My friend Aura is a very good cook. She lives in Florida with her husband, Leo, and two adorable (I do not use that word glibly) children. When I think of Aura's cooking, I think of fruit salads, smoothies, and the freshest dishes from her native Guatemala — light, healthy, and driven by Florida's tropical fruits and vegetables. So I was surprised, one winter evening a few years ago, to sit down at her table and find a big, bubbling casserole of chicken wrapped in bacon. "It's Leo's favorite," she said, with a grin.
Leo grew up in Colombia, and this dish is one that his family nurse would make. His memories of it stretch back into childhood, and he loves the bacon-rich dish, fragrant with tomatoes, onions, and garlic.
I did too! How can you not? The chicken was tender and moist, cooked slowly in the simple creamy sauce of tomato, and each morsel of chicken was wrapped in its own slice of thick bacon. Bacon infused the whole dish, right down to the potatoes in the bottom of the casserole. Its simplicity appealed to me too — this is a true one-pot meal, with potatoes, chicken, sauce, and bacon all emerging at once from the oven.
When Aura sent me the recipe it was just a brief sketch — her notes from watching Leo's old nurse put the dish together during one of their trips to his home town in Colombia. "Use individual size pieces of chicken," it said — "brown the chicken pieces in a pan." This is how family recipes are passed down, hand to mouth, quite literally, with notes from watching and scribbling and tweaking in your own kitchen.
Aura made her own adjustments, substituting sour cream for canned cream of chicken soup, and seasoning more to her taste. I also tweaked — adding a dash of smoked paprika and measuring and weighing all the ingredients for a more precise recipe.
This is a big dish of food, smoky, garlicky, and tender, with extra flavorful sauce to save and pour over pasta or rice later. It's a family dish, a dish that children should love unreservedly. It feeds a crowd. And maybe it will become someone else's favorite too.
Thank you, Aura!
Baked Chicken with Bacon
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, or a mix
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
3 to 4 medium tomatoes, about 1 pound
1 medium onion, about 3/4 pound
4 large garlic cloves
1 pound bacon (20 strips)
2 pounds fingerling or small potatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup sour cream
Heat the oven to 350°F. Cut the chicken into pieces about 2 inches wide and 3 inches long. Cut each breast into about 5 pieces, or chicken thighs into 2 to 3 pieces. You should end up with about 40 pieces of chicken. Toss the chicken pieces with about 1 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of black pepper.
Heat the oil in a wide, deep skillet over high heat. Brown the chicken pieces for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, letting them develop a medium brown crust. Do this in several batches. Remove the browned chicken pieces to a baking sheet and let cool slightly.
While the chicken is cooling, core the tomatoes and chop them roughly, and peel the onion and chop it roughly too. Blend them in a blender or food processor with the garlic cloves until smooth. Pour into the deep skillet you used to brown the chicken and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes while wrapping the chicken.
Cut the bacon strips in half. Wrap 1/2 piece bacon around each piece of chicken. If desired, secure with a toothpick.
Cut the fingerling potatoes in half lengthwise and spread in the bottom of a deep roasting dish or large Dutch oven. Lay the bacon-wrapped chicken pieces on top of the potatoes.
Turn off the heat under the tomato sauce. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt, the smoked paprika, and the sour cream. Pour over the chicken and potatoes and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil or a lid.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
More chicken recipes: Chicken Supper: 15 Fresh & Tasty Chicken Dishes
(Images: Faith Durand)