Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pollo en Jocon; a Gutemalan Dish Using Green Sauce

Pollo en Jocon is basically a cooked chicken in green sauce. The dish can as easily be made with a beef roast (making it "Carne en Jocon") as with chicken, and I can tell you from experience that green sauce is truly excellent paired with pork also.
Pollo en Jocon or Chicken in Green Sauce

A few days back I wrote about making green sauce, or Salsa Verde. The recipe is absolutely delightful, and I really need to make more to keep around. I also promised a picture, which I have here, for this post. Though my husband is mostly unfamiliar with green sauce, being an upper Midwest guy (I am an Ohio gal myself, but got where I am via Guatemala for 12 years), he really liked the flavors of the chicken in the green sauce, so I took that as a big coup; winning his approval.

Guatemalan sauces very often contain sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, or "pepitoria". These are in most of the sauces, whether sweet or savory. Things like mole, whether a savory mole over chicken, or a sweet mole over plantains, contain these seeds, toasted and ground. Guatemalan tamales have these seeds in the sauce that is made to go over top of the tamal. Again, the tamales there have 2 versions, a sweet and a savory, and the sauce starts out the same for either one, with the same seeds involved in the recipe. These are a couple of examples, but the use is widespread. 
Carne en Jocon with beef roast meat

With that in mind then, I was quite surprised to find that in the two recipes I had found for Jocon, somewhere in Guatemala (one was a newspaper clipping), neither one had used sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds. Hmmm. One of the two recipes did not even mention using day old tortillas in the sauce, which is a very common thickening agent. Instead of thickening a sauce with flour or cornstarch, in Guatemala they will use cookie crumbs to thicken a sweet mole sauce, or bread, soaked and stirred into a sauce as for Hilachas (or Ropa Vieja), or tortillas, soaked and blended up into a sauce like Jocon. So, in one of the recipes they suggested thickening the sauce If it is too thin, with tortillas. 

The corn tortillas available in the US, made in a press and generally with preservatives and such, do not dissolve in a stew such as this one. Here in the US, I find it is easier to use a little masa flour for tortillas to thicken the sauce. Just moisten some corn masa flour with water and stir into the stew and cook until it thickens to your desired stew consistency.

As I happened not to have corn tortillas on hand when I made the Pollo en Jocon the other day, my sauce had neither tortillas nor the aforementioned seeds. It is truly delicious, because the green sauce is really wonderful all by itself.Understand that this dish is supposed to be a stew of a sort. Once the green sauce is made, the rest of the recipe (as I made it) is just cooking the cut up chicken in the green sauce, and then put to cook for a while in this sauce to infuse flavors. 

Pollo en Jocon, with Chicken

Pollo en Jocon or Carne en Jocon

Serves about 6

1 whole chicken, cut up,  (for Pollo en Jocon)

2 lbs beef stew meat (for Carne en Jocon)
olive oil, for browning
1½ cups (more if desired) Salsa Verde / Green Sauce
1½ teaspoons salt
1 - 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 corn tortillas, broken into small pieces

Have the recipe for green sauce already made, either fresh or frozen. Heat some olive oil in a heavy duty oven safe enameled cast iron stew pot or Dutch oven and brown the meat. Pour the green sauce over the meat and add in the salt, bay leaves and oregano. Bring to a boil and cover with tight fitting lid. Place covered pot in a preheated 300 degree oven for 1½ to 2 hours for chicken and about 2 to 2½ hours for beef.

Tear the tortillas into small pieces and cover with water. When nearing serving time, place the pan on top of the stove over medium-low heat and add in the drained, soaked tortilla bits, stirring until the tortilla thickens the sauce a bit. Serve with rice.

Should anyone want to make this sauce with the seeds in it, first toast the seeds in a dry skillet, moving them constantly until they begin to snap or pop, but do not let them burn or you will need to start again. Allow them to cool slightly on a plate, and then grind them in a small spice grinder before adding to the sauce. About 1 tablespoons of sesame seeds and 1 to 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds should be about the right amount. A word about the sesame seeds: they need to still have the hull intact, which means they are not the kind found in the little jars in the spice section of the grocery. Unhulled sesame seeds are a dull, flat tan color, and not the pretty, shiny, polished little things in the jars. The shiny ones in the jars will not brown properly in the dry skillet. Look for unhulled sesame seed a at your local health food store. 

If you would like to thicken your sauce with a corn tortilla or two, soak it in hot water until very soft and then blend or just crumble before adding to the sauce.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.