Growing up in the Caribbean or in the South American countries, it is normal for most people to raise their own chickens, roosters and various other livestock.
I clearly remember this particular occasion when my mom was chatting with the neighbor while I played in the yard. Unbeknownst to me or my mom, one of our roosters, a mean old sucker, decided he did not like me playing around where he ran the roost. Slowly he snuck up on me and proceeded to peck at me. I still have a few scars from that darn bird. That night, my mom made the best tasting gallo en chicha!
The Spanish speaking countries in South America are a fusion of flavor, culture and cuisines and Guatemala is no exception to this rule.
The tiny country of Guatemala is flanked by two oceans. Its food is largely based on the open flame. The most common method of cooking is over a poyo or cinderblocks surrounding a wood fire. That may explain why the food is usually either soups or grilled meats.
Gallo en chicha is a traditional chicken dish in Salvador and the national dish of Guatemala. The word gallo means rooster and this dish is made with rooster, Salvadoran chichi and panela. As someone who grew up on an Island in South America, I was exposed to what South Americans refer to homegrown chickens, hens and roosters!
Gallo en chicha is a rooster cooked in a fermented corn drink. The dish is consumed in both rural and urban areas. Because cooking this dish is complicated and time-consuming, it is usually prepared for special occasions and celebrations, such as holidays or the birth of a child.
Chicha in South and Central America, is a fermented or non-fermented beverage usually derived from maize. It includes corn beer known as chicha de jora and non-alcoholic beverages such as chicha morada. Prior to the mid-20th century, little stands, chicherias, along the roads or in towns, commonly sold the alcoholic beverage. Most have now disappeared. Chicha is still used as one of the essential ingredients of this Guatemalan and Salvadoran dish, gallo en chicha.
While the chicha in Guatemala is a somewhat contraband fruit liquor made in the town of Salcaja, it is reputed to have been made with peaches, pineapple, quince, and nance, a sort of wild yellow cherry. The mixture is allowed to ferment for 6 months, then strained and bottled. It is a semisweet, fruity wine, light red in color, and can pack a punch.
A home substitute can be quickly made with a fruit vinegar (cider or pineapple) mixed with panela and dark brown sugar. Should you try it this way, dissolve ½ cup dark brown sugar in 1 cup vinegar. This will produce that light sweet-and-sour flavor that is characteristic of gallo en chicha.
What is panela?
Panela is unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and of Latin America in general, which is a solid form of sucrose derived from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.
To many 21st century English-speaking Americans, chicken is just chicken. We’re not used to talking about the difference between hens and roosters, or age in reference to birds we might eat. It’s just chicken. Not so in Central and South American cuisine, in which chicken is not just chicken, but may be pollo, gallina, or even something else.
What is the difference between pollo and gallina?
In some Latin American countries, the difference between pollo and gallina meat is marked as is the case in Peru with aji de gallina and pollo chifa. Pollo meaning a younger, whiter meat, and gallina a yellower, fattier, and older meat.
A gallina vieja is an old hen. This is the chicken that is used in the Caribbean for homey soup stock, though not gelatinous stock. The older the bird, the darker the dark meat, and the harder the bones, hence the stock not being thick. The only way to break down this bird without violence is to cook it in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes after you turn down the heat or for a long time on low heat.
As an interesting side note, I read that in El Salvador, the dish gallo en chicha – rooster in fermented pineapple juice – is a dish traditionally served on Mondays. The losers of the weekend cock fights are lunch the next day.
What I find interesting about gallo en chicha is the addition of prunes. It’s the surprising ingredient that nobody expects in a Salvadoran dish. But just as many other Latin American cuisines, Salvadorian food is a fusion of both old and new world ingredients with a blend of European influences and the Salvadoran ingredients and cooking traditions.
Prunes and apricots in chicken stews come from the Moroccan and Arab influence on Spanish cuisine. The presence of tomatoes and peppers in the sauce are representative of our Mesoamerican roots. The richness and complexity of all the spices along with the olives and prunes make this dish a fine competitor among the most famous stews like coq au vin and chicken tagine (djaj mqualli).
This delicious dish is best served hot with rice or yuca which is predominant in both of these countries.
- 1 rooster (or a chicken), cut into pieces
- 2 cups chicha (Salvadoran drink), or beer
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 onions , thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 1 red bell pepper , diced
- 1 lb pork ribs
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground allspice
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ cup pineapple or apple cider vinegar
- 1 lb prunes , pitted
- 1 lb large golden raisins
- 8 bay leaves
- 4 large tomatoes , peeled, seeded and diced
- 4 oz. large green olives , pitted
- 3 potatoes , diced
- 1 red hot pepper , thinly sliced
- 2 carrots , grated
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
Brush all the pieces of rooster with lime juice.
In a large bowl, combine the rooster, pineapple vinegar (or cider vinegar), chicha, garlic, onions, red bell pepper, mustard seed and allspice.
Cover and marinate for 8 hours in the refrigerator.
At the end of these 8 hours, remove the pieces of poultry from the marinade and reserve the marinade.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and sauté the pieces of rooster until golden brown.
Remove the rooster pieces from the pan and, in the same oil, fry the pork until golden.
In a large pot, put the rooster and pork previously fried, then add the cloves, chili pepper, and all the reserved marinade.
Cover the pot and cook on high heat. As soon as it is boiling, lower the heat and cook on a low heat for 1h15.
Add the white wine, prunes, raisins, olives, potatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, tomatoes and carrots over high heat.
When the boiling point is reached, lower the heat and cook on low-medium heat for 40 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
At the end of cooking, if the sauce is too liquid, increase the heat if necessary to thicken the sauce.