I will confess right up front I have been a huge fan of Diana Kennedy since I purhcased "The Cuisines of Mexico" some 25+ years ago. I've read her books like novels and they've inhabited my nightstand off and on for years. I've heard many comments over the years that her recipes are intimidating and not approachable. Funny, for me it was just the opposite, she made the food and Mexico come alive for me. If her cookbooks hooked me, my first class with her back in 1993 set the hook.
So even thought I own the Spanish version of Oaxaca al Gusto, and knew it was classic Diana, I was looking forward to the English version as I knew it would be easier for me to manage. I also knew it would be possible to cook from the book in spite of the specialty ingredients. So I decided to find out just how accessible - or not - it really was. I chose to make 2 easy recipes over the weekend just to get a feel for the book and recipes and how they work in practice, not theory.
I started with ...
Arroz con Pollo
I had 2 concerns with this recipe, one that it would be bland and two, with 5 cups of liquid to 8 oz of rice, that the rice would be mushy. Turns out neither were a problem.
Diana recommends leaving the skin on the chicken when poaching, which I did and just defatted the broth. There aren't a huge amount of seasonings in this dish, just some tomatoes (not even charred), garlic and salt, along with some onion, 2 tomates verde (tomatillos de milpa, i.e. wild tomatillos) 1 allspice berry, 1 clove and a sprig of parsley. This is not an assertive, in-your-face kind of dish, but the flavor profile was surprisingly potent.
I cook for my 91 year old mother who constantly surprises me with the subtleties of her palate. She can tell almost instantly when a dish is off (out of balance). Not a big rice lover, she actually loved this dish, and I have instructions to make it again. The flavors all play well together with no one single flavor dominating another. Diana says the rice should be "moist"; I think it walks the fine line between being soft and mushy. My rice turned out pretty well. Each grain was separate and did not clump together. The recipe called for using a whole chicken, which I did. I think when I make this again, I will probably start with 2 whole skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, each whole breast cut into 4 pieces. And because the white meat dries out so much, I'll probably poach them less than called for in the recipe and make up some of the liquid with chicken stock. This won't change the integrity of the dish for me, just the ease of preparation.
I am lucky enough to be able to source tomates verdes at the Mexican markets here in San Diego. These are tiny tomatillos about the size of a marble. They are quite tart and have lots of seeds. I couldn't see how just two of them were going to impart any flavor. But the beauty of Mexican sauces is that when made correctly they are perfectly balanced and the flavors in this dish were.
The little tomatillos contributed just enough tart to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes in the sauce. If regular tomatillos are all that are available, chose one that is on the small side.
This was a lovely dish, not earth shattering, nor particularly challenging, but it was easy to make and tasty to eat. As usually, recipe was well written and easy to follow. I have always found Diana's recipes to be structurally sound, and this one was no exception.