During a weekend visit to Danny's home state of Iowa, a longtime friend of his treated us with a bag of culinary goodies she collected during her trip to Spain: a creme of sardine and whiskey pate in a small red-and-gold tin; a scorpionfish pate in a box with a drawing of the notoriously ugly sea creature on it; a tin of pimenton and another containing blood-sausage pate.
Everything made it home with us except the blood-sausage pate, which I will not forgive the TSA for confiscating at the airport. After all, in what world would that be considered a liquid?
Thankfully, the one we were most excited about escaped confiscation. Safely packed in my carry-on bag was the tall gold-and-red tin holding the brilliantly colored pimenton, or smoked paprika, which is used in all kinds of typical Spanish dishes.
A sort-of-Spanish, sort-of-braised chicken is where the spice made its debut in our kitchen.
Underneath a crispy, browned skin full of flavor from smoked paprika and pecorino cheese, the chicken is tender. Its sauce is rich with tomatoes cooked with wine, sherry, cinnamon and more pimenton. Those thin slices of onion, fennel and garlic stewed in the reddish sauce need white rice to mix with. Lemon juice and zest (and olives) perk everything up.
By our second go with this recipe, we learned a few things and made some tweaks to it. We added the sherry to give the onions more flavor, which is something we tend to do lately. We also made the sauce less bitter by using the juice and zest of the lemons, instead of just cutting the lemon into pieces and adding it as the original recipe called for.
When adding the browned chicken back into the pot with the sauce, tuck the pieces in so that the sauce surrounds them but doesn't cover them. Look at that crispy skin. We want it to stay crispy. It's also important to thinly slice the onions and the fennel, which was more appealing cut into strips than in large slices. We halved the garlic cloves to better distribute their flavor. Crush those whole tomatoes with your hands.
The only thing that keeps this recipe from being easy is cutting a whole chicken into its parts. This was a first for us. After some shouting and near-quitting and near-losing-of-fingers, we did it. Now we know how and we can do it again. So can you. (Gourmet Magazine food editor Ian Knauer gives step-by-step instructions at youtube.com/watch?v=zW5BFvCmV7k).
Or, easier yet, you can buy it cut up or have the butcher do it for you.
We're glad we stuck with this recipe from food52.com, which is run by Amanda Hesser and Merill Stubbs and features recipes from home cooks. The chicken crisps up beautifully and the sauce is rich in flavor. Try it this weekend. The dinner table will be quieter than usual as you and your friends dig in.
SPANISH CHICKEN WITH LEMON, OLIVES AND ONIONS
Smoked paprika -- or pimenton, as it's known in Spain -- adds flavor to both the crispy chicken skin and the sauce it's cooked in. This tender, sort-of braised chicken needs to be served with warm white rice to soak up that rich sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro for freshness in taste and color.
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour, divided use
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
3 teaspoons paprika (pimenton), divided use
1/4 cup olive oil
1 whole 4-pound chicken, cut into parts
Salt and black pepper
3 medium lemons, zested and halved
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, halved, thinly sliced and broken or cut into strips similar to sliced onion
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled and halved
3/4 cup pitted green olives, halved if big
1 pinch ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
1 cup white wine
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
Warm white rice
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine 1/2 cup flour, pecorino cheese and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika in a large bowl.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot. Dry the chicken with paper towels as this will help the skin brown nicely. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and place a couple pieces of chicken in the pot. Cook until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Cook the chicken in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot. Use tongs to flip the chicken pieces, and set the crispy chicken on a plate to wait.
Juice three lemons (over a strainer) into a large bowl and add zest. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, olives, 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika, cinnamon and sherry. Pour the mixture into the pot that was used for the chicken and cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened -- about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Stir in the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, and let it cook for 2 minutes.
Tuck the chicken back into the pot, skin side up. Try to arrange the pieces so they are completely surrounded by the sauce, leaving the tops out so the skin stays crispy. Place the uncovered pot into the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 30 minutes.
Garnish with cilantro and serve warm with rice.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- Adapted from Meghan Valerio via food52.com