A taste of El Salvador: pollo guisado by Judith Flores

By Susan Nestor Levy

(September 8, 2022) Welcome back, Nantucket Home Chefs. Today we take a culinary peek into one of the treasure chests of Nantucket’s largest Latino population.

Nantucket’s second “beloved” is Judith Flores, who along with partner Keny Gutierrez owns ACK House Clean. She is also one of the best Salvadoran cooks in Nantucket.

Flores’ recipe is for Salvadoran Chicken Stew ( Pollo Guisado), often the star of gastronomy celebrating Christmas or special occasions in his home country. Everything in her recipe, and all of the side dishes described in this column, can be sourced from our local grocery stores, and specialty items can be found at the Salvadoreña Mini-Mart on Old South Road.

One of the flavor tricks for Salvadoran chicken stew is the special spice blend Relax, an exotic combination of pumpkin and sesame seeds, bay leaf and oregano.

Serve the Salvadoran chicken stew as an appetizer with rice and black bean dishes, which can be purchased already prepared at the Salvadoreña Mini-Mart. Flores was generous in testing my version, deboning and shredding the chicken, and serving it on a roll with coleslaw, called Pan con Pollo. Less braising would prevent too much sweetness, good advice.

Flores shared two other recipes, but notably she didn’t offer a recipe for pupusas. She stifled a chuckle when asked about oblivion, as it is the national dish. Perhaps premature for a novice chef in Salvadoran cuisine?

Prepared pupusas are available at the mini market. Reheated in a hot skillet, corn tortillas oozing with cheese and loroco (a flower bud) tastes good. Research warns that it is an insult to eat pupusas with utensils, so guests should be warned about forks.

Be sure to serve the pupusas with curtido (marinated cabbage salad) and Salsa Roja (Salvadorian red sauce) which are also made at the market.

Chicken making is full of surprises, enticing but unfamiliar tastes and new stovetop layering processes. The resulting dish is mild but full of complex flavors.

Although Flores received at least four text messages and a panicked call, it’s a simple dish to prepare once you understand the step-by-step process. No instinct comes into play, as this is a different style of cooking from American recipes. But it made the preparation a joyous adventure to be had.

My neighbor from Nantucket, Doug Fisher, researched what wine to serve with the braised chicken entree. Salvadoran chicken has variations around the world, and Fisher was directed to a slightly effervescent rosé from the Basque region of Spain called Txakolina from producer Ameztoi. Miraculously, he found him in Brix and was told he was very popular in Nantucket.

Flores graciously shared the story of her journey from El Salvador to our little island.

14.5 km from the largest town of Agua Caliente, Santa Rosa is a village of less than 5,000 inhabitants. Flores and her six siblings grew up in Santa Rosa, commuting to school and working in Agua Caliente. At 18, Judith became a cashier at the city bank.

When Jamie Flores visits home from his US-based restaurant job (The Summer House on Nantucket and a restaurant in Houston), he and Judith met, fell in love, and married. Moving to Nantucket 18 years ago, the Flores family grew to include five Js: Judith, Jamie, Jerry, James and Jasmine. Happily, the Flores family purchased an island home in 2018.

Jamie Flores can claim to be one of the pioneers of Nantucket from El Salvador. He arrived in 1993 with the nucleus of what has become one of the largest Latino communities living on our island. His craft is flooring, creating and restoring some of the beautiful floors that adorn Nantucket homes.

Judith splits her 2021 summer workday between her business, ACK House Clean, and managing the overnight shift at Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s laundry.

Flores and Gutierrez will celebrate 10 years as small business co-owners next year. Together, the duo grew the business to 10 employees, now serving 60 customer households during the busy summer season.

It seems crazy to imagine what Judith does for fun (she says she loves her job) given her busy schedule.

Cooking and partying are in the wheelhouse of the island’s Salvadoran community.

On many Saturdays, the Foreign Wars Veterans Station near the airport is filled with lights, music and laughter. A disc jockey is often on hand to start the dance on birthdays, showers, anniversaries. Flores said 200 guests wouldn’t be unusual at a gathering. After speaking with her, I felt a pain reminiscent of freshman homesickness. His cheerful description of the community gave me a melancholic pause.

Hopefully this article sparks a bit of culinary competition and another home chef from our Latin American or other international community emails me a favorite recipe at [email protected] com.

Nantucket Salvadoran Stew Pollo Guisado Nantucket

by Judith Flores, Nantucket

About 4 pounds chicken with skin and bones (I used a mix of 8 thighs and 6 thighs) About ½ cup Rub for the Chicken oil: 4 large chicken stock cubes, ground into a powder in a blender , or 4 tbsp powdered broth Toss in the mashed broth: 1 tbsp adobo spice 1/4 cup yellow mustard Stewing sauce: 4 extra-large tomatoes, quartered 1 large onion, peeled and quartered 3 large garlic cloves, quartered relaxation spices (at the Salvadoreña Mini-Mart), grilled on the stove, then finely crushed (I removed and discarded the crushed bay leaves before grilling the other spices. I then replaced the discarded bay leaves with 4 large leaves whole bay leaves, place these whole bay leaves in my cooking pot. I did this because I was worried that my grinder would not grind the bay leaves properly and leave sharp edges). 2 tablespoons salt 1/2 cup water Additional chicken broth, about 1-1/2 cups Vegetables: 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 3 carrots and 3 stalks celery , cut into 1-inch wedges 1. Cover chicken pieces completely with mixture. I marinated overnight in the refrigerator, but you can also marinate for 15 minutes to half an hour and cook straight away.

2. When ready to cook, place the chicken pieces in the hot oil until golden brown, about 10 minutes. To do this, I placed about a half inch of oil in the bottom of a skillet over medium heat (I actually used three pans so I didn’t crowd the chicken pieces) and spread the chicken, covering each pan with a splash guard or lid. Be very careful as the oil is hot so to turn the poultry I wore long oven mitts and used long tongs. Reserve the chicken once it is golden brown.

3. Wipe off most, but not all, of the oil and scrape the chicken pieces and about 4 tablespoons of oil into a large Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat and add tomatoes, onion and garlic. Cook until you see the skin of the tomato peeling off. That’s how you know what’s called your ‘sofrito ingredients’ are ready to mix.

4. Grill the relaxation spices in a hot skillet until you see light brown sesame seeds, then remove from heat. As stated, I opted to remove the bay leaf pieces before grilling the rest of the rejalo spice packet. I then placed 4 whole bay leaves in the pot in the steps below.

5. In a blender or food processor, place the tomato/onion/garlic mixture with 1/2 cup of water and the ground relaxation (retain your whole bay leaves and the red powder which comes in a separate sachet with the relajo).

6. Return the sauce to the pot and bring to a boil. Add bay leaves and chicken. Reduce the heat to medium to keep a good lively simmer.

7. Add the potatoes and cook for 20 minutes over low heat, then add a few pinches of the red powder from the relaxation package (for color only).

8. Add the carrots and celery and cook for at least an additional 10 minutes, up to an additional 30 minutes until the carrots and celery are to your liking, adding up to 1 1/2 cups of broth chicken as you go if the liquid is disappearing and to the consistency of your favorite stew. Less braising will retain more chicken firmness, so test it as it cooks.

9. Add salt to taste. 10. Serve with rice and beans.