As the name indicates, this dish from the Valley of Oaxaca is a traditional specialty at village weddings there (made in quantities to serve a large party). It is often made with turkey, sometimes pork. You can see the family resemblance to other Spanish-influenced dishes like the Almendrado de Pollo, but this time the sauce is thickened only with bread instead of nuts and the pickled chiles create a totally new balance of flavors.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
One 3½- to 4-pound chicken, cut in serving pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup lard (preferably home-rendered; see Notes) or vegetable oil
1 small crusty roll (about 3 ounces), cut into slices
4 large ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), roasted and peeled
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups homemade chicken stock
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives (one 3-ounce jar), drained
One 3-ounce jar capers, drained
½ cup dark raisins
8 pickled serrano chiles, drained
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the lard in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat; brown the chicken pieces until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same fat fry the bread slices over medium-high heat until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Pour off and discard all but about 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan; set the pan aside.
Place the peeled tomatoes in a blender with the onion, garlic, and bread; process to a smooth puree (about 2 minutes on high).
Return the Dutch oven to the stove and heat over medium-high heat until the fat ripples. Add the tomato mixture and cook, covered, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, olives, capers, raisins, pickled chiles, and parsley. Bring the sauce to a boil and add the chicken pieces. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes.
Lard, the classic Mexican cooking fat since the Spanish introduced pigs in the sixteenth century, is an ingredient that I learned to view differently after visiting Oaxaca and especially the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Of course we always had lard at hand at my parents’ ranch in the north, but it did not have the nearly liquid consistency and nutty flavor I found in Oaxaca. It is true that many cooks there are switching to tasteless vegetable oils for some purposes. This means a sacrifice of flavor that is noticeable but acceptable in some of the major moles and pepianes, but absolutely disastrous in tamales. To lighten and mellow the corn masa for tarnal fillings, you need real lard—preferably home-rendered or made at a small butcher shop catering to a Latin American or Eastern European clientele. The home method also gives you good cracklings (traditionally ground into a coarse paste called sorrapa) and a tasty, grainy residue known as asiento that makes a wonderful spread for tortillas.