and I suspect it headed to Cabos San Lucas without me. Laughing all the way.
Just knowing that there are folks in the world who are basking in the sun as I huddle in front of the fireplace, firing up their charcoal grills as mine sits forlorn on the freezing deck, and swishing their lucky feet in a cool swimming pool as mine are buried in 3 layers of wonder fiber makes me want to smother everything I eat with a fiery chile sauce and pretend I’m wintering in Mexico.
It’s surprising how well one can live on imagination alone. This flavor-packed, multi-dimensioned dish is deeply restorative. It cured my winter blues completely. I may not be able to winter in Mexico this year, but I can certainly cook like I am.
And during January and February, I don’t burden myself with any guilt about not cooking with 100% local foods. This is the season to load the frig with pineapple, limes, avocados, tomatillos, mangoes, and fresh chiles, and the pantry with pumpkin seeds, peanuts, dried chiles, and Mexican chocolate. The spirit and the heart must be nourished.
Northwest growers will be debuting their early spring hothouse produce soon enough, but in the meanwhile, I bought this CD and it’s going to be playing at high volume for the next 6 weeks. Viva la Mexico!
Guajillo (gwa-hee-yoh) chiles are long, shiny, and tapered, with a deep red hue. They are moderately hot with a fruity, almost berry-like, character. The leathery skin requires longer soaking for full hydration. As with most dried chiles, the flavor is enhanced by toasting lightly in a hot pan.
Breast of Chicken with Fiery, Fruity Guajillo Sauce
The inspiration for this dish came from one of my favorite Mexican cookbooks, Dona Tomas by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky. I love the addition of the pineapple in this sauce, as it amplifies the fruity characteristic of the guajillo chiles.
This sauce is spicy but not too fiery for most people. If you fear the heat, you can substitute milder ancho chiles, but the sauce will of course have a different flavor and color.
2-8 chicken breast supremes, with skin on
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 guajillo chiles
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup diced fresh pineapple (or canned)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or pressed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-8 tablespoons chopped, skinless peanuts (preferably cooked in oil), optional
¼ tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional
- To prepare the chicken, rinse supremes under cold water and pat dry. Trim excess fat and stretch the skin so that it fully covers the top of each supreme.
- Grind salt and pepper rather generously over both sides of the supreme, moving the skin to the side while seasoning the flesh on the top side. Reposition the skin over the supreme, and then wrap each supreme tightly in plastic wrap.
- Frig for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight (or even longer). The salt will tenderize the chicken if left to marinate for the longer time period.
- To make the sauce, in a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles on both sides, pressing down with a spatula so chiles makes contact with the pan, for a total of 5-6 minutes, just until fragrant.
- Remove the chiles to a glass bowl and cover with boiling water. Weight the chiles down so that they are submerged and let hydrate for at least 20-30 minutes. Remove from the soaking water (reserve the water), and pull off and then discard the stem, along with the ribs and seeds.
- Add chilies and 1 cup of the soaking liquid to a blender or processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree until smooth and leave in the blender or processor.
- In a 3-5 quart saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onions rather briskly until they are lightly browned. Add the pineapple and lightly brown it as well. Add the garlic, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves and continue cooking and stirring for another minute or so.
- Stir in the chicken stock and orange juice and scrap up all the bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Pour the stock mixture into the pureed chiles in the blender or processor and blend until smooth. For an extra silky sauce, pour the sauce through a triple mesh strainer, pushing hard against the remaining solids to extract all liquid.
- Clean the saucepan and pour the contents of the blender or processor back into it.
- Simmer the sauce, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, until it thickens and lightly coats the back of a spoon.
- Add the lime juice and honey to the sauce and taste for seasoning, adjusting salt, pepper, lime juice, and honey as needed to achieve a perfect balance. The sauce is now ready to use in any number of dishes. If desired, frig it for up to a week, or freeze it for up to a month.
- To cook the chicken, remove from frig, and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oven to 350°.
- In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons vewgetable oil until hot and add the supremes, skin-side down. Saute for about 5-7 minutes, until the skin is well browned.
- Put the pan into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through. Using an instant-read thermometer, chicken should test 175° at the center of the largest supreme when cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the oven, cover lightly with a sheet of heavy-duty foil and let rest for 5 minutes (to allow juices to redistribute evenly through the meat).
- To serve, cut each supreme crosswise into 6-8 slices, each about ½-inch thick.
- Nap each plate with the sauce and arrange the chicken slices in a half-moon curve on top. If desired sprinkle with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Serves 2-8, depending on how many chicken supremes are used. Makes about 2 cups sauce.
Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.