Puerto Rican mom warns against pale chicken.Pollo Guisado (stewed chicken or chicken in sauce) is one of those dishes that screams home cooking. But have you ever noticed how chicken is paler in some kitchens more in others? Lucy Rosario is about to show her granddaughter, Jasmine Reeder, how to ensure her chicken has texture and color. Her trick involves a little bit of chemistry.
If you just throw chicken in a pan and add water, your chicken will eventually be tender, but underneath whatever sauce you add, your bird will have loose pale skin. It’ll have flavor but may lack texture, which many people consider as important as the taste.
“I am telling you that is the secret to the meat: you have to stab it first, to penetrate the meat so the flavors are in the inside,” Jasmine says as she goes jack-the-ripper on chicken parts.
“After we stab the chicken,” Lucy teaches Jasmine. “We are going to marinate it in a little bit of vinegar or lemon, then we are going to add garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.”
The ladies then heat a pan with a thin layer of oil inside and begin gently sprinkling coarse sugar inside. Lucy is careful not to add too much sugar, just about a tablespoon and a half. “This is not a sweet dish. This is not a dessert.” she says with as much force as Jasmine used to stab the chicken.
“We both are sweethearts,” Jasmine says through a chuckle about her grandmother. “We both can be ruthless if need be.”
“I come from a long-line of strong-willed women,” Lucy says agreeing with her granddaughter but also keeping an eye on the pan “The sugar is going to caramelize and what that does is give the chicken an added color,” Lucy says watching the pan and monitoring the sugar. Here is where the chemistry comes into play. The most difficult part of this recipe is making sure the sugar browns, but does not burn. Ten seconds late and your chicken will taste like tar!
Once the sugar has caramelized, Lucy tosses the chicken in the pot and moves it around so that the meat picks up a caramel color. The caramel collaborates beautifully with the vinegar, garlic and other spices creating a savory taste that matches the look of the chicken, but is not sweet.
“When the chicken is halfway done we are going to add a little bit of the sofrito,” Lucy tells Jasmine. “After the sofrito is halfway cooked then we are going to add some tomato sauce and just cover it and let it simmer and that is our dish. Stewed chicken, pollo guisado.”
To watch the ladies cook and Jasmine stab the chicken click on the video.
Try the recipe yourself
- 2 lbs chicken parts
- 2 teaspoons of garlic power Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/5 cup of vinegar or lemon juice
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- Optional seasonal vegetables
- 1/3 cup sofrito
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Corn oil
- Stab chicken parts but make sure it is intact.
- Season chicken with with vinegar or lemon juice but not both.
- Add powdered ingredients.
- Let sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat pan.
- Put enough oil in the pan to coast surface.
- Sprinkle sugar in pan.
- Carefully watch it brown.
- When most grains are brown add chicken quickly (there will be hiss when the chicken hist the pan).
- Let chicken simmer, allow skin to crisp.
- Add sofrito, let simmer for a few minutes.
- Add tomato sauce, let simmer for ten minutes then put lid on pan.
- Wait 30 minutes, stir chicken every ten minutes.
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