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Spanish Chicken Stew with Capers and Olives (Estofado de Pollo)
(from Susana Trilling, Seasons of My Heart)

Estofado de pollo, which Susana has dubbed “Oaxaca’s salute to Spain,” reflects the myriad culinary influences that have shaped traditional Mexican cooking.  It combines Old World ingredients, such as almonds, sesame seeds, olives and capers; New World chiles and tomatoes; and Asian spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.  They are toasted, ground, pounded, pureed and finally simmered together to make the exotic sauce in which the chicken is cooked. 

Though technically not one of Oaxaca’s seven moles, estofado de pollo is made much the same way as the city’s most celebrated fare.  In Susana’s kitchen, everyone takes turn grinding the ingredients on a metate, a three-legged grinding stone used since pre-Hispanic times.  We used a blender.  Either way, the burnished reddish-orange sauce has vibrant layers of flavor—fiery chiles, rich nuts and seeds, sweet vegetables, all perfumed with Ceylon cinnamon and cloves—that mingle in the most glorious way. 

To serve 8


2-1/4 pounds tomatoes
3 to 4 large tomatillos, husks removed (see note)
3 chiles anchos rojos, dried, stemmed, seeded and deveined (see note)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons lard, or sunflower or vegetable oil
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 head of garlic, cloves separated
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1 to 3 whole cloves, or to taste
Piece of Mexican cinnamon, 1-1/2 inches long
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 sprigs Oaxacan oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 sprig thyme, or a pinch of dried
4 cups chicken stock
2 chickens (3 pounds each), cut into 8 pieces (reserve back and neck, and feet if possible, for stock)
2 tablespoons capers, with 1 tablespoon of the juice
1/4 cup green olives, pitted
1/2 cup chiles serranos en escabeche (see note) 


1. In a heavy 4-quart stockpot, boil about 1-1/2 quarts of water.  Add the tomatoes and tomatillos and cook until they just change color, about 8 minutes.  Reserving the water, remove the tomatoes and tomatillos to a colander, and when they are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins.  Set the tomatoes and tomatillos aside.
2. On a 10-inch dry comal, griddle or cast iron frying pan, toast the chiles anchos over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side, until the skins blister and bubble and they give off their aroma.  Remove from the heat and place them in the leftover hot tomato water to soak for 20 minutes.  Set aside.
3. In an 8-inch cast iron frying pan, fry the sesame seeds in 1 tablespoon oil over low heat for 10 minutes.  Remove, let cool, and grind, bit by bit in a spice grinder or metate.  Set aside.  In the same frying pan, add 1 tablespoon oil and fry the almonds, raisins, garlic, onion, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, oregano and thyme over medium heat until brown and the onion is transparent and aromatic.  Set aside to cool.
4. Place the tomatoes, tomatillos and soaked chiles in a blender with 1 cup of chicken stock.  (Divide into two batches if necessary.)  Blend for 3 minutes.  Pour the tomato and chile mixture through a food mill or sieve to remove any seeds and the chile skins.  Set aside.  Blend the almonds, raisins, onion, garlic and seasonings in the blender with 1-1/2 cups chicken stock until smooth.  Set aside.
5. In a heavy 6-quart pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and brown the chicken pieces well, but do not cook them through, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the pan.  Pour off all but 1-1/2 tablespoons of the oil and fry the tomato and chile mixture with the seasoning mixture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the ground sesame seeds and stir until well incorporated, about 10 minutes.  Return the chicken to the bubbling sauce and continue cooking over low heat, covered, for 20 minutes more.  Add the remaining 1-1/2 cups chicken stock, thinning it so that the sauce is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Add the capers, caper juice and olives to the sauce.  Let the chicken simmer, covered, 15 minutes more.
6. Add salt to taste.  Place the chiles serranos directly into the sauce just before serving or put in each bowl as a garnish.  Serve immediately with fresh corn tortillas.


1. Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes in a tan, papery husk, but they are actually members of the gooseberry family.  They are usually available in the produce section of large supermarkets, often in a basket next to the tomatoes.
2. Whole dried chiles anchos rojos may also be found in the produce section of large supermarkets, alongside other dried chiles.  Or order them from Los Chileros, P.O. Box 6215, Santa Fe, NM 87502.  Tel: 888/328-2445.  Fax: 505/473-7306.  Web: www.loschileros.com.
3. Chiles serranos en escabeche are pickled in vinegar and canned,  Look for the Herdez or Embasa brand in Hispanic markets or in the international section of your supermarket.  Or order them from www.mexgrocer.com.
4. If the sesame seeds jump around a lot in the frying pan, add a pinch of salt and keep stirring.  Trilling grinds the sesame seeds by hand on a metate, but you can also grind them in a spice grinder.  It takes a bit of time, but it is the only way to grind them fine enough.  If you don’t care if the sauce has a little texture, grind the seeds in a blender and strain through a wire-mesh strainer.

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