So many Latin dishes are the result of cultures coming together—Spanish, Native Indian, African. But did you know the French also had great influence on the cuisine of various Latin American countries, particularly in Cuba?
The influence can actually be traced to the late 18th century happenings on a neighboring Caribbean island, then known as Hispaniola—today known as Haiti. At the time a French colony, Haiti’s economy depended greatly on slave labor. But by the 1790s, a slave revolt had toppled French power, and thousands of the colonizers fled the island for nearby Cuba.
Like any other immigrants, the French brought with them their food traditions, from a unique approach to growing and brewing coffee to classic bread making techniques. Today’s recipe is another an example: the word fricasé—which to Caribbean Hispanics basically means a stew—is derived from the French friccassee, which refers to a method of cooking in which meat is cut up, sauteéd and then braised most classically in a white sauce. In fact, friccassee recipes can be found in medieval French cookbooks, and even Julia Child mentions it in her legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
But in the hands of Caribbean cooks, the friccassee is given a decidedly Latin twist: white sauce is replaced with—what else?—a sofrito; and the typically French thyme and tarragon flavorings are substituted with the classic sweet-savory Spanish combination of olives, capers and raisins. And just like that, the fricasé as we now know it was born.
Cuban chicken stew (fricase de pollo)
1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
6 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste in a mortar and pestle or minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 T olive oil
For the cooking sauce
3 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, devein and fines diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 T tomato paste
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup pimento stuffed olives
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup dark raisins
2 bay leaves
2 T parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
7 or 8 small red potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup water or chicken stock
1. Start by marinating the chicken. Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl. Rub the salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and paprika into it’s skin. In a small bowl, combine the garlic and bay leaf with the citrus juices and olive oil. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
2. To cook the chicken, in a large caldero or dutch oven, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until it starts to ripple. Scrape the marinade off the chicken, remove the bay leaf from the marine and discard; set the marinade aside. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pot, brown the chicken on all sides for about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.
3. In the same pot with the remaining oil, sauté the onion and green peppers for about 4 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, the paprika, cumin and oregano and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and paste and mix well to combine. Add the reserved marinade and white wine and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Add the olives, capers, raisins and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pot. Add the potatoes and the water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, until chicken and potatoes are fully cooked and fork tender. If the sauce is too watery by the time the chicken is cooked, uncover, raise the heat and boil until the sauce thickens. Serve with white rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.