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Last night, we made our usual end-of-the-weekend pilgrimage to the Plaza here in Healdsburg, only this time we were joined by dozens of others participating in the Eat-in organized by Slow Food USA in an effort to change school lunch policy. Like a big picnic potluck, tables were filled with bowls of salad, local bread and cheeses, fruit fresh from the trees and vegetables both roasted and straight out of the garden.


I’d known for a while what dish I wanted to bring: Pollo en Jocon. My friend, food writer and cooking instructor Sandra Gutierrez, sent me this recipe so we could bring the tastes and scents of Guatemala, our daughter’s native land, into our own kitchen. Somehow it seemed an appropriate dish to share. I also made it in honor of Ana Maria and Mayra, a Guatemalan mother and daughter who have become as close as family despite being thousands of miles away. Our paths first crossed through Slow Food, and I wanted to bring something from their country so they’d be with us in spirit at the plaza.

One dish. And yet it connected me to Sandra, who was kind enough to share the recipe, and Pedro, the farmer who grew the tomatillos we used. It connected us to our daughter’s birth country and others we love dearly there. It connected us to the people who dug into it at the Eat-in, and even to the hope of a healthier future for our children.

Food is about so much more than just feeding ourselves. This week, be aware of how many ways it connects you.

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Sandra’s Guatemalan Pollo en Jocon

“Hola, Lia. I promise you more to come but here is a recipe of a chicken in tomatillo sauce typical of Coban in Guatemala. It is called Pollo en Jocon (pronounced, ho-kon) and is traditionally served over rice, with warm corn tortillas. It is a stew, so you serve it in bowls–the rice in the bottom, then spoon the sauce all over it. I hope you like it. I particularly hope your darling little girl enjoys it.”

~ from Sandra Gutierrez, The Culinary Latinista™, food writer and cooking instructor


20 large tomatillos, cleaned of husks, rinsed and dried
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into thick slices
2 green onions
1 green bell pepper, quartered
1 plum tomato
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 Serrano chiles
1 bunch cilantro (about 3 cups, packed)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 (3-4 pound) chicken, cooked, deboned and shredded (about 7 cups) * [see below for instructions]
1/2 cup reserved chicken broth (from cooking chicken)

Set a dry skillet—preferably cast iron—over high heat. Working in batches, add the tomatillos, yellow onion, green onions, bell pepper and plum tomato, roasting them until they are charred all over. Set them inside a large bowl, as they are readied.

Roast the unpeeled garlic, making sure to char the skins well. Peel the roasted garlic and place the roasted pulp with the other vegetables. Roast the serrano chiles on all sides, remove the seeds and stem, and add the chiles to the vegetables.

Working in batches, puree the roasted vegetables and the cilantro in a blender until smooth, adding enough reserved chicken broth to help you along.

Heat the oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tomatillo sauce and stir well. You should hear a sizzling sound when the sauce comes into contact with the oil—watch out for sputters. Lower the heat and simmer sauce for 2 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and the remaining chicken broth, stir well, and simmer the stew for 15 minutes. Serve over steamed white rice.

Note: the stew can be completely prepared ahead of time, chilled, and re-heated before serving. It also freezes beautifully for up to 2 months.

Serves 6

* Lia’s note on cooking the chicken: Place the chicken in a large pot with two scallions and 2 smashed cloves of garlic, and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (it will take a while) and skim off any foam that has risen to the surface. Then lower heat to medium-low (it should still be bubbling, but not very vigorously) and cook for 50-60 minutes, the legs and wings should come off easily when grabbed with tongs. Remove the chicken (reserving the liquid), let cool enough so you can handle it, then remove the skin and bones and shred the meat.

  • Kim

    She is adorable!!!

  • janis

    I just love the picture of Noe and what you are up to for her, for kids in general and for the planet. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  • Erika Wasielewski

    Yum! This stew looks and sounds amazing!

  • Lia Huber

    Thanks, guys. She is quite the show-stopper. By the way, Sandra pointed out that Guatemalan food tends not to be as spicy hot as Mexican food; they serve their chiles on the side so everyone can set their own heat. It’s good stuff.

  • Lia Huber

    And . . . you have several cups of tasty chicken broth to use afterward too (I just froze mine).

  • Lia Huber

    Have I mentioned how good it feels to have the comments working again?

  • Lyra Halprin

    Lia, I love this post; look forward to trying the recipe. I really appreciate how you connect food to community – how everything is connected and local. I’ve had a chance to step back now that I’m retired from the university and really SEE the connections. So proud we’re a part of it.

  • Lia Huber

    Lyra, it’s so great to see you here! I’ve been thinking of you, wondering how you’ve been doing with your retirement.

    Yes, it is all connected–and you have been such a big part of it at Davis (I just read the Davis Farmers’ Market was named one of the most popular in America–exciting!). Thanks for giving me a deeper understanding of what those connections mean from an agricultural point of view . . . and I’ll look forward to hearing your new perspectives on those connections here!

  • devotay

    Alright, I have some chickens rolling in this weekend from a nearby farm. Gonna have to make this. Will have to get the tomatillos from Bodega La Reyna, though, since the season has passed (and my garden only yielded about a dozen anyway!)

    I think it would be fine to roast the veggies on the grill. it appears they are not peeled after roasting, is that right?

  • Lia Huber

    Kurt . . . Correct — they’re just charred and then blammed. You could definitely do them on the grill, or even roast them in the oven. A little different spin on the Mexican technique of charring the vegetables, then pureeing them, and then “frying” the sauce. This one uses that sauce as the base for the stew. Enjoy! (PS — Sandra tells me that Guatemalans serve their meals with chopped chiles on the side, so that people can make it as mild or hot as they like. So you may want to do that as well.)