Monday, February 4, 2008

"Spirit of the West - Cooking from Ranch House and Range" - Vaquero Chicken Stew

Date I made this recipe: February 3, 2008 (Super Bowl Sunday!)

Spirit of the West – Cooking from Ranch House and Range by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs (The IACP Cookbook Awards Winner)
Published by: Stewart, Tabori & Chang New York
ISBN: 1-58479-197-7
Recipe: Vaquero Chicken Stew – p. 42

As if the southwest of the United States didn’t have a lot going for it already what with great winter temperatures and beautiful scenery, now Glendale, Arizona has the honor of hosting what has to be one of the best Super Bowls ever – the defeat of the 18-0 New England Patriots by the underdog New York Giants. It was a total nail-biter --as in… the Giants scored with just over two minutes to go, the Pats took possession and with 25 seconds to go, almost looked like they would pull out a touchdown to go ahead and, of course, complete a perfect season…but the Giants won 17-14. You couldn’t ask for a better game.

In anticipation of the game, I started thinking about doing something special for Super Bowl Sunday. At first, I thought about chili but that seemed so….well, standard fare for a big game and I wanted something else, something fun and unique but that could be done by game time so I didn’t miss any of the commercials. Oh yeah, and the game J
(By the way, my favorite commercial was one for Honda involving a car, a pig and a crab. It was hilarious and aired just before the game started).

Now, I could have made a dish from many of my New England cookbooks, or I could have made a dish from one of my many New York cookbooks to “honor” today’s contestants but I didn’t. (Confession: despite the fact that they beat my Packers to advance to the Super Bowl, I still favored the Giants). Instead, I split the difference and made this delightful vaquero (cowboy) stew from a cookbook showcasing food of the West/Southwest. The authors indicate that Miguel Gamez brought his family to Arizona in the mid-1800’s and that this dish was described to the authors by Julie Gamez, who is married to Ramon Gamez, Miguel’s grandson. I love recipes that travel through time and are handed down through the generations.

As to the chicken, I tend to like white meat so I bought what turned out to be three huge chicken breasts and after they were cooked, I shredded the meat and put it back in the pot. I think it’s easier to deal with that than several pieces of chicken but that is just my preference.

Vaquero Chicken Stew – Serves 4 to 6
3 ½ to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 to 10 serving pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cumin seed or ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon peppercorns or ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves
1 (14 ½ -ounce) can stewed tomatoes and green chiles, Mexican-style, Spanish-style, or Rotel
2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
½ cup olive oil
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (if desired)
2 limes, cut into wedges (if desired)

Place the chicken and 2 quarts of water in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam from the top.

Meanwhile, with a mortar as pestle, grind the garlic with the salt, cumin, peppercorns, and oregano. Add the seasoning mixture to the pot and stir in tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until very lightly browned but not burned, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour the rice into a strainer placed over a bowl and reserve the oil for another use. Stir the drained rice into the stew and continue to simmer, covered, until the rice is cooked, about 30 minutes. Spoon the stew into large bowls and serve sprinkled with cilantro and lime juice, if desired.

Note: I have a perverse sense of humor and so the line “reserve the oil for another use” cracked me up—I mean, technically, this would require me to find a recipe for rice oil and I’m thinking that might be rather difficult. But if you like to conserve oil, then by all means, go for it.

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