All Souls Day
November 2nd is All Souls Day, or Day of the Dead as it’s commonly called in Mexico, where it’s one of the most important religious events of the year. Mexicans travel miles to take food and flowers to the graves of their departed relatives. As morbid as this sounds, it’s usually a day of great celebration, as families reunite, catch up on gossip, and eat and drink together. Altars are set up in private homes, elaborately decorated with candles, photos of their dead relatives, skulls, crosses, huge bouquets of flowers, fresh fruit of all kinds, and Pan de Muertos, breads flavored with orange flower water and shaped into skulls and bones. Tomales, chicken mole, chunks of Mexican chocolate, even cans of soda, beer, and cigarettes are left at the altar in honor of the departed.
To celebrate your own All Souls Day, Mexican style, you might like to try this elegant chicken dish made with almonds, raisins, and hot and sweet spices. It’s a lot simpler than many of the Mexican mole sauces often cooked with chicken, but it’s hauntingly delicious with a great depth of flavor. I’ve adapted the recipe from one in The Art of Mexican Cooking, by Diana Kennedy.
Braised Chicken with Almonds, Raisins, and Jalapenos
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large chicken (about 3 ½ pounds), cut into serving pieces
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
A few large thyme sprigs, leaves chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish
A few large marjoram sprigs, leaves chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish
1 fresh bay leaf
3 cloves, ground to a powder
3 allspice, ground to a powder
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup raisins
½ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
8 small new potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2 or 3 canned jalapeno chilies, sliced
Choose a large casserole, fitted with a lid. Pour in the olive oil and get it nice and hot over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces and brown them on both sides. Season with salt and add the onion, garlic, carrots, thyme, marjoram, cloves, and allspice. Sauté a minute or so longer, just to blend these flavors and soften the vegetables. Add the white wine and the vinegar and let it bubble for about a minute or so to burn off the alcohol. Add the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the casserole, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Now add the raisins, almonds, potatoes, and the sliced jalapenos. Continue simmering, covered, until the chicken and the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes longer. Garnish with the extra marjoram and thyme leaves. Serve hot.
by Erica De Mane