A Harmony of Flavors

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 as with chicken, and I can tell you from experience that green sauce is truly excellent paired with pork.

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.

Pollo en Jocon, with oven roasted potatoes
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. 

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. 

As I happened not to have corn tortillas on hand when I made the Pollo en Jocon the other day, and since the sauce was plenty thick all on its own, my sauce had neither tortillas nor the aforementioned seeds. It was still truly delicious, because the green sauce was really wonderful all by itself. With that in mind, understand that while this dish is supposed to be a stew of a sort, mine was thick from the get-go. It could have been thinned down, but my husband likes sauces to be thick, so I figured I was on the better side of that equation. Why mess with a good thing? Once the green sauce is made, the rest of the recipe (as I made it) is just cooking the chicken, cut into its pieces and then put to cook for a while in this green sauce to infuse flavors. 

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. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.