Beautiful pollo guisado. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

How to make: Pollo guisado

The word itself is almost as delicious as the actual dish—guisado. To my ears, it just sounds deeply Latino. I love how, upon hearing it, my imagination conjures up the wafting smell of something cooking low and slow in a humble caldero. For those who might not know exactly what a guisado is, it is a basic stew, and it appears in variations in every Latin American country’s cuisine.

In culinary school, where we were mostly taught French cooking techniques, I learned that, technically, a guisado is a braise. And a braise is a method of cooking typically reserved for tough cuts of meat because it actually softens the meat, making it fork tender. (Which is why I suggest a stewing hen in the ingredient list below; that’s an older, tougher kind of chicken.) The key is to first brown the meat, whether it’s beef, chicken or pork—an important step that significantly heightens flavor, texture and color. Then, simmer it in any liquid you like. (Julia Child famously used red wine; my mom used a basic golden vino seco from la bodega; Spaniards and some Cubans often use Vino de Jerez, or dry sherry wine.) Cook it over low heat until it’s so tender it almost falls apart. Y ya. You have yourself a guisado.

In my recipe today, I make a classic Cuban-style pollo guisado, the kind my mom used to make as a go-to meal during the week. But since I picked up quite a few things in culinary school, you’ll see a few steps in the recipe that make this extra special. For one, I added a little tomato paste, a classic ingredient in a French style braise; and at the end, the sauce (la salsita, as I always called it) is thickened with a blend of butter and flour, classically called beurre manie.

But don’t we all do that in our lives? Take the precious things we inherit through culture and family and blend them with all we’ve learned as modern Latinos navigating a new world? So while I know this is technically a braise…it will always be guisado in my heart.

3 lb cut-up chicken (thighs, legs, and breast; preferably a stewing hen, but a roasting or fryer chicken will do as well.)

Kosher salt and pepper

4 to 5 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 cup sour orange (known as Seville orange; if not available substitute with 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/4 cup lemon juice)

1/4 cup light olive oil (not extra virgin)

1 cup vino de Jerez (dry sherry)

1 large onion, sliced thinly

3 to 4 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/2 T tomato paste

2 T unsalted butter, softened

3 T flour

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

1. Start by marinating the chicken overnight. Wash the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Using a pestle and mortar, mash the garlic with a pinch of salt and the cumin until it becomes a paste. Rub this over the chicken. Pour the orange juice over the chicken, cover and refrigerate over night. (Or for at least two hours.)

2. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry again using a paper towel. Reserve the marinade. Place a 6-quart dutch oven over medium heat for one to two minutes. Add the olive oil. The oil will ripple when the pan is hot enough to start. Add half the chicken to the hot pan, skin side down. Don’t touch or move the chicken for the first few minutes. After 2 or 3 minutes, turn the chicken to brown on all sides, being careful not to tear the skin. Remove the chicken to a platter, and repeat with remaining parts.

3. Pour off any fat from the pan and discard. Return the pan to the burner and reduce heat to low. Add the onions and stir, picking up the brown bits from the pan to coat the onions. Add the reserved marinade and continue stirring, loosening any remaining bits at the bottom of the pan. Raise heat slightly so that liquid starts to simmer gently.

4. Arrange the browned chicken in one layer in the pan. Add the sherry, chicken stock and tomato paste. Gently stir to combine everything. Correct the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.

5. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover tightly and slightly reduce heat . Allow to braise for 45 minutes, or until chicken is fork tender and meat starts to separate from the bone.

6. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Blend together the softened butter and flour to make a paste. Slightly raise heat on pan. Using a wire whisk, beat the butter paste into the sauce until smooth. Allow to cook for two or three more minutes. Once sauce is thickened, spoon over chicken. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.

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