Welcome to week 36 of Fifty States of New Recipe Tuesday. This week we welcome Nevada, who joined the union on October 31, 1864. Like West Virginia, Nevada is a war born state, although some of what you read about it is a bit fictional. I have read that it was a “battle born” state, meant to keep the balance of Union and Confederate states, although this is not true. There were actually three territories at the time that were felt to be critical to Lincoln’s agenda; Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada, with Nevada being the only one to agree to a state constitution in time for the presidential election of 1864. Nevada was granted statehood just days before the general election, although Lincoln carried the majority vote even without the votes in the state.
The large majority of people who originally came to Nevada were miners, as there were both gold and silver mines in abundance. The first silver ore found in the US, the Comstock Lode, was discovered in 1857 near Virginia City. It is true that the gold and silver mined in the region was used almost entirely for the purpose of producing currency for the US. And of those monies, most of it went to the Union.
In trying to find a recipe that was unique to Nevada, I discovered that the state has no official foods of any kind. When you search for foods for Nevada, you strangely end up with “Unlimited Buffet”, arising from the extravagant dining displays in the Las Vegas. But this is not a dish, not a recipe. So what do I do?
What I did find was that the northern region of the state, the Sierra Nevada region was populated by immigrant Basque sheep herders from Spain, who came to the US to use their talents in the new world. These immigrants were already trained sheep herders, but the terrain in the mountains of northern Nevada was very different than the rolling plains of Spain. They had to adapt to moving their herds from the valleys in winter to the mountains in summer. And many of them would be gone for long periods of time without contact with anyone other than their dog and their flock.
The women who came with them brought their rich Spanish dishes with them, and the restaurants and hotels became popular places for these rich dishes to be found. I found a recipe that claims to have some links to Nevada, but the flavors are very Spanish so I went with it.
The dish I made is Spicy Basque Chicken with Saffron Rice. I know all that talk about sheep and I am making a chicken dish. Honestly, I could not find a lamb dish that was not just a boring stew, so I went this way instead. It is for the better to make something tasty, right? Right.
This dish brings lots of traditional Spanish elements, including olives, tomatoes, capers, chorizo and saffron for the rice. I am going to say that I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It seems that the failing is in the method, not the ingredients. The chicken was moist, but since it rests above the sauce, it doesn’t seem to get much flavor infusion. I also don’t know why they wanted you to cook the chicken part way with just the onions and then add the rest of the sauce ingredients. It seems that it would have done better cooking as one big dish the whole way through. And finally, the olives being added at the very end is a mistake. They come on too briny and seem to be disjointed from the rest of the sauce. I would just add them in with the rest of the stuff and let them flavor the dish the whole way through.
So this one gets a B, because I can see its failings and know that I should have just gone with my gut and made it the way I think it should be made. I am going to rework the recipe, which is what I will give you below, because I know this would work better. I think my version would bump it up to at least a B+. Let me know if you try it!
See you all next week in Nebraska!
My reworked recipe for Spicy Basque Chicken with Saffron Rice
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 (6 inch) links Spanish chorizo, cut in 1/2 inch slices
2 cans tomatoes with chilies (like RoTel)
2 roasted peppers, cut in strips
4 green Spanish olives cut in half, lengthwise
1 tablespoon capers
4 bone-in chicken breasts
salt, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons oil
½ tablespoon smoked paprika
2 cups chicken broth
4 saffron threads
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup long grain rice
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Sauté sliced onion on medium heat for a few minutes, just to the point of starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Remove from skillet and spread evenly in the bottom of a large shallow roasting pan. Add the chorizo to the same skillet and cook until lightly brown…2-3 minutes.
In a medium size bowl, combine the chorizo, tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives. Pour over the onions.
Sprinkle the chicken pieces on both sides with salt and cayenne pepper. Nestle the chicken on top of the sauce. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with smoked paprika and “smear” it all over the chicken.
Bake for about an hour, basting the chicken occasionally, until its juices run clear and it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
While the chicken is baking, prepare the saffron rice. In a medium saucepan combine the broth, saffron and salt. Bring it to a boil. Add the rice and stir to combine. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
When the chicken is done, remove from the oven and serve the chicken and sauce over the rice.