Old California Almond-Pineapple Chicken Stew

almond sauce 2I’ve made several variations of this recipe from Encarnacion Pinedo’s 1898 cookbook, El Cocinero Espanol. This time, I wanted a thicker incarnation of the dish than I ended up with in my previous attempts.

In the original Spanish, the recipe, titled “Salsa de Almendras para Gallinas,” is just 24 words long (42 in  translation). It is a bare-bones list of ingredients with no guidance at all about quantities and proportions. Here’s the translation of the original recipe that I reprinted in Vintage California Cuisine in a chapter about Pinedo and her book:

Almond Sauce for Hens

Put the stock used for cooking the hen in a saucepan. Add sliced tomatoes, garlic, slices of peeled and cored pineapple, chorizo sausage, a tablespoon of vinegar, raisins, almonds, small pickled chile peppers [chilitos], salt, pepper and the de-boned pieces of hen.

Source: El Cocinero Español (1898)

The first time I made the recipe, I started with several cups of chicken broth, the yield from poaching a small fryer. The recipe seems to suggest doing that, and hence, using a fair amount of stock. But the end result was a soup, not a “sauce,” and the almonds were lost in all that broth. I must say, it was a very delicious chicken-tomato-pineapple soup. But it wasn’t anything like an “almond sauce,” which is what I was determined to end up with this time. My benchmark this time was my favorite Iranian dish, a similar, fruity nut sauce for chicken called fesenjan, made with ground walnuts instead of almonds and pomegranate syrup instead of pineapple and tomato.

I looked up some fesenjan recipes to get an idea of an appropriate ratio of (solid) nut meal to (liquid) fruit and stock. Most fesenjan recipes have about a 1:1 ratio of walnut to liquid (a mixture of chicken stock and pomegranate syrup). Since the fruit components of Pineda’s almond sauce, particularly the pineapple, are considerably more solid than the liquid components of fesenjan, I guessed that a 2:5 ratio of nut meal to pineapple-tomato-stock might be about right for this dish.

The following recipe is what I came up with. Since the chicken in real Iranian fesenjan is always chicken breast, I used boneless breast this time, instead of the deboned meat of a whole fryer that I used last time I experimented with Pinedo’s recipe. I had extra chicken stock and ground almond on hand to adjust the thickness as the stew cooked, if necessary. In fact, the proportions I used on my first attempt, as shown below, worked out just right. What I came up with I will call…

Old California Almond-Pineapple ‘Fesenjan’

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
2 cups diced pineapple
2 cups chopped tomato
2 cups toasted ground almond
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup chopped raisins
6 oz. chorizo sausage, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs vinegar
Several pickled hot chili peppers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Puree in a blender or food processor one cup each of the pineapple and tomato, with a little water or chicken stock to thin if needed.

2. Lightly toast the ground almonds in the bottom of a heavy sauce pan for several minutes, stirring and shaking constantly to prevent burning. Add chicken stock, pureed pineapple and tomato, crumbled chorizo, garlic, vinegar, chilis (optional) and chopped raisins. Stir and bring to a simmer over low heat.almond sauce 1 - Copy

2.  Stir in the remaining one cup each of diced pineapple and tomatoes, and the chicken breast, cut into pieces.

3. Continue cooking on low heat for 15 or 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding salt and pepper to taste.  If the stew gets too thick while cooking, stir in small amounts of chicken stock, as needed.

About Mark

Mark Thompson, who currently resides in Philadelphia, writes about law, history and food, among other topics. American Character, his biography of Charles Lummis, an Indian rights activist who lived in California and the Southwest from the 1880s through the 1920s, was honored by Western Writers of America in 2002 with a Spur Award for best biography. His second book, Vintage California Cuisine, traces the origins of the state's unique culinary sensibility to the earliest cookbooks published in California. Thompson also publishes a web site called SeasonalChef.com, about farmers markets and seasonal produce. He has written for dozens of publications including the Atlantic, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
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