The Forbidden Fruit? – Pomegranate Season in Mexico

They’re back. Those spectacular, evocative, erotic, granadas that splash their sparkling translucent ruby visages all over Mexican market displays like blood-drenched lights on Broadway. A symbol of either God’s goodness, or fertility depending on how you look at it, they’ve been painted and sculpted since the beginning of Art History, from Botticelli’s ‘Virgin of the Pomegranate to Cézanne’s Still Life with Watermelon and Pomegranate. And then there's the oil on canvas entitled "Vendedor de Granadas" completed by this writer a few years before changing careers and becoming a food journalist. Some even claim it wasn’t an apple but a pomegranate with which Eve tempted Adam making it the original forbidden fruit.

Pomegranates, which originated in Northern India and/or Persia, are used extensively in Iranian cooking but sporadically in other cuisines. They were brought to the New World by the Spanish and are widely cultivated here. But they play an important role in only one traditional Mexican dish – the famed chiles en nogada (see my earlier post) which is offered all over Mexico from early August until the Fiesta Patrias of mid- September. The seeds are used to garnish the white walnut cream sauce and complete the requisite triumvirate of flag colors. Otherwise, pomegranates are simply eaten, whole or pre-seeded. A plethora of ‘invented’ recipes such as pomegranate margaritas or salsas are out there, but nothing is found in the Kennedy/Bayless lexicon of tried and true tradition. So look to my previous post for Regina’s mom's family chile en nogada recipe. And try this Italian one, loosely adapted from every Italian mamma’s favorite fallback cookbook, The Silver Spoon.

Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce

In my version this dish is prepared as a fricassee, i.e. sauteed and simmered in liquid. It is similar to an Iranian baked specialty, and my guess is that it originates in Sicily where Arab influence is evident.

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

1 whole chicken cut up in serving size pieces (back discarded) or 1 breast cut in 4 and 2 leg, 2 thighs

1 small onion, finely chopped

20 g. dried porcini (available in Mexico City in the San Juan Market)

5 medium pomegranates

1 cup (250 g) cream (use a combination of ‘crema para batir’ and 'crema' or crème fraiche if you can get it – straight Mexican crema or American sour cream is too acidic)

4 fresh sage leaves, chopped (or use 1/2 teaspoon dried if no fresh is available)

salt and pepper

1. Soak the mushrooms in a bowl of 1 ½ cups hot tap water

2. Make pomegranate juice. It’s easier than you think. Simply cut fruits in half (through the middle, i.e. with stem and 'belly-button' on either end) and press through an orange juice squeezer, either the hand kind (see photo), the lever variety, or an electric model. No need to remove the seeds and “press with a wooden spoon” or “run through a blender and strain” as other recipes will have you laboriously do. Reserve a half for seeds to garnish, or make life easy and buy an extra cup of prepared seeds at the market.

3. In a large, heavy casserole or ceramic cazuela, heat the oil and butter; pat dry and lightly salt the chicken. Brown the chicken, turning from time to time about 10 minutes. Remove from pan.

4. Add the onions and sauté 2 or 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula

5. Add chicken, pomegranate juice, mushrooms and their liquid. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a very low simmer. Partially cover and cook for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time. Test a piece for doneness.

6. When chicken is done, remove the pieces with a slotted spoon to a ceramic bowl and cover to keep warm. Raise the heat under the sauce a little and add the cream and sage, stirring. Add pepper and salt if necessary. Cook slowly for a few minutes so the sauce thickens. Put the chicken back in and heat through.

Serve, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

A note to my readers: See this excellent article on me and my blog (en español)

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