During a weekend visit to Danny's home state of Iowa, a longtime friend of his treated us with a bag of culinary goodies she collected during her trip to Spain: a creme of sardine and whiskey pate in a small red and gold tin; a scorpionfish pate in a box with a drawing of the notoriously ugly sea creature on it; a tin of pimenton and another containing blood sausage pate.
Everything made it home with us except the blood sausage pate, which I will not forgive TSA for confiscating at the airport. After all, in what world would that be considered a liquid?
Thankfully, the one we were most excited about escaped confiscation. Safely packed in my carry-on bag was the tall gold and red tin holding the brilliantly colored pimenton, or smoked paprika, which is used in all kinds of typical Spanish dishes.
A sort-of Spanish, sort-of braised chicken is where the spice made its debut in our kitchen.
Underneath a crispy, browned skin full of flavor from smoked paprika and pecorino cheese, the chicken is tender. Its sauce is rich with tomatoes cooked with wine, sherry, cinnamon and more pimenton. Those thin slices of onion, fennel and garlic stewed in the reddish sauce need white rice to mix with. Plenty of lemon juice and zest (and olives) perk everything up.
By our second go with this recipe, we learned a few things and made some tweaks to it. We added the sherry to give the onions more flavor, which is something we tend to do lately. We also made the sauce less bitter by using the juice and zest of the lemons, instead of just cutting the lemon into pieces and adding it as the original recipe called for.
When adding the browned chicken back into the pot with the sauce, tuck the pieces in so that the sauce surrounds them but doesn't cover them. Look at that crispy skin. We want it to stay crispy. It's also important to thinly slice the onions and the fennel, which was more appealing cut into strips than in large slices. We halved the garlic cloves to better distribute their flavor. Crush those whole tomatoes with your hands.
The only thing that keeps this recipe from being easy is cutting a whole chicken into its parts. This was a first for us. After some shouting and near-quitting and near-losing-of-fingers, we did it. Now we know how and we can do it again. So can you. (Gourmet Magazine food editor Ian Knauer gives step-by-step instructions at youtube.com/watch?v=zW5BFvCmV7k.)
Or, easier yet, you can buy it cut up or have the butcher do it for you.
We're glad we stuck with this recipe from food52.com, which is run by Amanda Hesser and Merill Stubbs and features recipes from home cooks. The chicken crisps up beautifully and the sauce is rich in flavor. Try it this weekend. The dinner table will be quieter than usual as you and your friends dig in.
Ileana Morales is a freelance writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com.