"I don't like Mexican food," a friend said the other day. What she meant is the sort of food you get in the United States--cheesy dishes, nachos, refried beans, enchiladas loaded with red sauce, ground beef tacos in fried shells, guacamole from a store container and so on.
If she were only able to travel to Mexico, she would see wonderful food, fresh, interesting and flavored with centuries of tradition.
Take pollo a la ramos. I had never heard of this chicken dish until I went to Allende in the state of Nuevo León, where it was served at a lunch.
There's nothing identifiably Mexican about it, at least to an American--no hot peppers, red chile sauce, cheese, cilantro, tortillas or beans. Instead, it tastes a lot like chicken cacciatore.
The name Ramos refers to a river in Nuevo León, not a person.
You can cook the chicken in a skillet on top of the stove or bake it, María Luisa Barrón Guerra told me as she wrote the recipe in my notebook (right), complete with a diagram. María Luisa is from Monterrey, where pollo a la ramos is also popular, she said.
The oven version includes potatoes but the stove top does not, probably because the potatoes wouldn't cook as well in an open skillet.
A variation made with beef is called cortadillo norteño. But this is only cooked on top of the stove, never in an oven.
María Luisa insisted that I not turn the chicken pieces over as they bake, but I did this anyway in order to mix the sauce ingredients more evenly. The dish may look dry as you place it in the oven, but it will form delicious juices as it cooks.
POLLO A LA RAMOS
Ramos Style Chicken, Baked Version
1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs
2 russet potatoes, about 3/4 pound
1 green bell pepper, sliced, white membrane removed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Skin the chicken, if desired, and remove excess fat.
Peel the potatoes. Cut in thirds lengthwise, cut each third in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into chunks.
Place the chicken in a 12x8-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the potatoes, green pepper and onion around it.
Top with the tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the dish with foil and bake 1 hour. After 40 minutes, turn the pieces over to blend the sauce. Recover and continue to cook until done.
Serve with rice and a salad or vegetable.
Makes 4 servings.