You and I have not shared a main dish in this column for quite a few weeks and it’s time to see to the center of the table with something called Peruvian Chicken. My neighbor Barbara told me about this chicken dish that she tasted made by yet another neighbor, Roger. It sounded intriguing, so I asked Roger if he shared his recipes and he sent it right along. I am a little fuzzy on what makes it Peruvian exactly and not, say, Ecuadorian. Probably something to do with the combination of paprika and cumin.
Then, because the recipe called for a whole chicken cut up in pieces, though Roger says he uses just thighs for their moistness, I thought I would say again that buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself is going to be your most economical approach, and that it is not at all that hard to do. A whole chicken at $1.19 a pound is less expensive than sale price pieces at $1.79 or $1.99. You can wait until whole chickens are on sale, buy two or three, cut them up and freeze the pieces in any combination that you find convenient and really save money.
I did not learn how to cut up chicken at my mother’s knee. I whacked my way through several by trial and error but really learned the technique when I helped Diane and Wally O’Brien in Lincolnville butcher their meat birds. We did 18 that day and I learned a lot about scalding, plucking and cutting them up. Lacking neighbors like the O’Briens, however, you can turn to that ever-useful tool, the Internet, and YouTube to view a very clear and concise video produced by Gourmet magazine found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW5BFvCmV7k that shows how to perceive the lines of fat on chickens that mark ideal cutting places. A sharp knife and a pair of kitchen scissors make it a snap.
Once you have your pieces, making the spice paste, roasting the chicken with the vegetables, cooking up some rice and adding a salad or maybe refried black beans or black bean salad, with flan for dessert, will be like a cheap trip to South America. The chicken, by the way, is better the next day, so cook it ahead if you want.
Roger says that though he uses Spanish paprika, other types work fine, and he uses more peppers than the original recipe suggested. The recipe below reflects his advice.
Peruvian Style Chicken
Serves four to five
1½ tablespoons sweet or Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
1¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons olive oil
2½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 large sweet onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1 chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces
3-4 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
1 lemon, sliced
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a large roasting pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar and oil to make a paste. Place onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the paste. Rub chicken pieces with remaining paste and place in prepared pan, then cover with onions, peppers and lemon. Roast, basting occasionally with pan juices, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.