Friday, August 21, 2009

185. Colombian Chicken, Corn and Potato Stew (Ajiaco) (p. 370)

I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to make this recipe on my Cape Cod vacation. Maybe it was the corn on the cob, or the avocado in the ingredient list that made me think this was a light, summery dish. Don't get me wrong, this stew is delicious. In fact, it's probably one of my favorite dishes in The Project so far. But this ain't beach food.

This is a hearty, filling stew of chicken, corn and potatoes, with a thick, rich gravy. The only way I can describe its flavor is "Thanksgiving in a Bowl." What I really liked about this recipe was that, with almost no effort (but a little bit of time - almost two hours start to finish), it turned some pretty modest ingredients - a sad-looking store-brand chicken, a few ears of corn, and a few potatoes - into a really satisfying meal.

First, I cut a whole chicken up into serving pieces and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. I browned the chicken pieces in some butter in the stew pot. I had to do it in a couple of batches so that it wouldn't crowd. For some reason, I brought my tall stock pot with me to the Cape. If I had brought my Dutch oven instead, I could have browned the chicken all at once. No problem, it just added about ten minutes to my cooking time. I transferred the chicken to a plate, and cooked some chopped white onion in the rendered chicken fat with some salt, pepper and a good amount of dried oregano. As the onion cooked, I grated some potatoes, and then added them to the pot along with the chicken, some store-bought chicken broth, and some water. I brought it to a simmer and then cooked it for a little less than a half hour. When the chicken was completely cooked, I removed it from the pot and set it aside to cool a little bit. Meanwhile, I added some Yukon Gold potatoes (that I had cubed and soaked in cold water) to the pot and cooked until they were almost tender. Then, I added three ears of corn that I had shucked and cut cross-wise into one-inch pieces, and cooked for a few minutes. Finally, I removed the skin and bones from the chicken, shredded the meat and added it to the pot.

The Book gives a list of accompaniments that can be served with this stew: cilantro, heavy cream, capers, and avocado. I'm sure that they'd all be good, but for ease of grocery shopping in a vacation rental, I chose to go with just the avocado.

As I said, I really liked this stew. Browning the chicken at the start gave the stew a nice rich "chicken-y" flavor. The oregano made the stew taste and smell wonderful. The real stroke of genius in this recipe is the addition of the grated potatoes which gave the gravy a nice thickness and body. My only complaint was the corn. It was really difficult to eat the corn pieces. First you need to fish them out of the gravy and then nibble the kernels off the too-small and too-hot pieces of corncob. I like my wife's suggestion for solving this problem: cut the kernels off the cob before cooking and add the kernels and the cobs to the pot. That way, you get the flavor from the cobs without having to deal with the difficulty of eating the corn in the finished stew. I'll try it this way the next time that I make this stew, and I will be making this stew again, often ... but when it's not so darned hot out.

Date Cooked: August 17, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A

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