Twenty-one pounds of mozzarella curd, 15 bottles of wine, 13 women, 4 pounds of pizza dough, dozens of toppings, and one wood-fired pizza oven named Maxey. It's a mozzarella-making party.
Meet Karen Hogan: dancer, mother, owner of Firebelly Artisan Pizza, mozzarella maker.
Karen and I thought it would be fun to have a few friends over to her kitchen studio (where Maxey lives) and make some mozzarella cheese. Then we found out that Food52.com was encouraging people everywhere to have mozzarella potlucks and share what they learn on their website. We signed up to be an official mozzarella-making site, right here in Jackson, Wyoming.
This was only my third time making mozzarella. Just as we used to say in medical school: See one, do one, teach one.
We didn't have a lot of mozzarella-making experience under our belts, but it was easy. We both practiced at home before the big night. I made my own mozzarella curds one day, starting with the freshest gallon of homogenized whole milk I could find and a kit from the grocery store. It helped to see the whole cheese making process from start to finish, and to get a feel for kneading and stretching the curds. To learn how to make mozzarella curd, follow this helpful tutorial
21# of mozzarella curd. Yep, that should be enough.
One gallon of whole milk yields two small balls of mozzarella cheese. We were going to need a lot more cheese than that, so for the party we ordered mozzarella curd from Caputo's
, an Italian emporium in Salt Lake City. It was as good if not better than my homemade curd, and saved us a lot of time. After all, the fun of making mozzarella is in the kneading of the curds and the stretching of the cheese, and the creation of cute little balls.
Fig and Olive Tapenade, from Food52er Kayb was a the perfect starter smeared on pear slices and olive oil crackers.
And since it was a Friday night after a busy week, wine and appetizers were the first order of business. Fig and Olive Tapenade, a recipe by Kayb
on the Food52 website, was a most excellent start to the night. With the added bonus that it appeared later on one of our soon-to-be-famous pizzas. (Fig and Olive Tapenade as the base, sliced pears, caramelized onions, and fresh mozzarella; we called it the Food52 Fig Olive Pizza).
Prosciutto-wrapped melon bites, with minted balsamic drizzle.
For a let's-get-in-the-mood-for-summer appetizer, I wrapped chunks of melon with wispy-thin slices of San Daniele prosciutto, and then drizzled them with a sweet and tart mint/balsamic sauce.
We were also tasting olive oils from California Olive Ranch
. As a frequent user of both Arbequina (which I buy in 2.5 gallon jugs) and Miller's Blend, it was fun to taste them side by side. The Arbequina is bright and fruity, with the fresh, floral flavor of a just-pressed Tuscan oil. Miller's Blend has a rounder, stronger flavor with a bit of pepper at the end. The verdict: Arbequina would be perfect for making vinaigrettes and pesto, and drizzling on top of ice cream with sea salt. Miller's Blend would stand up to stronger flavors and spicier food. It is fair to say that we were smitten with both olive oils.
Hanneke, Saxon and Amelia weigh in on the California Olive Ranch olive oils.
It was time to get down to business, before the wine was all gone. We donned protective gloves, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. A generous pour from our big box of Kosher salt was a key step to giving our mozzarella that salty edge.
Mozzarella curds are placed in the salty water and heated to 180ºF.
We broke up the curd into manageable pieces, and divided it between our cheesemaking staff, armed with stainless steel bowls filled with hot salty water. How hot? 180ºF is the magic number. The water has to be at least this hot to melt the curd before you can knead it.
Kelly contemplating how we are going to turn all this curd into mozzarella cheese.
The girls getting down to business.
After a few minutes of gently stirring the water and the curd to keep the heat evenly distributed, the curds began melting into each other to form a stretchy lump. Now it was time to knead and stretch.
Stretching mozzarella curd is not unlike stretching taffy.
If the mozzarella doesn't stretch, then just place it back in the bowl of hot water. Eventually you will have a feel for when the mozzarella is ready; real cheesemakers use pH strips and start stretching when it drops to 5.2.
Amelia and Danielle: proud mamas with their baby balls of mozzarella.
It's fun to knead the mozzarella, but we found it was good to exercise restraint. If you overwork it, the cheese becomes shaggy and rough. The trick was to recognize the beautiful, elastic, shiny phase, and then quickly turn the edges under and form a ball. You'll know it when you see it. The mozzarella balls are then plunged into a bowl of cold water, to chill and firm up. But not before we all tasted the warm, milky cheese and sighed a collective "Mmmmmmm".
We all agreed that Carrie's balls were the cutest.
Meanwhile, Karen was lovingly stoking Maxey with the oak wood she chops herself. As Maxey heated up, we took a break outside to admire the beautiful night.
Maxey the incredible traveling wood-fired pizza oven.
The mozzarella-making girls are taking a well deserved break. Snake River Mountains that lie to the south of Jackson frame the sunset.
Now for the pizza. Luckily, we had an expert amongst us. Karen's pizza is some of the best pizza I have ever had. Her Naples-style crust is thin and crispy yet has just the right chewiness. Maxey heats up to 900ºF, able to cook a pizza in 90 seconds. The crust bubbles up and chars distinctively, and then Karen expertly "domes" the pizza to finish cooking the top.
Karen pulls Maxey on a trailer to parties and events in and around Jackson Hole.
It is a beautiful thing to watch Maxey cook a pizza in 90 seconds.
We started with a classic Margherita Pizza. Freshly torn mozzarella, fresh crushed San Marzano tomatoes and basil, on Karen's perfect crust: a new standard for the margherita.
Close your eyes, take a bite, and you'd swear you were at a pizzeria in Naples.
The creative juices are flowing.
In the spirit of a potluck theme, everyone brought their favorite pizza topping ingredients. There was kale, arugula and lemon. Caramelized onions, pears, prosciutto, and gorgonzola. Pineapple, jalapeño and hot sauce. There was goat cheese, fontina, parmesan, and lots and lots of fresh mozzarella. I brought a jar of shaved truffles in olive oil that I had purchased at a farmer's market in Tuscany, and lovingly brought home in my suitcase. And a bag of locally-foraged morel mushrooms, the last of my stash from last spring.
The is Karen's famous OMG Pizza: garlic cream sauce, caramelized onions, pears, mozzarella.
Karen had prepared some innovative sauces. I fell in love with the garlic cream sauce that was the base for her famous OMG Pizza, topped with incredibly thin slices of pear (sliced with a mandoline).
Here's my Food52 Fig Olive Pizza. Fig and Olive Tapenade is the base, then caramelized onions, pears, mozzarella. Topped with arugula tossed in olive oil and lemon juice.
When Saxon found the jar of truffles, she was in heaven. She generously slathered them on her pizza dough. Then the morels, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, prosciutto, and a healthy topping of kale. The aroma of truffles wafting from the pizza as she pulled it out of the oven made us all groan. We call it the Better Than Sex Pizza.
The Better Than Sex pizza
Elisa and Catherine with their version of the Better Than Sex.
Soon everyone was slathering shaved truffles on their pizzas in a collective ode to the Tuscan countryside, until the jar of truffles was gone.
Maxey doing her magic on the Better Than Sex pizza.
Then, for a change of pace, Sarah got to work on her masterpiece, a jalapeño-studded, hot sauce-based pie with fresh pineapple chunks.
Sarah had the foresight to bring a pineapple, hot sauce, and jalapeños as her potluck ingredients.
We called it The College Girl. It was the first pineapple pizza I'd ever dared to eat. As Geena Davis says in Thelma and Louise: "Now I understand what all the fuss is about!"
The College GIrl in all its jalapeño and hot sauce glory.
Sarah tops her creation with California Olive Ranch Arbequina olive oil, the perfect complement to the fresh pineapple.
Expectations were high as Amelia started to work on her pie. After all, Amelia splits her time between Rome and Jackson Hole. Lucky girl.
Amelia is also a dancer; can't you tell by her beautiful hands?
A heart-shaped crust topped with butternut squash puree, roasted tomatoes, kale, caramelized onions, and fresh mozzarella. Squash Love was born.
Amelia's Squash Love creation. Butternut squash puree is the sauce.
If you've never tried making a butternut squash based pizza, don't be shy. This may well be my favorite pizza of the night. I especially love the combination of the roasted tomatoes with the sweet squash and the salty kale. Well done, Amelia!
Everything's better with Arbequina drizzled on top.
Amelia's Squash Love was nicely accentuated by the Arbequina's floral notes. Karen's hand-chopped pile of oak in the background.
Girls always have room for dessert, even after eating all that pizza. Chocolate Anise Biscotti are perfect with just one more glass of wine.
We weren't too full to polish off the Chocolate Anise Biscotti and the rest of the wine.
Chris and Carrie agreed that making mozzarella was some of the best indoor fun they've had in a long time.
Thanks to Food52.com
for motivating us to dip our toes into the world of cheese making. Thanks to California Olive Ranch
for providing us with a tasting kit of their addictive olive oil. A special thanks to Karen Hogan of Firebelly Artisan Pizza
for hosting us at Maxey's fabulous den. And to all our enthusiastic friends who can now add mozzarella-making to their long list of talents.
For a printable version of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Fig and Olive Tapenade
Here is Kayb's recipe for the incredibly simple and delicious tapenade, as she posted it on Food52.com. This recipe has easily slipped into my party repertoire, and I must admit that I usually double it so that I have leftover tapenade to spread on turkey sandwiches, cracker-and-blue-cheese snacks, and mozzarella paninis all week long. We also found that it makes a darn good pizza.
Serves 8 as an appetizer
- 4 ounces dried figs (I have used both black mission and calmyra figs with great results)
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup green olives, pimiento stuffed
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Finely mince the figs and olives, or pulse them in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the olive oil, rosemary, and balsamic vinegar, and mix or pulse.
- Add more olive oil, if needed, to get the desired consistency.
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Melon Prosciutto BItes with Minted Balsamic Drizzle
This appetizer hardly requires a recipe. All you need is a gentle reminder to make this often during the height of the melon season. And I bet you'll find a few more uses for the Mint/Balsamic Drizzle.
Serves 8 as an appetizer
- 1 perfectly ripe cantaloupe, peeled and seeded, cut into 2-bite cubes
- 12 slices prosciutto (I love san daniele) sliced paper-thin
- 3 tablespoons fresh mint, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar, to taste
- Tear each slice of prosciutto into 3 long pieces.
- Wrap each piece of melon with a slice of prosciutto, and secure with a toothpick.
- Place the mint, balsamic vinegar and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely minced.
- Drizzle the sauce over the melon just before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.
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Chocolate Anise Biscotti
Biscotti don't have to be hard as a rock. When you make them yourself, you can bake them soft or crispy, or somewhere in between. You'll need a good, sharp serrated knife to cut the cookie loaf into thin slices.
If you like to make your own biscotti, you may want to invest in a biscotti pan by USA pans. I found mine on kingarthurflour.com. It is just the right size for making nice, big biscotti, and the perfectly proportioned pan keeps the dough from spreading.
If you don't have time to chill the dough, the biscotti will still turn out fine, but the log may spread out on the baking sheet.
Makes about 2 dozen
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons anise seed
- 1 teaspoon anise extract (optional and delicious)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a large heavy baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Crush the anise seed in a mortar and pestle. Or place them in a plastic bag, and crush a few times with a rolling pin.
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time.
- Add the anise seed, the flour mixture, the anise extract (if using) and the chocolate chips. Stir gently until just combined.
- Chill the dough for at least an hour or overnight.
- Form the dough into a 16-inch long, 3-inch wide log. Transfer to the baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until light golden. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 30 minutes.
- Transfer the log to a cutting board, and cut on a diagonal into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch slices using a sharp serrated knife.
- Transfer biscotti cut side down onto the baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 10 minutes for chewy biscotti, 15-20 minutes for crispy ones.
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I love my biscotti pan from kingarthurflour.com
Mozzarella Making Kit
: this kit
can be purchased online at Amazon.com, or locally at Jackson Whole Grocer. It contains everything you need to make mozzarella from scratch: rennet, citric acid, a thermometer, gloves. Just add fresh whole milk.
To order mozzarella curd in bulk, contact Caputo's deli
in Salt Lake City. And the next time you are in Salt Lake, stop by and check out their Cheese Cave. It is a wonder to behold. California Olive Ranch
olive oils are available locally at Jackson Whole Grocer. You can buy directly from the producer on their website
. If you live in my area, you can also buy in bulk from a distributor named Joe
. I email him when I am getting low on olive oil, and he arranges a 2.5 gallon jug to be sent from the Ranch directly to my front door. It's as good as Zappo's.Firebelly Artisan Pizza
: to have Karen cater a party for you, contact her here
. She will bring Maxey to your house and spread joy and pizza to all of your friends.
Something magical happens to the humble avocado when it is smashed together with a stick of butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, minced garlic and sea salt. Avocado Butter is what happens.
Over spring break, I conjured up my mother's recipe for Avocado Butter when faced with an unlikely problem: too much lobster. It was the last week of lobster season in the Caribbean, and fishermen were heading out in their small skiffs every day, coming home with buckets of lobster to buy for a pittance. We bought as much as we could carry, with all the cash in our pockets. How could we resist?
What to do with all this lobster? Steam of boil? Grill? Melted butter on the side? Then I remembered how my mom used to dress up seafood.
Shopping for supper is so stressful in the Bahamas.
My mother's signature party dish in the 1970s was swordfish that had been marinated in lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and dijon mustard, then grilled and slathered with generous dollops of avocado butter. In those days, her dish was a bit avant garde, edgy even. Avocados had only recently made an appearance in the produce isle back then, in my secluded out-in-the-boonies upstate New York town.
Just about anything you throw on the grill is made better with a touch of avocado butter, from corn on the cob to chicken breasts to fish. So when faced with an abundance of lobster, enough for three consecutive nights of feasting, the Avocado Butter made its first appearance of the upcoming summer grilling season.
None of us are experts at cooking lobster (being from Wyoming and all). Luckily, a rare window of functioning wifi allowed us to consult the Hotline at Food52.com
. I knew someone there would know what to do.
Thus we steamed the lobsters for exactly 12 minutes (according to a Food52er), and they were perfectly pink, juicy and tender. We gave them the same treatment the next night, and on the third night we grilled. The avocado butter was especially well suited to seeping into the grilled lobsters' nooks and crannies.
Jon and Brian are serious about fishing, serious about steaming lobster.
Fishing from a stand-up paddle board helps you sneak up on fish.
Had we captured this lemon shark, the meaty steak would have been the perfect grilled fish for soaking up avocado butter. But sharks were afraid of my big white paddleboard, sneaking up on them like a big white fish.
We never got the chance to capture this little shark, and slather him with avocado butter.
Riis heads out into the wild blue to fish for dinner.
Slowly but surely, summer will be here, and the sky above the Tetons will be just as blue as the waters of the Caribbean. Well, almost as blue. And when that happens, you will want to grill everything in sight. Just keep my mom's Avocado Butter recipe tucked away, and the Lemon Soy Marinade too, and you will be ready for summer.
Nick waiting for the tide to recede so he can play beach soccer.
Perks of traveling with fishermen: obscenely abundant platters of sashimi.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Avocado butter is perishable, as the avocado will turn brown when exposed to air. Tightly covered with plastic wrap, it will keep for several days. Extra avocado butter can be successfully frozen; just place plastic wrap in contact with the butter so it is not exposed to air.
Yields about 1 cup
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup ripe, mashed avocado (about 1 large Hass avocado)
- 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro (optional)
- Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. You can also mix by hand with a fork, but it may be more difficult to achieve a smooth butter texture.
- Refrigerate, with the top smoothed over with plastic wrap, until ready to use.
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Add some chopped cilantro if you like.
Lemon Soy Marinade
I love this marinade with skin-on bone-in chicken thighs, salmon steaks, and any firm, flaky fish.
Makes enough marinade for 6-8 serving
- 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, and pour into a shallow glass dish.
- Place fish or chicken in a single layer and turn over, coating with the marinade.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours.
- Shake off the marinade before grilling, and discard. Grill to perfection.
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Back to reality: gloomy clouds and chilly days, rain mixed with snow mixed with graupel. Springtime in the Tetons.
I had never heard of Pipián Rojo, the luxuriouly creamy pumpkin seed sauce of central Mexico, until I took a class in San Miguel de Allende. Made creamy with almonds, sesame seeds and pepitas, and spicy with guajillo chiles , Pipián Rojo with Chicken is also one of the healthiest and most satisfying dishes I learned in cooking school there.
San Miguel is a mecca for artists, both on the street and in the galleries.
I promise not to go on and on about how much I adore San Miguel de Allende, a small city in the mountains north of Mexico City. Or about how the dried chile-based food is both hearty and healthy, and so perfect for adapting to the way we cook and eat in Jackson Hole.
The artichokes in Mexico don't travel very far to market.
Or how a woman named Juanita taught me to make corn tortillas from scratch, and cook them on a traditional comál for breakfast with a tart relish of nopales (cactus paddles) and eggs.
Juanita in the kitchen, giving me a lesson in fresh tortillas.
As you can probably guess, Juanita's tortilla is on the right, mine is on the left.
But I will tell you about the Pipián Rojo de Pepitas de Calabaza y Almendras. Translation: A mole-like sauce of pumpkin seeds and almonds, red with the dried guajillo chiles, and complex with the flavors of sesame, cumin and paprika. I know you will want to have this recipe in your back pocket...for rainy weekends, an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration, or to bring you out of a mid-spring cooking rut.
Pipián Rojo served with white rice, Mexican style, which is soaked in warm water and carefully drained, then fried and drained, then steamed. You have to taste it to believe how light and fluffy it is!
Pipián Rojo is not hard to make; in fact the entire dish can be on the table in less than an hour if you cook the chicken ahead of time, or use store-bought chicken broth. Using the same principles I learned when making salsas with Marilau
, the sauce is simmered, blended and strained, then mixed with toasted sesame seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, that have been ground to a powder.
Pumpkin seeds, pepitas in Mexico, are toasted and ground to thicken the sauce.
Dried guajillo or ancho chiles are torn into pieces, and cooked in chicken broth with garlic and onion.
There is a fine line between toasty brown and burnt and bitter when it comes to sesame seeds. I purchased this comal on the street in San Miguel for about 200 pesos.
A smooth sauce is a source of pride for a Mexican cook.
Marilau's sister Andrea in the kitchen.
For my next Pipián Rojo, I plan to sear the duck breast that I have been eyeing in the freezer section of one of our grocery stores. Given the price, I'll need a special occasion. I also envision this sauce atop a roasted pork tenderloin, a fan of seared elk medallions, or a roasted turkey breast.
When traveling in Latin America, I often find streets that bear my maiden name Barranco (almost in this case).
To prepare the dried chiles, take a look at my previous blog post Tres Salsas
. Be careful not to burn the chiles, as they will soften in the broth for less than a minute. Also, ground pumpkin seeds are added separately from the ground almonds and sesame seeds because they also have a tendency to go bitter when cooked at a high heat. Go easy on the heat and your Pipián will be mellow, complex and bright, without a hint of bitterness. Buen provecho.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Chicken with Pipián Rojo
This recipe is from Marilau, my cooking instructor at the Traditional Mexican Cooking School in San Miguel de Allende. If you travel to San Miguel, I'll hope you stop by and take a few classes from Marilau and her sister Andrea. http://www.marilau.com
To grind the pumpkin seeds, almonds and sesame seeds, I find that a spice grinder/coffee grinder works best. A blender will work in a pinch, but the oils released from the nuts tend to make the the powder stick to the blades.
Serve with rice and a simple salad of avocados and oranges (try this
one). You could even make some fresh corn tortillas (in your abundant free time), or head down to the local tortilléria for some hot off the comál.
On a spicy scale of 1-5, I'd give this dish a 2.5. For more heat, add an additional guajillo chile, or throw in a few seeds from one of the chiles.
for the chicken
- 1 whole chicken, cut up, bone-in and skin on
- 1/2 medium white onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon marjoram
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- water to cover, about 6 cups
for the Pipián Rojo sauce
- 6 guajillo chiles or 3 ancho chiles, seeded, deveined and torn into pieces
- 1 thick slice white onion
- 3 large garlic cloves, halved
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil (I had some duck fat in the freezer and that worked well)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and ground
- 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and ground
- 5-6 cups chicken broth (from cooking the chicken)
- salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- Place the chicken pieces in a large sturdy pot and cover with water. Add onion, garlic cloves, bay leaf, salt, marjoram, thyme.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to barely a simmer. Cook over low heat for about one hour.
- Remove the chicken pieces and set aside. Strain the sauce over a fine mesh sieve and set aside.
- Prepare the chiles as previously described (cut off the stem and open them with scissors, carefully remove all seeds and veins, and tear into pieces).
- Sauté onion and garlic in a large saucepan in 1 tablespoon of lard or vegetable oil until translucent. Add chiles and gently sauté just until soft, less than a minute. (If you overdo it, they will turn bitter).
- Add 2 cups chicken broth (from boiling the chicken), cumin, paprika, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, prepare the nuts and seeds. First toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over low heat until they just start to pop. Removed from heat and set aside.
- Toast almonds in the same skillet until barely brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Toast sesame seeds until they just start to pop and are toasty brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Using a spice/coffee grinder, a food processor or a blender, grind the pumpkin seeds to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Place the sesame seeds together with the almonds in the blender and grind until they are powdery. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. (Keep separate from the pumpkin seed powder).
- Once the chiles and broth have simmered for 15 minutes, place all into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over a fine mesh sieve back into the same pot.
- Bring back to a boil with another cup of chicken broth.
- Whisk in the almond/sesame powders, and cook over low heat for 8 minutes.
- Whisk in the pumpkin seed powder, and the rest of the chicken broth, about 3 1/2 cups.
- Bring back to a boil then reduce heat and cook gently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
- Taste for salt. Remove half the sauce and reheat the chicken pieces in the pot. Use the extra sauce on the side, or for another dish. Reheat very gently.
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A cauldron of chorizo at a local market in San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel is a magical place at night.