Arguably the greatest Spanish food is found not in the nation’s restaurants, but in private homes off-limits to tourists, where women still cook the recipes their mothers and grandmothers cooked before them. Penelope Casas takes us into those homes to uncover the secrets of this simple, easily reproduced, and altogether marvelous cuisine. For La Cocina de Mamá, she has collected recipes from great chefs and traditional home cooks in every region of Spain.
Having been enamored of her recipes and side stories since we bought the book a number of years ago, this Chicken with Ham, Olives and Sherry was one entrée we hadn’t tried yet. But since making it, it has risen to a top-contender spot when poultry becomes the meal of choice. The ingredients list does mention you can substitute prosciutto for the Serrano ham, but if at all possible, use the Spanish version.
About the Serrano Ham: The word Serrano means “from the mountains,” and refers to the cool dry climate necessary to cure hams in the traditional way. Today most moderately priced cured hams are produced in plants that simulate mountain conditions. Top of the line cured hams, called Jamon Iberico (not as yet imported to the United States) are in fact, naturally mountain cured and come from the extraordinary native Iberian pig.
The best cured ham sold in the United States today, according to Penelope (far superior to prosciutto), is the Redondo Iglesias Serrano ham that is imported from Spain and available from Tienda.com. We were able to order a thick slice (shown below) at our local upscale supermarket deli. Beware, the price is nearly $25 per pound, but you only need about a quarter pound.
The chicken dish paired fabulously with Penelope’s recipe of Sherry-Infused Baked Sliced Potatoes which take a similar amount of time and get cooked in the oven while the chicken simmers on the stovetop.
To complete the meal, we added a side salad for more veggies and fiber.
Chicken with Ham, Olives and Sherry
- 3 1/2-4 lb. chicken
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup pitted and sliced Spanish green olives
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 medium onion, preferably Vidalia or other sweet type, chopped
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup diced Serrano ham (or prosciutto, if you must)
- 1 tsp. flour
- 6 Tbsp. dry Manzanilla or Fino sherry
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
- Cut the chicken into small serving pieces, first detaching the wings and legs, then with kitchen shears, cutting the breast into 4 pieces, and each thigh in half crosswise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a small saucepan, combine the olives and wine. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the olives.
- Heat the oil in a shallow casserole, and brown the chicken all over, about 5 minutes per side. Do in batches as necessary, and remove to plate when browned.
- Lower the heat and add garlic and onion and slowly sauté for 5 minutes.
- Scatter in the ham, cook for a minutes then stir in the flour.
- Add the sherry, broth, salt and pepper to taste, and thyme. Nestle the chicken pieces back into the pot with the breasts sitting on top of the dark meat. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this time period.
- Add the reserved olives and simmer for 2 more minutes. Serve.