Braised Hen in Almond Sauce
This dish has its origins in Aragon and in neighbouring Navarra, though it is highly valued in other parts of the country as well. Most people serve it on festive occasions, but I don't wait for a special day, since it is both easy to prepare and delicious, especially wedges of fried bread served alongside.
In Spain, we use a young stewing hen for this dish, but in the US, young, relatively small stewing hens are not readily available, and the older birds that are sold tend to be tough and require considerably longer cooking than is usual for this recipe. I have found that free-range chicken is an excellent substitute
Season the chicken pieces with salt. Spread a little flour in a shallow dish and coat the chicken pieces evenly on all sides, shaking any excess.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, fry the chicken, turning often, for 5 minutes, or until lightly golden on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to a large cazuela, arranging them evenly over the bottom, and set aside. Reserve the oil in the skillet.
Return the skillet to medium heat and add the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Sauté, stirring often, for 15 minutes, or until the onion begins to brown. Add the pine nuts and saffron, stir several times to mix well with the onion mixture., and cook for 1 minute to blend the flavours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the contents of the skillet to a mortar or blender. Reserve the oil in the skillet.
Add the almonds, parsley, and a little salt to the mortar or blender and pound or process until a paste forms. Set the paste aside.
Pour the oil from the skillet evenly over the top of the chicken in the cazuela. Then distribute the almond paste evenly over the chicken and add the wine and stock. Stir to mix the ingredients, so the flavours blend, and then place over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and cook slowly, uncovered, for about 1 1/2 hour, or until the chicken is very tender and the flavours of the sauce are fully blended.
Remove the cazuela from the heat. Halve the hard-boiled eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Mash the yolks with a fork, add to the cazuela, and stir to distribute evenly. Finely chop the whites, sprinkle on top, along with the jamon serrano, and serve immediately.
Aragon has inherited its rich gastronomy from the different cultures which have passed through the region over the centuries. It knows how to exploit its local products and today its cuisine is described as classical. The great geographical diversity of this region has given rise to top quality products which are as varied as the land's orography.