Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pollo a la Brasa

While I'm not a gadget person, my mom is, and she's generous -- which means I have a lot of useless crap languishing around my kitchen. Finally, though, she struck gold with the NuWave Infrared Cooking System (no link; I'm unaffiliated). It. Makes. Awesome. Chicken. Crispy skin, nice browning, juicy. Yum.

When I think of chicken with crispy skin, I think of Pollo a la Brasa. This is a favorite Peruvian fast food. We've been missing it.

Note that your version will be a little inauthentic. You don't care. This is delicious even without being exact. (For authenticity, we would have to have access to three indispensable features of Peruvian cooking: chicha for the marinade, ajies amarillos (yellow hot peppers -- we just don't have them here), and algorrobo (carob) wood for the rotisserie. Oh, and a rotisserie. Nonetheless, if you season your chicken and cook it on a normal barbecue, preferably over mesquite (closer to algorrobo than our local red oak barbecue), you will have a delicious dish. And if you have an infrared cooking gadget, the texture will be perfect -- even though it'll lack the smoke.)

Traditionally, pollo a la brasa is served in halves or quarters, on a pile of crisply French fried yellow potatoes (Yukon golds are an adequate substitute, but Ore-Idas are NOT - although that's what I had last night), and accompanied by a spicy condiment puree (hold your horses), following a green salad dressed with mayonnaise thinned to vinaigrette texture with key lime juice, and garnished with slices of cooked beet, raw cucumber and tomato, and a few cooked green peas. All Peruvian meals except breakfast have two savory courses and a dessert: in this case, the grammar of the meal demands salad as the "primero."

Short of taking you to Lima to enjoy some wonderful Pardo's Chicken, or to Pacasmayo for Riko's Chicken, this is the best I can do.

Here is the recipe for the sauce. I thought the chick at Riko's was blowing me off and assuming I'd asked about the salad when she gave me lettuce, oil, and cilantro as ingredients for the salsa... she wasn't. Sorry, chick at Riko's. I should have listened. I made the sauce with a mix of yellow peppers and jalapenos, and half lettuce/half cilantro as the base (maybe, hmm, 1/2 to 1/3 cup of each?) and it tasted perfect. Don't use lemon -- use lime, if you require more acidity. I didn't tinker at all and it was yummy. YUMMY!

Pollo a la Brasa

1 3-lb chicken
1/8 cup salt
2 cups water
4 teaspoons of dark beer
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, optional
juice of 1 key lime, optional but delicious
a pinch each of ground dried rosemary and oregano
achiote or paprika for color, or ground mildish hot pepper for flavor and color, if desired (this would generally be aji mirasol in Peru)

Traditionally, the chicken is brined for 20 minutes before being marinated. I tried the brining step for the first time last night and wow! Dunno if that's why it was so juicy perfect, but it was delicious. So, give it a shot!

Marinade: mix all marinade ingredients. Rub all over chicken and allow to marinate for 20 minutes or longer. If it sits much longer, the vinegar will begin to "cook" the bird -- but the flavor will be deeper. 20 minutes should be fine. I actually put this in a zip bag, squoze out all the air, and let it do its evil business for about 35 minutes because I got lazy -- and it worked fine. So, no panic. Just, you know, not for hours.

Ideally: cook on rotisserie over fire of straw or algorrobo charcoal. Tolerably: barbecue over slow fire of mesquite charcoal. Or, you know, use your infrared thingy.

Serve in quarters atop individual mounds of freshly French fried yellow potatoes, accompanied by weird lettuce-based emulsified hot pepper puree. To swoon for.

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