I have to confess: when I was a little girl, I was not a fan of my mom’s relleno. In full disclosure, I was a picky eater, and there was something about raisins and anything related to raisins I despised. Since this stuffing had raisins, prunes, walnuts and all these “things”, I avoided relleno like one avoids the plague.
Today, I can’t live without it, and I look forward to Christmas to make it and stuff myself with the aforementioned stuffing. You see, this relleno is different. If you have been to Ecuador and spent Christmas there, you know what I am talking about. This stuffing is a combination of sweet and savory; it is a hodgepodge of flavors that one would think they don’t go well together, but upon sampling, you realize, “YEAH! This is GOOD!”
Christmas in Ecuador is probably THE most important celebration of the year, followed by New Year’s, and the big dinner takes place on December 24th. Since living in the U.S., I have learned that families go all out for Thanksgiving. In Ecuador, we go all out for Christmas. At my home, we would begin the prep work for the Cena Navideña at least a week in advance. We stocked the pantry, organized the menu and made sure we had enough food for los abuelitos, tios, primos, sobrinos, amigos y conocidos – all the grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews, friends and acquaintances. It was not uncommon to have random people drop by to wish us Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo, and of course we could not NOT offer a little bit of Cena Navideña to these unexpected guests.
So back to this stuffing, or Relleno Guayaco. As it is customary with many of our traditional Ecuadorian dishes, each family has their way of making this stuffing, and here I am sharing with you my mom’s recipe, which I have to say is the best. It is made of white bread which is cooked down with various stocks to almost a puddin-like consistency. A variety of accoutrements are added, such as shredded chicken, shredded beef, recortes, walnuts, prunes, raisins, olives and brown sugar. Some versions of the relleno also include menudencias, which are turkey or chicken livers, hearts, etc. You’re probably wondering what the heck these recortes are. So, back home, at the delis which sold a variety of cold cuts, the owners would sell the butts of the huge pieces of mortadella, bologna, ham, etc at the end of the day. These butts are called recortes, which its literal translation is trims – hence the trims of the cold cuts.
I would be lying if I told you making the relleno is not a process, especially if you’re like me, where I like to have most of everything made from scratch. But because I am so nice, sweet and understanding, here are a few shortcuts:
- Use leftover chicken, shred it and use it for this stuffing. As an alternative, you can also shred a rotisserie chicken. Lots of flavor here!
- Same thing goes for the beef; use a leftover piece of roast, shred it and add it to the stuffing. Traditionally the stuffing has shredded beef, but shredded pork can be used instead.
- No butts? No problem. These days I use a slice of a country ham, which I cube into small pieces. I also use sausage – hard or cured.
- Use already made chicken and beef stocks. I won’t tell.
- You can use either dark or golden raisins – whatever you have in your pantry. I hate dark raisins. So I use golden ones.
- Unfortunately, I can’t offer a shortcut on the time needed to stir this stuffing, which could be about 45 minutes to an hour. But, it is worth every minute!
- And as it relates to this lengthy cooking time, this relleno can be made well in advance and frozen. On the day of serving, thaw it in the fridge and heat it on the stovetop with some chicken or beef stock to lo0sen it up.
This stuffing makes me feel right at home. I do miss having my entire family all together under one roof for Christmas. One of these days…
Season a few chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
In a stock pot, heat some oil on medium heat. Sear the chicken thighs until golden brown on both sides.
Add water, a few bay leaves, a few cloves of garlic and a half yellow onion. Bring this to a boil, and then simmer until the chicken is done.
Remove the chicken from its stock and shred.
Reserve the chicken stock.
Repeat the same process with the beef. Season a few pieces of beef with salt and pepper on both sides. I used beef for stew.
In another stock pot, heat some oil on medium heat and sear the pieces of beef until golden brown on both sides.
Add water, a few bay leaves, a few garlic cloves and a half yellow onion. If you happen to have some beef bones, throw them in for an even more flavorful stock. Bring this to a boil, and then simmer until the beef is cooked.
Remove the beef from its stock and shred/cut in small pieces.
Reserve the beef stock.
While the stocks are simmering, grab a couple of loaves of white bread. Trim the edges and cube the slices.
Soak the bread in some milk, and let it rest until all the milk is absorbed.
In the meantime, prepare all the other ingredients. Chop the country ham and the sausage in small cubes.
Roughly chop the green/spanish olives, prunes and walnuts. And don’t forget the raisins!
Now here comes the fun part. In a large dutch oven, heat a bit of oil on medium heat. Add the cubed ham and the sausage, and fry to render a bit of the fat.
Add about half of the shredded chicken and half of the beef. Stir to combine.
Add the soaked bread (milk and all), two cups of the chicken stock and stir until combined. Allow for the mixture to absorb some of the chicken stock.
Now add two cups of the beef stock and stir until combined. Similar to above, allow for the mixture to absorb the beef stock.
Stir. Constantly. Otherwise, the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add the rest of the chicken along with the rest of the beef and stir until combined. The liquid should be starting to cook down more and more. At this point, the mixture looks like porridge.
Add the prunes, raisins, olives and walnuts and stir until combined. Taste for any additional seasoning, and season with salt if necessary.
Finally, add the brown sugar. I had light brown sugar at hand, but you can use the dark one also. The dark sugar will give it a darker tone.
Stir and cook until the sugar is melted. You will notice that by the end, the mixture will have this caramel, golden tone and it will be thick in consistency, much like a bread pudding. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of salt if needed. This relleno will have the sweet flavors of the prunes, raisins and sugar, offset by the savory flavors of the ham, chicken and beef, and a hint of saltiness from the Spanish olives. The walnuts give this stuffing an unexpected crunch.
And there you have it: a traditional Ecuadorian stuffing, with lots of flavor. Now, I’m off to stuff myself.
The prep time includes the time it takes to cook the chicken and beef and make the chicken and beef stocks from scratch. This is minimized if you use leftover chicken and beef and already prepared chicken and beef stocks. This stuffing is enough to serve a small army of 12-14. Leftovers can be frozen for up to a month in a tightly sealed freezer bag or container.
- 2-2.5 lbs bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs
- 2-2.5 lbs beef for stew
- 6 cups water for chicken stock
- 6 cups water for beef stock
- 6-8 cloves of garlic, split between both stocks
- 1 small yellow onion, split between both stocks
- 6 bay leaves, split between both stocks
- Salt and pepper to season the meats
- Olive oil for searing the meats
- 2 loaves of white bread, edges removed, slices cubed
- 1-2 cups regular milk
- Shredded chicken from above
- Shredded beef from above
- 1 thick slice of country ham, diced
- 1 sausage link, cured or hard, diced (about 2 oz.)
- 2 cups of chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 2 cups of beef stock, plus more if needed
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 cup yellow raisins
- 9 oz. prunes, chopped
- 1 cup Spanish olives, sliced
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
- Salt to taste
- Season the meats with salt and pepper.
- In a large dutch oven, heat some oil on medium-high heat and sear the chicken thighs on both sides. Add the water, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is done and comes off the bones.
- Repeat the same process with the beef.
- Once the stocks are done, remove the meats from their respective stocks and reserve the meat stocks. Discard the onions, garlic and bay leaves.
- Shred the chicken and beef and set aside.
- While the stocks cook, remove the edges of the loaves of bread. Cut the bread into cubes.
- Place the cubes in a large bowl and add enough milk, about 1-2 cups to soak the bread. Let the bread rest.
- In a separate dutch oven, heat some oil on medium heat and render the country ham and the sausage.
- Add about half of the shredded chicken and half of the shredded beef. Stir to coat.
- Add the soaked bread, milk included and stir to incorporate.
- Add 2 cups of the chicken stock and stir to combine. Constantly stirring, allow the mixture to absorb some of the stock.
- Add 2 cups of the beef stock and stir to combine. Constantly stirring, allow the mixture to absorb some of the stock. At this point, the mixture will have the consistency of porridge.
- Add the remaining shredded chicken and beef. Stir to combine.
- Add the chopped walnuts, prunes, olives and raisins and stir once more. Taste for seasoning, and add a pinch of salt of necessary.
- Finally, add the brown sugar, stir to combine and cook until the sugar is melted. At this point, the mixture will be thicker, the liquids should be mostly absorbed and it will have the consistency of bread pudding.
- Serve warm as a side to turkey or ham.