At lunch yesterday, Manuel and Satomi told me about a dish that Manuel’s grandmother used to make for him back in Puebla, Mexico: tapado de pollo, which literally means “covered chicken.” The chicken is cooked slowly over low heat in a covered skillet, or you could even make this in a dutch oven or Le Creuset pan.

Spiced with cinnamon and crushed cloves, the chicken stews in roma tomatoes with plump raisins and sliced almonds. Savory and a little bit sweet, this is a quick and easy dinner to whip up with ingredients you might already have on hand. Manuel – don’t tell your grandmother but I did make a few adjustments.

As soon as I brought the chicken thighs home I washed and patted them dry with paper towels, then generously salted them on both sides and put them in the fridge for a few hours until I was ready to cook. This is an old trick I learned from one of Alice Waters’s cookbooks – she’s a firm believer in salting chicken for as long as possible before cooking, whether that’s just an hour or two, or day or two. It improves the flavor immensely and, some say, keeps the meat moist.

As for my variations on the recipe, I used shallots instead of onions; increased the garlic; added cumin, nutmeg, and ichimi (crushed Japanese red pepper) for more depth and kick; added a little bit of red wine to the cooking liquid; and somewhat re-ordered the steps.

Tapado de pollo

2 chopped shallots
5 chopped cloves of garlic
6-7 chicken thighs, organic if possible, bone on, skin off
6 chopped roma tomatoes
1/4 c red wine
1/3 c raisins
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp crushed cloves
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ichimi or crushed red pepper
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted in a skillet for about 5 minutes to bring out the flavor
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil

Heat approx. 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, sauté until softened but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and sauté on each side for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes – juice, seeds, and all – along with about 1/4 c red wine. Cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

At this point the chicken will be about halfway cooked; there should be a lot of liquid in the pan, and the tomatoes will start breaking down. Add the raisins, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, and ichimi. Stir, then cover and cook for another, say, 10 minutes, before adding the almonds (you don’t want the almonds to get too soft). Add salt and pepper, to taste, and continue cooking over low heat until the chicken is cooked through and the aromas start traveling down the hallway to your neighbor’s apartment.

I served this with Japanese short-grain rice and sautéed chard.

This was so easy and oishii I think I’ll include this dish in my regular rotation. Thank you Manuel and Satomi!

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