Spanish Braised Chicken

The rich flavor and lush consistency of this classic dish—Pollo en Pepitoria—from Spain’s Castilla–La Mancha region depend on a sherry-based sauce thickened with ground almonds and egg yolks. In addition to being delicious, pepitoria is one of the oldest Spanish recipes around, one that dates back to the 13th century by Cervantes himself! And once you’ve tasted it, you’ll understand why it has persevered through hundreds of years!

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Any dry sherry, such as Fino or Manzanilla, will work in this dish, so for savory cooking purposes, stick with a dry, not sweet variety. We almost always have both brands on hand because not only do we often cook with it, Russ enjoys a drink of dry sherry now and again—not my cup of tea at all. We paired ours with a Grilled Asparagus with Honey and Sherry Vinegar from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (recipe also follows.) And crusty bread would make a fine accompaniment if you don’t have a wheat issue.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 (5- to 7-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup dry sherry
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped fine
  • 2 hard-cooked large eggs, peeled and yolks and whites separated
  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds, toasted
  • Pinch saffron threads, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

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Browning the chicken thighs on both sides.

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Cooking the diced onion in the chicken drippings.

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Nestling the thighs into the onion and tomato mixture.

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Checking the chicken’s temperature for doneness.

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An interior shot of blender ingredients.

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Blended almond mixture is cooked with other ingredients to make the sauce. Almonds processed with garlic, saffron, and hard-cooked egg yolks add body and flavor to the braise.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Pat thighs dry with paper towels and season both sides of each with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add thighs and brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer thighs to large plate and pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from skillet.
  3. Return skillet to medium heat, add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons garlic, bay leaf, and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sherry and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until sherry starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tomatoes and bring to simmer. Return thighs to skillet, cover, transfer to oven, and cook until chicken registers 195 degrees, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer thighs to serving platter, remove and discard skin, and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. While thighs cook, finely chop egg whites.
  4. Discard bay leaf. Transfer 3/4 cup chicken cooking liquid, egg yolks, almonds, saffron, and remaining garlic to blender jar. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down jar as needed. Return almond mixture to skillet. Add 1 tablespoon parsley and lemon juice; bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Pour sauce over chicken, sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and egg whites, and serve.

Grilled Asparagus with Honey and Sherry Vinegar

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fat asparagus, trimmed
  • 4 Tbsp. fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar, preferably aged
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for serving

Instructions

  1. Light the grill and preheat it to medium or preheat the broiler.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler, scrape off the tough outer skin from the lower stalk of the asparagus. Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. Place the honey, vinegar, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Season lightly with coarse salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Grill or broil the asparagus until tender and only lightly charred, turning once, about 3 minutes per side.
  5. Arrange on a serving plate, toss with the sauce, and sprinkle flaky sea salt on top. Serve at once.

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Platter of finished Spanish braised chicken thighs.

PICADA: A NUTTY THICKENER

Unlike stews, sauces, and stir-fries that are thickened with starches or dairy, many Spanish stews and braises get their rich, hearty body from a pesto-like nut-based thickener called apicada. The basic formula, which many sources claim dates back to at least the 13th or 14th century, includes finely ground almonds or hazelnuts (picar means “to chop”) and seasonings like garlic, herbs, and spices. But many versions also contain toasted or fried bread or even hard-cooked egg yolks, as in the recipe here. The ingredients are traditionally pounded to a thick paste with a mortar and pestle (we use a blender for speed) and stirred into the pot toward the end of cooking so that it can lend body, richness, and flavor to the cooking liquid.

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