4 plum tomatoes (canned or fresh in season), finely chopped
3/4 pound shrimp, preferably 16-20 per pound size
1 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces white wine
2 cups chicken stock (it's OK if you have less; see optional step below)
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Pernod, to taste
Salt and pepper
Picada (see ingredients and direction below), to taste
6 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1-ounce slice stale bread
2 ounces Mexican chocolate
1 ounce blanched almonds (about 30 of them)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the heaviest saute pan you have over medium heat. When the oil appears wavy when you tilt the pan, add the onion, stir to coat, and turn the heat down to low. Nothing will really happen for a while, so go ahead and start working on step 3 below. Just be sure to give the onion a stir every few minutes to start, so that it cooks evenly and doesn't start browning without your knowing.
After the onion has turned translucent, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir more frequently. It will start to disintegrate a bit and, if you've been stirring regularly, evenly turn golden, maybe after 15 or 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat until they come to a boil, then turn it back down to low. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Again, stir every couple of minutes for the first while, and continue working on the steps below. When the mixture begins to look like it's drying out, stir more frequently until it all becomes a brick-red jam and the oil starts to ooze back out, probably another 20 minutes. That's your sofregit. Give it a taste. Isn't it incredibly sweet and mellow? That's flavor extraction, baby. Turn off the heat and reserve.
Peel and devein the shrimp, keeping the shells. Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water and enough salt to make it taste nearly as salty as seawater. Brine the shrimp in this water for 20 minutes, then drain and reserve. The brining of shrimp not only seasons it thoroughly, but also gives it a snappy texture.
Optional: I highly recommend fortifying your stock with shrimp shells; you'll get a much richer flavor for just a few more minutes of effort. Or, if you don't have enough chicken stock, do this to help stretch what you do have. Get a heavy pot ripping hot over high heat. Add about a teaspoon of oil. When it smokes, add the shrimp shells and let them sear. When it's fragrant, stir them to turn the shells pink, and continue stirring and cooking until they start to take on a little color; the smell should be fantastic. Add your stock and more water if necessary to just cover the shells. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes. Strain the stock and keep it hot. Give the stock a taste. Stock is not supposed to be so delicious you want to drink it straight, but you should be thinking, "Well, it's a little watery, but I do like what's in there." If you find yourself loving your stock right off the bat, hey, be happy.
Now here's more flavor-building: browning the chicken. Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel, and season all over with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat until the oil starts getting wavy again. Add the chicken skin side down in one layer, leaving a little room between pieces. You will probably have to do this in batches. After a couple of minutes, take a peek. If the chicken pieces are golden brown, flip them and color the other side. Remove the browned chicken and look at the bottom of your pot. Are there lots of brown bits stuck there? If not, continue browning the remaining chicken. If yes, pour out the excess fat, tip in half the white wine to deglaze the pan, stir to pick up all the bits, pour it out and save it with the chicken. Now wipe the pot out with paper towel and brown the next batch of chicken. Either way, after all the chicken is done, deglaze with the wine, pick up the brown bits, add the sofregit and return all the chicken to the pot, arranging the pieces as snugly and space-efficiently as possible. Pour in any accumulated juices.
Add enough stock to come between a third and a half of the way up the chicken. If you don't have enough stock, go ahead and add water until you get the right amount of liquid, but don't use much more than 2Â½ cups total. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a gentle simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, shifting and flipping the chicken partway through so that all the parts, particularly the dark meat, get time in the drink.
Add a few splashes of Pernod to taste; I like it best when I can just tell that the anise flavor is in there, but it isn't super forward. Simmer, partially covered, for another 10 minutes.
Take out a few pieces of chicken and test them for doneness. Most crudely, you can poke into them near the bone with a knife and see if the juices run out clear and bloodless. Remove the finished chicken from the pot and cover loosely.
Stir half the picada into the liquid and let it cook for 2 minutes. The chocolate, nuts, bread and oil will thicken the sauce; it should be able to coat the chicken, something you could imagine eating either with a spoon or by sopping it up with bread. If it's too runny, or if you just love the flavor of the picada, add more and let it cook another couple of minutes. When it's the right consistency, taste it and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp and let it cook through, about 3 minutes, then return the chicken to the sauce to warm up again and serve.
Sprinkle a little olive oil on the bread and toast until dried through and crisp; toast the almonds until they've turned a shade darker and are fragrant.
In a food processor, with a mortar and pestle, or with your knife, crush or grind all ingredients except oil with a pinch of salt together until very fine, almost smooth
Stir in enough oil to form a thick paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.