Pollo en salsa de almendra or pollo en pepitoria? (Lucky dip)


Not very appetising looking is it? As one writer said somewhere - it's a bit beige. And apologies for the line down the picture - it's because the picture is in the middle of the double page spread.


Sometimes the lucky dips I come across are not very inspiring at first sight, but I think I have found a few things of interest to say. I could have picked the other two dishes on the page - Octupus in wine - but I really don't like octopus - besides they are super intelligent - octopi I mean. And the other one was Pork cutlets in pomegranate sauce, which was actually similarly unappetising in appearance, although I see the editors thought it was, as it is the feature dish on the Title page spread.


The look is probably related to the age of the book. It was published in 1979. I have just been flicking through the book trying to work out why it does look so dated and have decided it's not so much the styling but the colouring which is somehow bland and sort of orangey. The book is called, as you can see, The Love of Spanish and Mexican Cooking and is jointly authored by Anna M. MacMiadhachain and Jan Aaron neither of whom are well-known although they have both written other books. Anna M. MacMiadhachain seems to have become more well-known as an artist. I think I bought this book on one of those whims one has. I didn't have much on Spanish cooking - just the odd recipe here and there in more general books about Mediterranean food, and a Time/Life volume. So I probably thought it might be interesting to see what Spain - and indeed Mexico would offer.


Truth to tell I have never been that enraptured about Spain for some reason, as it has a fascinating history, and geography too. In many ways much more interesting than France. But it doesn't speak to me in the same way. Admittedly I have only once visited the country and that was briefly on one of those business jollies that my husband used to qualify for every year or so. We stayed in Madrid, went to the Prado Museum, joined in the Mardi Gras celebrations, watched a mind-boggling magic show, visited Toledo and that was it really. Most of our time was organised of course, but we did have just one night with some work friends. We visited a restaurant not too far from the hotel, where the waiter was determined not to smile and did not seem to appreciate the efforts of the one lady amongst us who tried to speak to him in Spanish. We were not impressed. I know it's very stupid to judge a whole country on one tiny experience, but one does I think. Hence the importance of customer service in the tourist industry.


But I digress. The dish in question is what the book calls Pollo en salsa de almendra - chicken in an almond sauce. It's a Catalan dish - well from the Catalan area and the Balearic Isles, where British holidaymakers gather. In this particular recipe the chicken is first poached, then the bones are removed and the pieces of chicken fried to brown them off. A sauce is made from fried breadcrumbs and almonds, which are then cooked in stock with cinnamon, salt and pepper and finally poured over the chicken. Simple.


Nobody was very clear about its origins, but it was felt to be ancient - no post American discovery ingredients here - and more likely to have Moorish roots. Well almonds. There are other recipes out there, but when I looked it up in Claudia Roden's probably definitive tome on The Food of Spain, I found a version called Pollo en pepitoria. Having now researched this a bit I can tell you that you can find her recipe both on a site called Spanish Sabores and also on The Spruce Eats. They both use the same picture.

And here I will digress a tiny bit by saying that The Spruce Eats makes absolutely no acknowledgement of the fact that the recipe is Claudia Roden's, while Lauren Aloise who wrote the other article (and took the picture - The Spruce Eats, does acknowledge this), freely admits that the recipe is Claudia Roden's. Indeed she tells us that her recipe has converted her to being a fan of the dish, although previously she had thought it just so-so.


"I’ve eaten pollo en pepitoria many times as part of a menú del día. Despite having it in some very traditional restaurants, it never made a strong impression. More often than not, it was bright yellow, surely colored with colorante (food coloring powder) instead of traditional saffron. For years I lived in ignorance of what this dish could really be."


The secret it seems is cinnamon and she seems to think that this is a Claudia Roden enhancement, but it is interesting to see that my lucky dip dish also includes cinnamon. Laura Aloise's article is the most comprehensive on the background to the dish and its origins, and as I say, she does acknowledge Claudia Roden. The Spruce Eats does no such thing which is a bit disappointing and possibly illegal. It's a widely read website after all.


But it still looks a bit beige does it not? And a bit too much sauce for me. Laura Aloise does say that it now a 'keeper' recipe for her, so maybe I should try it someday.


The two dishes, - my original Pollo en salsa de almendra and the more widely spoken about Pollo en pepitoria - are definitely two different dishes - although obviously closely related and they both seem to be from the same region. And, of course, as for every 'classic' dish there are endless different versions. But the main differences seem to be that the first is a simpler, more basic dish in which a poached chicken is smothered in a simple almond sauce made with almonds and breadcrumbs. Pollo en pepitoria, on the other hand seems to be a braised, chicken or a fricasée. Sherry is often involved. The sauce is made with almonds, saffron, breadcrumbs, and hard-boiled egg yolks chopped and blended with the other ingredients - which sometimes include cinnamon, although not always. The differences in the individual recipes seemed to come down to when the chicken and the sauce are combined. Here are a few examples: Top left, Bon Appétit, top right, Hola Foodie, bottom left, BBC Good Food, and last but not least Frank Camorra of Movida's version. His is a bit beige, the others are rather more colourful - more saffron I guess.

I have to say they all look a little different from each other, but then again, I guess that's not a surprise. And interestingly nothing similar in The Guardian, which is British, and the British flock to Spain in their thousands, possibly millions, every year. Even now there are British on the Spanish beaches, not to mention the many that have made Spain their home.

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