This unusual escabeche recipe is prepared in Extremaduran households for Christmas Eve. Although several steps are involved, the recipe is not difficult, and its extraordinary flavor is worth the preparation time. Cilantro is rarely used in Spain except in the kitchens of the Canary Islands, but in this dish it is mandatory, according to my friend Antonio Linares, who shared his mother’s recipe with me.
Season the chicken with salt and place in a large saucepan. Add 2 of the garlic cloves, 1 of the bay leaves, and water to cover and bring to a boil. As soon as the boil is reached, decrease the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Measure out 2 cups of the cooking liquid and set aside. Discard the remaining liquid.
In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the bread and fry for 1 minute or so on each side, or until lightly golden. Transfer the bread to a mortar. Add the remaining 3 garlic cloves to the same oil over high heat and fry, turning as need, for about 5 minutes, or until golden on all sides. Transfer to the mortar. Add the remaining bay leaf to the mortar and pound the mixture together with a pestle until a paste forms. Add the saffron, egg yolk, almonds, cilantro, and ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid and pound and stir until uniformly blended. Set aside.
Spread a little flour in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl, break the 2 eggs and beat lightly with a fork until blended. One piece at a time, roll the chicken pieces in the flour, coating evenly and shaking off any excess. Then roll the chicken pieces in the beaten egg, again coating evenly and allowing the excess to drip off.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the chicken and fry, turning as needed, for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown on all sides. Transfer the chicken to a large cazuela.
Add the paste from the mortar to the cazuela and mix well. Pour in the remaining 1 ½ cups cooking liquid and add half of the orange zest. Place over medium heat and bring slowly to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Remove from the heat, let the chicken cool to room temperature in the liquid, and then cover and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Serve the chicken with the sauce, sprinkled with the remaining orange zest.
Extremadura recipes: The Extremaduran countryside never ceases to amaze the visitor, with its dry plains, luxuriant pastures, mountains, marshes, meadows and fields.... In each area there are different products, the crops and livestock influencing the local dishes.
Poultry, meat, and game recipes: Spanish cooks readily draw on a broad palette on poultry, meats and game for the everyday table, just as their ancestors have for centuries