The theme for our annual New Years' Eve shindig this year is Mexican. I wanted to do something regional, so I went to the book My Mexico, by Diana Kennedy. She picked up this recipe from a woman in Palpan, a village in the state of Morelos. Unlike many of the recipes in this book, this one is pretty straightforward and does not require a lot of advance prep or exotic ingredients - I had it done from start to finish in about two and a half hours. The only ingredient that might be difficult to find is the guajillo chiles. I like them a lot in this dish, but I suppose you could sub in another type of whole dried chile with good results. The dish comes out amazingly good, with a rich sauce that beautifully balances the spices (clove, allspice, and a ton of garlic) with the warmth of the chiles and the richness of the cream. Kennedy mentions that the original recipe called for twice as much cream, so I added a couple of glugs of whipping cream to mine along with the creme fraiche. It's a knockout of a sauce.
As Kennedy mentions, the sauce is fairly thin. She recommends serving in shallow bowls with corn tortillas to sop up the sauce.
5 cups strong, well-salted chicken broth (I didn't have any homemade broth handy, so I added a little tub of commercial demi-glace to 5 c. of Swanson's chicken broth with excellent results)
1 small white onion, roughly sliced
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 4-lb chicken, cut into serving pieces (I used whole boneless breasts)
3 large sprigs fresh mint
5 oz. dried guajillo chiles, split open and veins and seeds removed
14 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
12 oz. tomatoes
2 c. creme fraiche
Simmer the broth with the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and mint and cook over very low heat until almost tender - about 25 minutes, depending on the chicken. Strain and degrease the broth, reserving broth and fat.
Cover the chiles with hot water and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave to soak for another ten minutes. Drain and transfer to a blender with 1 1/2 c. of the chicken broth. Blend as smoothly as possible and strain, pressing out as much flesh and juice as you can. Discard the chile debris (and have fun cleaning the strainer).
Put 1/2 c. of the broth into the blender, add the garlic and the spices, and blend until smooth. Gradually add the tomatoes and blend until smooth.
Heat 2 T. of the chicken fat in a heavy pan, add the chile puree, and cook over low heat, scraping the pan to prevent sticking, for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and continue cooking over medium heat until reduced and seasoned, about 15 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and cook for 5 more minutes over a fairly high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 5 more minutes, then gradually stir in the cream and cook over very low heat for about ten minutes, adjusting salt towards the end of the cooking time.
"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field" - Niels Bohr