Thursday, March 27, 2014

Puerto Rican-fried chicken

I’ve been waiting all week for my Puerto Rican night to happen. The ever-increasing expectations I’ve nourished for days, inspired me to cook the “Puerto Rican-Fried Chicken” I’m posting today. Still, even as my excitement built up, an underlying nervousness started surfacing, mostly because in Puerto Rico, we are almost brainwashed to believe we somehow represent our country in everything we do. As an unofficial ambassador to the Island, I knew I had to watch the Puerto Rican feature “La espera desespera” (Hopeless Hopeful) at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Unfortunately, I’ve come to find out that unofficial diplomacy works in two directions; not only your actions depict the country as a whole, but when someone from the country messes up, it somewhat reflects on you. At that point I felt that if the audience didn’t like the movie, I’d be somewhat responsible for letting them down. It’s pretty messed up.

The film festival often screens a handful of movies outside their main theaters. My movie (note how now I’m claiming ownership) was to be shown in one of those locations, in an area where many Puerto Ricans live. So, as if the stakes were not high already, I asked friends to meet me before the film for dinner at a Puerto Rican restaurant adjacent to the theater. Turned out that dinner was good (thank God). I had a mofongo that was excellent with shrimp in garlic sauce (that was perfect). My friends seemed to enjoy their dinner as well, and in a really nice gesture, took care of my tab. They’re just too sweet. So, no shame so far. But we were still waiting for the movie…

A couple of minutes into the film, we knew how it would be: fun! It was such a good film that I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets an award or two. It was funny and clever, the acting was excellent and the direction was awesome. As a bonus, the movie was shot mostly in the last neighborhood I lived in when I used to live in San Juan, and actually one of my best friends had a cameo appearance. Bam! It was a great night.

As we left the theater, we stopped by a local coffee house (Gypsy Beans) for coffee but had to buy some sweets. I’ve never seen such beautiful pastries; they were absolutely gorgeous so we had to buy something! We went for polvorones (think Spanish shortbread or Mexican wedding cookies) and slices of coconut cake, and chocolate cake to go. The Puerto Rican night was a success.

Now that I’ve enjoyed all this Rican-ess in full glory, I’m ready to share my Puerto Rican Fried Chicken recipe. Back home people eat fried chicken at least once a week. We don’t bread our chicken; but it gets fried with its skin, which brings lots of flavor. At the end, you can reduce the fat calories by not eating the skin. But I’m warning you that it will be hard, because it’s so good! Like many of the foods we eat, this chicken is simple, humble and unpretentious, but it’s absolutely delicious. I’m not that into frying, so I modified the cooking a bit. I start by searing the meat in a little bit of oil, and then continue on to roast it in the oven. At the end, the chicken is absolutely delicious, and the rendered fat can be used as a “sauce”, to dip your chicken, your bread or your side dish, or you can save it and use it as a base to cook something else the next day! 

On the road shortcut

Nutritional information per serving (4 servings):
394 calories, 0 g carbs, 27 g fat, 37 g protein (eating the skin)
295 calories, 0 g carbs, 14 g fat, 32 g protein (if you don’t eat the skin)

4 chicken quarters, bone-in, skin-on
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon spice blend (I used Morton’s Nature Seasons)
1 teaspoon oregano

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Season the chicken with salt, spice mix, and oregano.

Preheat an oven-safe skillet. Add the oil and let it warm up until it gets hot (about a couple of minutes). Sear the meat starting with the skin down, about 3 minutes. Flip the chicken, and sear for 3 more minutes. Transfer to the oven and roast at 450F for 40 minutes.

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