Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jocon, Or What to Do with a Tomatillo

Sooooo, in a former life about a million years ago I used to manage a small Latin Caribbean restaurant. The place was run by an extremely high volume super mercurial man from Algeria and I believe that part of my compensation involved not declaring my tips. The restaurant ran on a shoestring, and busy evenings were prone to total disaster: missing dishwashers, a bartender unable to remember whether Malbec was a red or white wine, the realization that every single spoon was out on the floor and everyone at a table of ten had just ordered soup. By the time the evening was over everyone still standing was usually something of a wreck. I think I considered myself pretty miserable at the time, but looking back there were a lot of sweet things about that place. A phenomenal trio of musicians took over the front of the restaurant on weekends, I got to speak Spanish to patrons and employees alike, and the backend of the restaurant was run by a smartypants chef who had a Phd in something like primate studies but preferred slaving over a roaring grill to lecturing undergrads. He was witty with the puns, even-tempered for a chef, and above all, his food was phenomenal. Like seriously incredible, from the salsa that graced every table to the desserts. There’s a Latin Caribbean place here in Asheville that we’re pretty fond of, but just a few weeks ago I made the mistake of ordering one of my favorites from my old friend’s menu and there was just no comparison. Le sigh. Anyway, if you are knocking around New York City, last I heard he was cheffing over at the Rocking Horse Cafe - his Chile Relleno de Hongos will knock your pants off and it looks like you can get them there.

For those of us in the rest of the world, we’ll just have to wing it, and for a while now I’ve been trying to hunt down a recipe for one of my favorite dishes from the restaurant: Pollo en Pipian Verde, sometimes referred to as Jocon. Basically a chicken and tomatillo affair, it falls into the category of delightful things to eat that challenge the palate to identify the ingredients. Me, I love this. Jocon, as it turns out, is not hard to make, but even after eating it religiously for about a year of my life I struggled to figure out exactly what ingredients were in the sauce. Fun!

Jocon, Or Pollo En Pipian Verde

Chicken (Forgive me a short fowl rant: a lot of recipes for this type of dish tell you to buy different parts of the chicken: a few thighs, some legs, a pair of boobs, etc. In my humble opinion, this leads to something of a rip off – for the price of two boobs you could have purchased a nice whole bird. If you go the whole bird route you will not only end up with a lot more (affordable) meat, you’ll also have a lovely mess of bones and such to make stock from. You will likewise not be contributing to the boob-centric poultry craze that, well, don’t get me started but if you do know that my rant will end up in several impoverished countries whose poultry industries have been decimated by our practice of selling our dark meat there for very cheap. Anyway, my habit with these types of recipes is to simmer the whole chicken with whatever additions seem to go with the recipe at hand and then pick the chicken down to the bone once it has cooled. I will admit that this approach means that you don’t simmer the bones and such with your actual dish but I guess I’ve made my peace with that. End of rant. And yes, I always call them boobs, it makes the meat counter people giggle.) So yeah, you need a chicken for this dish, in whatever form you prefer. Simmer it in water until tender, save this broth.

1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 2/3 cup tomatillos, hulled and chopped
4-5 chopped chiles, preferably Serrano
5 cloves of garlic roughly, chopped
1/2 of a largish white onion, chopped
3 corn tortillas chopped, soaked in water, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast the sesame and pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat till lightly browned, stirring frequently. Remove to a coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder.

Add sesame and pumpkin seed powder and all remaining ingredients to a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup of the broth and process till smooth.

Return chicken to large pot. Pour over green sauce and add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of remaining broth to bring to a sauce-like consistency. Heat over medium-low flame and simmer an additional 15-25 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve, ideally with rice and beans. Even better the second day.


Ginny said...

Love your blog, Heather. I don't remember how I came across it some time ago, but it's always a joy to read. Especially when it comes to your passion of raising the food you'll be braising later... Lots of my friends, for that matter, lots of people in general, think I'm crazy that I want to learn how to raise and butcher chickens so if I ever get the chance to live out on a little piece of green-acred Heaven - I'm sure I'll be trying to contact you!!!

rachel said...

oh heats, i love that i learn something new about you constantly. i wish i could go with you to the butcher and hear you order some boobs. me? i'm more of a thigh girl, i guess. you won't catch me buying up boobs, ever!

avocado kid said...

Hi Heather,

We just went apple picking and are now eating delicious crisp and reading your blog. We started with the most recent ones and got all the way to here. Such yummy food pics and so good catching up vicariously through your posts. We have so many apples we want to try your upside down skillet cake next! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo -Phil and Josh