When I got married, I was determined to introduce my husband to all the delicious flavors Ecuador has to offer, but I had no idea where to start. Enter my aunt who passed onto me her “Seco de Pollo” (SEH-coh deh PO-yo) recipe, using a “1 item formula”. What do you mean? This means the main ingredients to make the refrito or sofrito and sauce are 1 big tomato, 1 big green pepper and 1 medium red onion. To braise the chicken, use 1 can of beer (I use good ol’ Coors Light). Traditionally, you would use the juice of a fruit called naranjilla (nah-rahn-HEE-ya), or lulas (LOO-las), as they are known in Colombia. Naranjillas are tough to find, so I go for the beer. Buy a six-pack, drink one – or five, and use the sixth one for the recipe.
Seco in Spanish means “dry”, which is ironic because this dish is very saucy and delicious; it is basically a form of chicken stew. My nana always used skinless, bone-in chicken legs or thighs or both, because these cuts are rich in flavor. You eat this accompanied with a generous portion of Arroz Amarillo (ah-RROS ah-mah-REE-yo), or yellow rice, and Maduros Fritos (mah-DOO-rohs FREE-tohs) a.k.a., fried sweet plaintains.
I like having a smooth sauce, so I process the tomato, pepper and onion and then sautee the mixture. This, as opposed to cooking the refrito the traditional way, which is dicing the vegetables into little pieces and sauteeing them in some oil. Secos are always red in color. This is achieved by using use annato-seed infused oil (or achiote) to make the sofrito, plus the addition of Aji Peruano. Aji Peruano is a red powder derived from red peppers. However, it is not spicy; it is only a food coloring. Aji Peruano tends to be tough to find, but I was fortunate enough to find it at a local grocery store in a hispanic neighborhood. If you can’t find annato seeds and the Aji Peruano, a good substitute is 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste; it enhances the tomato flavor of the sauce giving it more depth, and it will make your sauce red.
Seco de Pollo
Serves 3-4 (depending on your appetite)
1 large tomato (think beefstake tomato size), peeled, seeded and diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium red onion, seeded and diced
annato-seed infused vegetable oil to sautee both sofrito and chicken
6 pieces of skinless, bone-in chicken; could be all thighs or legs or a combination of both
salt, pepper and cumin to season the chicken
2 tbsp of Aji Peruano
1 can (12-oz) of a light beer
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Heat some annato-infused vegetable oil in medium-high heat (I usually do 1-2 tbps) in a deep frying pan. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and cumin. Once the oil is hot, sear the seasoned chicken, about 2-3 minutes on each side, until the chicken turns slightly golden – don’t worry about cooking it all the way through. Remove the chicken from the heat and set aside. Turn the heat down to medium and if necessary, add more annato-infused oil to the pan. Prepare the refrito by sauteeing the vegetables, until the onions turn translucent in color. Add the chicken and its juices back into the pan. Add the can of beer and the aji peruano, and turn the heat down to medium low. Adjust the sauce for flavoring if needed. Cover and let the chicken simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the chicken falls off the bone. Once cooked, remove from the heat and spinkle some chopped cilantro into the pan, mix it, and it is ready to eat. Enjoy!