Rachel Laudan

From Moorish Chicken to Mestizo Chicken

For years I have been playing around with the Islamic contribution to Mexican cuisine.  I was reminded of that during the last couple of days when Carolyn Nadeau spoke at the Invention of Food Conference put on by the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. And in turn that reminded me that I have long intended to blog about the passage of a recipe for Moorish chicken from seventeenth-century Spain to eighteenth-century New Spain (Mexico) and its transformation into a recipe for Mestizo Chicken.

The Spanish Royal Family Feasting in 1579 by Alonso Sánchez Coello. From the Facebook page of the National Museum in Warsaw.

Carolyn gave a fascinating analysis of the ingredients mentioned in the Arte de cocina, pasteleria, vizcocheria, y conserveria ( The Art of Cooking, Pie Making, Pastry Making, and Preserving) published in 1611 by Francisco Martínez Montiño, head cook to the Spanish king, Philip II.

One of the 500 plus recipes in this wonderful book is for Moorish chicken. This is chicken roasted and quartered, then simmered with onion, bacon, broth, wine, vinegar, and spices to make a golden sour dish.  The “all spices”, Nadeau has established, were black pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and saffron, used widely in Martínez Montiño’s savory recipes. Assuming this sour dish was of Moorish origin (and remember Spain was an Islamic country for hundreds of years, besides being just across from other Islamic countries), the cook modified it to include pork.  Whether this is exclusive on the Arte de cocina, or whether it occurs in other Spanish cookbooks, I do not know.

Moorish Chicken of Francisco Martinez Montiño (1611)

Roast a pair of chickens, and then cut them into quarters; and cut a little bacon in tiny dice, and fry them very well until they are white,  add a little finely chopped onion, and smother the chickens with the bacon and onions, add enough broth to cover, and add a little wine, a little vinegar: and if fresh lard is available, add it.  Season with all spices [black pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and saffron, presumably ground together]: In this dish no eggs are added.  It should turn out a little sour: if desired, add a little chopped greenery.

The same recipe crops up twice in an eighteenth-century manuscript cookbook from New Spain (Mexico), edited Guadalupe Pérez San Vicente and published in 1996. The cookbook is attributed to Doña Dominga de Gúzman, about whom little or nothing is known, except that her name is on the title page. It is written in three different hands, so may like so many such books have been passed down from one person to another.

The first version is very close to the one in the Arte de Cocina.

Moorish Chicken 1 of Doña Dominga de Gúzman (mid 18th century)

Roast a chicken and then cut it in quarters and fry a little ham cut in small bits with a little onion, very fine, then add some chopped raisins and lettuce hearts, season with all the spices [black pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmegs and saffron?] and layer the chicken with the recaudo [onion, ham, flavorings] and add enough broth in which the chicken was cooked to cover, a little wine and vinegar, bring to the boil twice and leave it a little sour.

The second, which is somewhat incoherent, is not as close but still recognizable.  The chickens are first boiled, which I believe was a common practice and may explain where the broth comes from in the previous recipes.  Cooked, ground egg yolks add to the golden color. And the spicing is somewhat different.

Moorish 2 of Doña Dominga de Gúzman

Chop onion very finely, oregano, mint, parsley, grind a little garlic with cumin and add to the chopped ingredients, add salt and butter and fry; boil the chickens and put them to roast and then when the chopped ingredients are ready, add a little of the broth of the meat and harden some egg yolks and grind them on the metate with saffron, moistening them with wine and vinegar; then dissolve them in the wine and vinegar very thoroughly and add the broth, and add the golden birds, ham, sausage, and allow to cook, then add cloves, cinnamon, pepper, capers and [big] capers, tornachiles, dried oregano and oil to the plates.

What is so interesting though is that this same recipe is immediately followed by a recipe for mestizo chicken, which is still a sour dish with the same spicing, but with the addition of tomatoes, cumin, and chiles.


Chop tomatoes and fry them with salt and lard and when they are well cooked, season with all the spices; grind soaked and deveined chiles anchos [dried red chiles] with garlic and cumin and when fine add to the fried tomato, add more lard, salt, oregano,and let it cook very well; then add the cooked meat and the broth in which it cooked, onions cooked apart and well washed, ham, sausage, olives and other things that accompany this, wine, vinegar and good oil.

This is still a sour dish but now it is a dish reddened and thickened with tomatoes and ancho chiles.

The metate is used in both these recipes to facilitate the preparation, contributing to my belief that traditional European recipes could actually be more easily prepared and elaborated in New Spain than in Spain, thanks to the efficiency of the metate as a grinding tool.

If that isn’t food on the move, I don’t know what is.


Gallina morisca–Martinéz Motiño (1763), p. 63. Note that I am assuming that the recipe in reprint copy from the 1763 edition is the same as the original.


Asarás un par de gallinas, y luego harás los quartos: Y cortarás un poco de tocino en dados muy menudos, y los freirás  muy bien hasta que estén blancos, y echale un poco de cebolla picada muy menuda, y ahogarás las gallinas con este tocino, y cebolla, echale caldo quanto se cubran, y echale un poquito de vino, un poco de vinagre: y si hubiera un poco de manteca fresca se le puede echar. Sazona con todas especias: en este platillo no se echar huevos. Ha de salir un poco agrio: si le quisieres echar un poco de verdura picada podrás.

Gallina morisca–Doña Dominga de Gúzman (mid 18th century), p. 75.

Se asa una gallina y después se hacen cuartos y se echa a freír un poco de jamón cortado en pedacitos con una poca de cebolla, muy menuditas, después se le echa unas pasas picadas y unos cogollos de lechuga, se sazona con todas las especias y se pone en la cazuela una capa de gallina y otra de recaudo y de caldo en que se coció la gallina, les echarás lo que basta para que cubra, un poco de vino y vinagre, de dos hervores y queda un poco agrio.

Morisco–Doña Dominga de Gúzman (mid 18th century), p. 94

Se pica cebolla muy menudita, orégano, yerbabuena, perejil, se muele un poco de ajo con cominos y se echa en lo picado, se le echa sal y manteca y se pone a freír; se sancochan las gallinas y se ponen a asar y así que es frito lo picado, se le echa un poco de caldo de la carne y se endurecen unas yemas de huevo y se muelen en un metate  con azafrán mojándolas con vino y vinagre; luego se deshace en el vino y vinagre bien deshechas y se echan en el caldo y se echan las aves doradas, jamón, chorizo y se dejan cocer, luego se le echa clavo, canela, pimienta, alcaparras y alcaparrones, tornachiles, orégano seco en los platos y aceite.

Mestizo–Doña Dominga de Gúzman (mid 18th century), p. 94.

Se pican jitomates y se ponen a freír con sal y manteca y así está bien frito se sazona con todas las especias; se muelen chiles anchos remojadas y bien desvenados con ajo y cominos y bien deshecho se echa sobre el jitomate frito, se le echa más manteca, sal orégano y se deja cocer muy bien; luego se le echa la carne cocida y el caldo en que se coció, cebollas cocidas aparte y bien lavadas, jamón, chorizos, aceitunas y demás cosas que acompañan a esto, vino, vinagre y buen aceite.

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10 thoughts on “From Moorish Chicken to Mestizo Chicken

  1. davschorr

    Note that the Christians added not only pork, but wine, which also presumably was not part of the (Muslim) Moorish recipe.

  2. Zora Margolis

    Pati Jinich makes a Moorish-influenced sweet-sour chicken dish with tamarind and dried apricots.

  3. waltzingaustralia

    It’s not just that the Moors ruled over Spain and Portugal for 700 years, but also that 1492 is when they were finally chased out — early 1492, and late 1492 is when Columbus sailed. So it’s both long term and really recent. But also by this time, the Spanish Inquisition had started, and adding pork was proof that you were not Muslim or Jewish. (Portuguese had an inquisition, too, but that had its biggest impact in India.) So both Moorish influence and the inclusion of pork fit the time wonderfully well.

    And the timing of this post is wonderful, as I was just in a discussion elsewhere about influences of one culture on another, and people were debating what one thing had influenced French cuisine, and I was making the case that everything had been influenced by everyone, and it was impossible to find a single influence entirely responsible for any nation’s cuisine. So thanks for this post, as it adds another layer to the discussion.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Glad it was useful. And I agree entirely with your historical commentary.

  4. Janet Mendel

    The recipe is very similar to traditional escabeche, as in Toledo’s partridge in escabeche. The wine and vinegar being a way to keep the birds in conserve. They are first fried, not boiled, then finished in the escabeche of wine, vinegar and “all spices.” Undoubtedly the Spanish preparation comes from the Moorish recipe.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks Janet. You are so right to point out that I should have made the connection to escabeche. Another wrinkle on the issue.

  5. Leyla

    The addition of bacon/pork was probably very much on purpose. The Spanish Inquisition kept a close eye on the eating habits of people and we have, from that period, cases of people being accused of Crypto-Judaism or Crypto-Islam because they abstained from pork. There was a lot of pressure on people to prove being proper Christians by eating pork. Especially when they favoured “morisco” dishes. The movie “Goya’s Ghosts” talks about this. The unusually high use of pork fat in Spanish bakery goods also goes back to this threat of the Spanish Inquisition.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thanks for these comments Leyla. Always good to get another perspective.

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