Saturday, August 22, 2015


Cooks love feedback, yes we do. So I was really pleased to find that MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN—the book, not the blog—was Cookbook of the Month, along with THE NEW SPANISH KITCHEN by Anya von Bremzen, on Readers—home cooks—try recipes from the books and share their comments on the website. 

The Spanish theme continues through August. If you’d like to join the discussion, go to and follow the links to the threads.

Some readers share photos of their finished dishes as well as opinions. Many have how-to questions that others in the community reply to. Lots of them share tips and serving suggestions. (I've quoted some of the comments, but the photos are all mine.)

I am fascinated to follow how home cooks adapt cookbook recipes. because it shows how the recipes I write really work. For instance, pickerel cheeks instead of dogfish shark for cazón en adobo; sea bass instead of halibut or hake; triggerfish instead of sea bream; pork chops for tenderloin, grapefruit for orange; oloroso Sherry instead of fino. Or,  “instinct” calls for less vinegar or more garlic or a different herb. Or, the recipe says cook the chicken 60 minutes, but “mine was done in 20 minutes”.

I love reading the rave reviews: 

Sherried Chicken with Mushrooms.
Sherried Chicken with Mushroom (pollo al Jerez, recipe here).
Allegra: “The Mister declared this the 'Spanish version of chicken marsala' and cleared his plate. I really enjoyed the deep earthy-woodsy notes of these luscious ingredients singing together.”

Pollo al ajillo--chicken with garlic.
Chicken Sauté with Garlic and Sherry (pollo al ajillo, recipe here)

Gio: “Everything came together easily and just as Ms. Mendel states. The timing was perfect. This is a clear, concise recipe to follow, with an informative intro that explains the whys and wherefores, which I love to read. We enjoyed every bite of this dish. The chicken was tender, juicy, and had a delicate but noticeable infusion of deliciousness from the browned garlic garnish as well as from garlic that's cooked with the chicken. All the juices plus the wines created a luscious unctuous sauce that was a delight with each mouthful. I served sauted new cabbage, and steamed rice as sides, but next time - and there will be a next time - Crusty bread will be absorbing the sauce.”

Home-Style Pork Chops in Lemon Marinade (chuletas a la casera).
Nikki: “One of the many things I love about this book is the headnotes. For this recipe, Ms. Mendel mentions the same technique with pork loin slices cooked and slapped on toasted bread as a tapa. yes!”

But, I was devastated to read a scathing review of my paella recipe! 

Fiesta Paella (recipe here).
“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a bad paella but this was pretty close. I definitely wouldn’t make it again. Here’s why. The cooking process seemed ill-conceived and disjointed. Mussels cooked first then set aside. Some shrimp are cooked in advance, some left to cook in the paella  for 35 mins, ditto for the peas (including standing time), squid cooked for 47 mins. Needless to say, everything but the rice and the mussels were overcooked, the squid was inedible. I omitted the yellow food colouring as well. I’ve never come across that in a paella recipe before. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this one. We drowned our sorrows in a lovely Spanish wine mr bc selected for the occasion. The wine was worthy of a celebration unto itself.”

Not to sound too defensive, but I have to add that Spanish home cooks rarely use real saffron—they use powdered artificial yellow coloring to get that vibrant sunny color for paella. (More about this condiment here ) And, I wanted to make the recipe accessible to American home cooks who might not want to shell out for pricey saffron. In my kitchen in Spain, I only use the best La Mancha saffron--and the paella is never so yellow as the restaurant versions. About the timing, this is what I tell cooking class students:

Paella cooking class: We put in par-boiled green beans, frozen peas and all of the small peeled shrimp. Won’t they be overcooked? That’s not the point. Think of them as flavoring, adding to the total flavor of the rice.
 Many of the recipes from my cookbook that are reviewed on Chowhound have also appeared on this blog. One that hasn’t yet, Chicken Sautéed with Fresh Tomato, is perfect for this end of summer season. I’ll let Chowhound's “Breadcrumbs” provide the commentary.

Vine-ripened tomatoes!

Chicken Sautéd with Fresh Tomato
Pollo con Tomate

Breadcrumbs: “Prep is simple but the cooking time required for the sauce doesn’t necessarily make this the best recipe for a weeknight unless time isn’t an issue at your home. Fortunately for me, today time wasn’t a factor at all except when we started inhaling the tantalizing aromas of this sauce and then it was impatience vs a lack of time that proved to be an issue.

“Once the chicken is cooked, the sauce must then reduce to the consistency of a jam and this, my friends, is what takes time and patience. The sauce is well worth the wait, sweet, jammy and velvety. I think I’d have been happy with a bowl of sauce and some crusty bread, chicken be damned! I served this atop some lovely steamed fingerling potatoes. It would be equally comfortable with rice or pasta.

“Mr bc allotted this a 9 out of 10 and managed to consume a whopping 5 pieces of chicken! This is definitely worth a try. I think Kalamata olives would be lovely in this sauce and if mr bc had left me any, I’d be having the sauce with olives with an egg poached atop for breakfast tomorrow.”


Fresh tomatoes cook to a thick, jammy consistency.

Chop tomatoes in processor.

2 pounds chicken legs and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds fresh tomatoes (5 ½ cups chopped)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brandy
Chopped parsley to serve

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.

Plunge the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water until the skins split, about 45 seconds. Drain, cool, then slip off the skins. Alternatively, cut out the cores and microwave them for 2 minutes on one side. Turn and microwave for 2 minutes more. Drain, cool, then slip off the skins. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and squeeze out the seeds and discard them. Chop the tomatoes coarsely (they can be chopped in a food processor).

Heat the oil In a cazuela or deep skillet and brown the chicken pieces. Remove when browned. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.

Add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, pimentón, bay leaves and brandy. Cook the tomatoes on a high heat for 5 minutes.

Return the chicken pieces to the pot. Cook on a medium heat, partially covered to prevent the tomato from splattering, until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Remove chicken pieces when they are done.

Continue cooking the tomato sauce on a medium heat until it is very thick and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes more. Return the chicken to the pot and reheat. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Chicken braises in fresh tomato sauce.

Here are the two Cookbooks of the Month on Chowhound:
MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN by Janet Mendel (HarperCollins; 2002) 

THE NEW SPANISH TABLE by Anya von Bremzen (Workman Publishing; 2005)


  1. It was such a joy and happy experience for my husband and me to cook from your book this month, Chef. We enjoyed the experience and loved the food. At Chowhound the Cookbooks of the Month (COTMs) remain accessible ad infinitum so many of us will be revisiting your book in the months and years to come.

    Also, it was wonderful that you were at hand and popped in from time to time to add insights and encourage us. Here's to many happy meals in the future.

    1. Gio: And, thank Chowhounds for featuring My Kitchen in Spain. Always glad to know folks are cooking from the book. I'll raise a copa to that--To happy meals!

  2. I so love [and am now probably giving away my identity] this book.

    Thank you for your participation. I appreciate it [and I think the rest of the COTM 'Hounds do as well].

    And I love the chicken recipe!

    1. Anon: Very pleased you like the cookbook. Thanks for trying out the recipes and commenting. Yes, that chicken with tomato is sooo good!

  3. Thank you, Ms. Mendel.

    My next trip to Spain will probably be Malaga and/or Grenada.

    Siempre España

    1. Pata Negra: You're welcome! Enjoy Málaga and Granada and all the great food. ¡Viva España!

  4. I’ve enjoyed My Kitchen in Spain for a long while, so glad to see others do too. I didn’t know “how much” until I searched for your name on my two websites -- You especially changed my concept of gazpacho, that touch of olive oil is really important to the mouthfeel. My last batch just last weekend got rave reviews! Thank you for all you do -- including deciding on tonight’s supper, the Chicken & Tomatoes. I do something similar with lamb --

    1. Alanna: So glad you enjoy the blog and the recipes. Absolutely, olive oil is the most essential ingredient in Spanish cooking. It wouldn't be gazpacho without it!

  5. Fantastic recipe. I tried this over the weekend and it was a huge hit. Its nice to find such a classic and simple recipe. Have you tried making it with canned tomatoes outside of the growing season? Any luck?

    1. Anony: Glad you liked the recipe for pollo con tomate. It can be simplified to just 3 ingredients--chicken, olive oil and tomatoes! Sure, it works with canned tomatoes--but then I don't reduce the tomatoes to a thick jam--just a regular tomato sauce.