When I was newly-married I needed fast and easy Filipino recipes to cook for our suppers. I was a working wife then with a highly stressful job as a copywriter in an ad agency. My days were filled with trying hard to craft creative copy for ad campaigns. I could only think of dinner once I was in the car on the way home. Even so I had very little time left once I got to my kitchen. I was raised on good home cooked meals by my mom, so I wanted to do the same for my family. But times changed from mom’s era to mine. Life got busier and I had less time to putter around the kitchen.
A Chicken Afritada dish was a mainstay on our dinner table when we lived in the Philippines. It was an easy meal for me to put together so till today, in my American kitchen it is a favorite dish I cook often. It is a complete meal on its own with the addition of potatoes and the slices of bell pepper which gives the dish a rich, savory aroma. I could either cook it ahead or make it an hour before we ate.
Afritada sounds Spanish just like other Filipino entrees strongly influenced by Spain’s colonization of the Philippines for more than three centuries. Just like other Spanish-sounding dishes: menudo, mechado, morcon, paella and others, this afritada made with either chicken or pork (or both) is braised then stewed in tomato sauce. Afritada is best eaten with rice. Its heavy, thick gravy, made of tomato sauce is enjoyed best when poured on a bed of boiled white rice, the sweet-smelling steam floating gleefully above the plate.
It was always important in our household for a dish to have plenty of gravy or sauce. My mom made sure of that and so I followed what she did when I cooked this afritada. I made sure there was plenty of its rich, red tomato gravy to go around. “To extend serving sizes, many Kapampangan dishes were made soupy, so in case the meat gets eaten, there is still soup (or gravy) to pour on rice.” (Alex Castro in his article “Mekeni’s Meals” from Pinoy Umami, the heart of Philippine Cuisine).
Today, decades after I was a young, newly married wife, I still cook Chicken Afritada when I have no time to think and have very few ingredients left in the refrigerator. I have cooked this dish in different ways: stove-top, in the oven or in a slow cooker. Each method of cooking brings me to one single destination in the end: dinner is done.
- 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 whole chopped onion
- 2 cloves peeled, minced garlic
- 1.5 to 2 pounds bone-in, about 6 pieces chicken
- 1 Tablespoon from Asian markets fish sauce (or Filipino 'patis')
- 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 cups organic chicken broth
- 2 medium pieces peeled, quartered potatoes
- 1 large seeded, white membrane removed, sliced bell pepper, red or green
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs plain
- 2 small sprigs coarsely chopped, about 2 teaspoons, for garnish fresh parsley
- for serving boiled rice white or brown
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil. When oil is hot enough, after 1 to 2 minutes, add the onions and garlic. Sauté for around 2 minutes till onions are translucent.
- To the same skillet, add the chicken pieces and brown each one on all sides for about 8 minutes. Pour the fish sauce, tomato sauce, organic chicken broth. Blend liquid ingredients well, making sure some sauce encases the chicken pieces.
- Add the potatoes and bell pepper slices. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Add bread crumbs to thicken the tomato sauce. Lower heat to a medium low. Cover and simmer for about 55 to 60 minutes or till chicken is thoroughly cooked. Potatoes should be soft by the end of cooking, as well.
- Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh parsley. Serve with boiled rice, white or brown.
- Cook's comments: pork shoulder cubes (same size as the quartered potatoes) or a combination of pork and chicken totalling the same amount may be used for this afritada recipe.
- Ingredient tip: bread crumbs were always added by my mom and aunts to thicken sauces or gravy. I have followed what generations before me did and also add plain, unflavored bread crumbs for a natural way to thicken the sauce.
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