Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken)


The “holy trinity.” The what?!! I realize that some food aficionados adore food enough to make it a religion, but isn’t this a bit extreme? Maybe not. It turns out that the holy trinity refers to the combinations of aromatic ingredients that make up the flavor base for many dishes in each cuisine.  French cuisine has the mirepoix, a combination of onions, carrots and celery.  Chinese dishes often start with scallions, ginger and garlic.  And down in Louisiana, you cannot call it Cajun/Creole without onions, celery and bell peppers.  This time I was exploring the Latin sofrito made of garlic, onion, bell peppers and cilantro (does this make it a “holy quartet?”).

Who better to learn from than Chef Eileen Barett at Amanesca? Chef Eileen teaches the Sabores Latinos (Latin Flavors) cooking class in partnership with Random Events NY. Cecilia, from Random Events, immediately made me feel welcome with a friendly smile and vivid stories about her love of cooking.  It turns out that she is also quite the foodie, and makes sure that their event calendar has its fair share of food related events such as their upcoming Dark Dining Project.

Sofrito takes mere minutes to make.  Just throw in chunks of peeled garlic, onions, green and red bell peppers into a food processor. Add in a handful of cilantro, pour in canola or vegetable oil (any oil with a very light flavor will do) and pulse.  I wanted to use up my extra cilantro so I made a large batch and froze half of it in ice cube trays.  I am particularly fond of the Tovolo King Cube Silicone trays, which I also use to freeze pesto and other extra herbs.  This way, you can defrost one to two tablespoons worth at a time.

Chef Eileen was a wealth of knowledge and taught us how to make Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken), Arroz con Habichuelas (Rice and Beans), Beef Empanadas and Tre Leches Cake.  I scarfed all of them down with gusto at the end of class, but the Pollo Guisado holds a special place in my stomach.

The recipe instructs you to give the chicken time to marinate in the seasonings before cooking, an important step in building the flavors of the dish.  Typically a marinade contains liquid, but even a dry marinade will infuse the meat with flavor.  This also gives the meat time to come to room temperature, which helps you cook the meat evenly.  If the center of the meat is still cold, the exterior will dry out by the time the center is cooked through.

Chef Eileen also made it a point to crush the dried oregano first by rubbing it between her fingers.  Crushing dry herbs releases some of their oils. Try it at home. Smell a dry herb right out of its bottle and compare that to the stronger aroma it has after you crush it.

Every step has a purpose—to build complex flavor in the final dish. One of the best tips Chef Eileen shared with us was a secret technique from her mother. Adding sugar to the hot oil helped caramelize the chicken.  This also added a deep buttery flavor.  Just make sure not to burn the sugar, otherwise it will taste bitter.

The resulting dish is comfort in a bowl. The chicken falls off the bone and no single ingredient sticks out.  Instead, all of the layers create a mellow, complex flavor that made all of us in class scoop extra sauce over our rice.  This experience was invaluable.  With an understanding of the Latin trinity and my cubes of sofrito in the freezer, I feel confident that I can make up my own dishes with a Latin flair.

Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken)

2 pounds chicken thighs and legs
1 bell pepper (red or green), diced
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
1/4 cup pitted olives with pimientos, drained and diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 teaspooon sugar
1 can of tomato sauce (8 ounces)
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces water
2 tablespoons sofrito
Cilantro, chopped (optional for garnish)

Rince the chicken and pat dry. Remove the skin if desired. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the sugar and cook until it caramelizes and turns dark amber. Do not stir the sugar. Turn off the heat and promptly add the chicken.

Toss the chicken in the oil and sugar then turn on the heat to medium and saute for 3 minutes on each side.

Add the sofrito, tomato sauce, onions, bell pepper, olives and water. simmer, covered, on low until the chicken is tender and cooked through (approximately 30 – 45 minutes). Add water if necessary and adjust salt to taste. Stir every 15 minutes until done.

Garnish with cilantro.

Chef Eileen Barett

Boneless chicken breast or bone-in quartered chicken can also be used for this recipe.
Beef stew pieces can be substituted for the chicken to make Carne Guisada.

Hazel’s Note:
This is slightly modified from the original recipe to reflect what was done in the class.
When I made this at home, I substituted half of the water with white wine.

14 Responses to “Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken)”

  1. danielle

    LOVE this post. there is so much good Latin food. arroz con gandules, pernil, mangu, sopa de camarones, tembleque… YUM.

    • tastypursuits

      Someone in my class was raving about pernil. I’ll have to look up mangu and tembleque because I am not familiar with those. What is your favorite Latin dish?

  2. Atina

    I adore pollo guisado. When Cedric & I went to D.R. It quickly became my favorite dish. In fact, there was a tiny shack on the beach where a little old lady made it everyday to be served for lunch. Only the locals seemed to eat there so of course that’s where we ate too. In my broken Spanish and her nonexistent English she showed me how she made it. When I tried to replicate it here, it wasn’t nearly as good. I’ve since tweaked it and it’s got very close. Maybe there’s something about eating it in her little cantina with the warm tropical air.

    Great job on it though. It looks amazing!

    • tastypursuits

      Atina, I would love to try your pollo guisado! Its always about continuous improvement so I’m always tweaking as well. That’s it..our next themed dinner will be Latin!

  3. Cecilia

    Wow, looks good Haze! I’m going to try it. Seems simple enough to prepare. Will let you know how it turns out.

    • tastypursuits

      Definitely try it. My mom said it is similar (but better) than the Filipino sarsiado. Most of the time is just leaving the dish to simmer on its own so it is very low maintenance. And its a great one pot dish to feed a party. You can also make it a day or two ahead because it just keeps tasting better after the flavor have time to meld.

  4. Susan

    This looks amazing! I’m wary of the sugar because sugar always seems to burn rather than caramelize in my presence (I’m beginning to think it’s a me problem..). For this, I’ll give it a go though!

      • Susan

        I can usually do it if you mix something in, like caramelizing onions. But I’ve never had much luck with caramelizing the sugar first and then adding it to things (such as caramel popcorn, which I’ve now contented myself with just buying in stores). I also tried making caramelized sweet potatoes once and ended up burning it a little.

        I’ll take your advice though and take it off a little sooner. Perhaps life would just be a little easier with a blow torch.

  5. Jennifer

    The chicken looks mouth-watering! Too bad I didn’t read this post yesterday when I was trying to figure out what to do with dinner. Will not make the same mistake again. I’ll be sure to check your blog whenever I’m stumped with what to cook for dinner.

    I am also eager to know how to make the tres leches cake. The name sounds so yummy! Please, can this recipe be in your list?

    • tastypursuits

      Sure thing. I’ll bake and post a tres leches cake next week. I won’t use Chef Eileen’s recipe. In deference to her, I don’t want to post all of the recipes from her class. Tres Leches is a creamy cake drenched overnight in three different types of milk. Delicious when you have the right recipe, but I have tasted ones in restaurants that were just so-so.

  6. suzett Dumet

    i have to say out of all the recopies i looked up for pollo guisado….this is the only recipe that got it right ! everyone else added to much to their recipe…but this one is perfect …thank you ….(nice touch with the caramelized sugar…true secret for making the sauce turn brown ) ^.^


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