From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Zarela Martinez holds position 47 on the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in Food. She is a restaurateur and cookbook author who was born in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta. While cooking seems to be an inherited talent, she did not begin her career as a chef until marriage to a widower with financial problems forced her to leave her job as a social worker and begin working in a restaurant kitchen. Her mother, the cookbook author, Aida Gabilondo, taught her to cook as a child and she was able to transfer those skills to a professional kitchen. She met Paul Prudhomme in a cooking class and he became her mentor. He introduced her to Craig Claiborne who featured several of her recipes in the New York Times, calling his feature, "Memorable Dishes from a Mexican Master Chef." That gained attention and her rise through the food circles began. She became the executive chef at Cafe Marimba in 1983, and in 1987 she moved on to open her own successful restaurant, Zarela. Her first cookbook, Food from My Heart was published in 1992. It was followed by The Food and Life of Oaxaca and Zarela's Veracruz. She also had a 13-part series, Zarela! La Cocina Veracruzana, that was featured on PBS. Although her restaurant closed last year, she continues to write and make appearances in keeping with the mission she set for herself many years ago. She has said, "I have a mission, which is to make my culture known and understood." She has helped and inspired a generation of young Hispanic chefs and restaurateurs, including her own son, Aaron Sanchez, to build a vibrant Latino food scene in this country. She has earned the accolades she has received.
I chose a fairly simple braised chicken entree to highlight the type of cooking that Zarela featured in her restaurant and cookbooks. The recipe comes from Zarela's Veracruz and it is an adaptation of a stew that was recommended to her by Doña Angeles Juárez Molina, a restaurateur in Tuxpan. It has decidedly Spanish overtones but lacks the vinegar punch of a true Spanish pebre, so the name is somewhat misleading. The sauce, however, is delicious and those of you who try this recipe will have no regrets. Here is Zarela's recipe for Pebre de Pollo or Chicken in Sweet-Tart Sauce.
Pebre de Pollo - Chicken in Sweet-Tart Sauce...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...courtesy of Zarela Martinez
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 – 5 cloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized white onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds total), coarsely chopped
One 4-pound chicken, quartered
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup capers, rinsed, patted dry with paper towels, and spread out to dry completely
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade.
15 – 20 pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/2 cup dark raisins
2 tart, crisp green apples, cored and cut into eighths
1/4 cup dry sherry (I use fino)
Pickled jalapeño chiles (optional)
1) In an electric spice or coffee grinder or a mortar, grind peppercorns and cloves to a coarse powder. Set aside.
2) In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed skillet or wide saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to rippling over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and pepper-clove mixture. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 12-15 minutes, until mixture is lightly thickened. Let cool slightly and process to a puree in a blender. Set aside.
3) Season chicken with salt and a good grinding of black pepper. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil to rippling over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and cook, turning once, until lightly golden, allowing about 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside. Quite a bit of fat (rendered from the chicken skin) will now be in pan; pour off all but 2 tablespoons. With a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape bottom to loosen flavorful browned scraps.
4) Return pan to medium heat. When fat ripples, add capers and stir-fry for about 2 to 3 minutes, until they puff slightly and become brown and crisp. Scoop them out and set aside. Add reserved tomato puree and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until flavor is concentrated and fat is starting to separate. Stir in chicken stock, olives, raisins, apples, and all but about 1 tablespoon of the fried capers. Add reserved chicken pieces with any accumulated cooking juices. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is just done. (Actually, you’ll get best results if you add leg pieces first, wait 5 minutes, and then add breast pieces). Taste for salt and add up to 1 teaspoon if desired. Stir in sherry and cook about 5 minutes longer, until raw alcohol taste is gone. Serve at once, with remaining fried capers scattered over the dish. If you like, garnish with pickled jalapeños. Yield: 4 servings
The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Zarela Martinez today. I hope you'll pay them all a visit. They are all great cooks who have wonderful blogs.
Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades
Mary - One Perfect Bite, Sue - The View from Great Island, Barbara - Movable Feasts
Linda A - There and Back Again, Nancy - Picadillo, Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen, Annie - Most Lovely Things, Jeanette - Healthy Living
Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook, Alyce - More Time at the Table
Kathy - Bakeaway with Me, Martha - Simple Nourished Living, Jill - Saucy Cooks
Sarah - Everything in the Kitchen Sink
Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Cat Cora. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, May 14th.