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A blend of cultures makes for a tasty, citrusy dish

| Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

Growing up in a household with roots in two cultures gave me the opportunity to enjoy a variety of foods and to mix up two quite different culinary traditions.

If there is one thing that our house was filled with, it was warmth in the form of comfort food. And now that cool weather is just around the corner, it's time to enjoy a favorite hybrid recipe. It incorporates my mother's Mexican style of cooking, with lots of citrus and flavor, and my father's Peruvian technique of basically putting everything in one pot in the oven.

The idea of this recipe came to me while traveling in Peru last year. I experienced my first pachamanca while visiting family in the high altitude villages two hours away from Lima. From the Quechua words meaning "of the earth" and "pot," pachamanca is form of cooking in which all ingredients go into a large hole in the earth lined with hot stones. This includes chicken, lamb, beef, guinea pigs, potatoes and what have you. After the ingredients are placed inside, it's covered with more stones, and, ultimately, becomes a mound of dirt. Within a couple of hours, everything inside is cooked to a tender texture and wonderful flavors.

It's virtually impossible to re-create this here in the United States, unless I start digging in the backyard. And even if I tried, I'd need a good crew of people to help with the process. A pachamanca is enjoyed with everyone sitting around the food and eating with their hands.

The Mexican side of this recipe comes in with the citrus, onions, garlic and wonderful depth of seasonings. So this recipe is my medley of my roots.

Ideal side dishes to serve with this chicken are mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms.

Baked Citrus Chicken

I always serve wine with this dish. It's hearty enough to pair with a pinot noir, or choose a complex white wine. Either way, you can't go wrong.

Prep time: 24 hours ahead, 1 hour cooking

  • Whole chicken
  • 1 lime
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 whole onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped in quarters
  • 2 serrano chiles, deveined and halved
  • Chef Merito Seasoning (see note )
  • 1 bottle of white wine

Begin by cleaning the chicken, removing the inners and patting it dry. Chop the fruit into eighths, coarsely chop the onions, half the garlic cloves, half and devein the serrano chiles, and then, set these aside.

Season the chicken, inside and out thoroughly. Make sure to leave nothing unseasoned. You can separate the skin from the breast and season under the skin.

After the chicken is seasoned, place it in a Dutch oven and stuff the cavity with the chopped ingredients. Make sure to get as much of the citrus inside the chicken, as possible even if you have to press it down and release the citrus juices.

Include the garlic, onions and halved serrano chilies. If there are chopped ingredients left over, sprinkle them around the outside of the chicken inside the Dutch oven.

Cover the Dutch oven with the lid, and store in refrigerator overnight. The next day, take out the chicken from the refrigerator about 2 hours before baking time to bring the chicken to room temperature. When it's ready to bake, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Open the wine and fill the Dutch oven.

Any white wine will do, except sweet or dessert wines. Make sure the liquid is at about 3/4 of the way up the pot.

Cover with the lid, place into the middle of the oven, and bake for 1 hour. This is when I begin to make my side dishes.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven. Before serving, remove the stuffing and excess ingredients so that you're left with the liquid and the chicken. Serve the chicken skinless, and use the liquid in the pot as gravy for mashed potatoes.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: Chef Merito seasoning can be found at most grocery stores or Mexican markets. You can definitely substitute a dry rub, but I found this seasoning to encompass such a wonderful blend of flavors that I did not need any additional seasonings.

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