I made my childhood fricassee

Puerto Rican-style chicken fricassee is my hands-down favorite childhood dish. Growing up in San Juan, I ate it a lot. My mother’s version was killer.

Now, when I ask her how she made it, she has no idea.

That’s because fricasé de pollo has infinite variations (extending beyond Puerto Rico and Latin America to include other regions and influences, including Cajun versions), and rarely comes out the same way twice.

My mother improvised, to a large extent. And, revisiting this beloved dish as a treat for Sunday-dinner guests, so did I.

My starting point was the fricasé de pollo recipe by Ana Quincoces Rodriguez in her fab cookbook “¡Sabor! A Passion for Cuban Cuisine” (boricua and cubiche cuisines are similar). I was also guided by recipes I found online (here, here, here, here and here).

I didn’t have the dry white wine Quincoces Rodriguez suggests using so — in what for me was a daring maneuver — substituted Puerto Rican Bacardí rum.

I also used fresh tomatoes to complement the standard tomato sauce, and threw in two heaping tablespoons of Goya sofrito seasoning (which you can find at Latin groceries or the Latin sections of supermarkets).

Other improvisations in my recipe include diced celery and carrots — and I deployed that classic boricua-style combo of capers, olives, peas and raisins.

Rodriguez’s recipe calls for a simple spice blend: 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon sweet paprika.

That should get you started. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to play!

Update: I just remembered that Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s bible of Puerto Rican cookery — called, of course, “Puerto Rican Cookery” — has what many regard as a definitive boricua-style fricasé de pollo recipe.

Silly me, I’ve owned a copy of this book for decades and it should have been the first place I looked.

The book is still in print. It’s a classic. But you’ll have to make adjustments for leaner times, like dispensing with such heavy ingredients as ham (listed in a number of the fricassee recipes I consulted) and lard.

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