Nothing soothes the soul, and the body, like comfort food. And with the pandemic situation we could all use a little comfort! This past year has been very challenging for everyone. So many people have lost their jobs, or had their work hours cut significantly. We haven't been able to visit elderly relatives or to gather in large groups to celebrate important events. Those who love to travel abroad have had to stay home and only dream of exotic destinations. As a result of this situation everyone's stress levels have hit new highs.
Thankfully, there are always favorite foods that help reduce anxiety and stress. These are our go-to comfort meals and treats. What constitutes a comfort food differs from one culture or ethnic group to another. Thinking back to my childhood, spaghetti and pot roast were my favorite comfort meals. Whenever I was stressed, or upset about something, my mother always made sure that one of these favorite meals was the main course for dinner that night. The familiar taste and textures helped calm me down.
Things became a little more complicated when I moved to Guam nearly 45 years ago. My taste buds were introduced to whole new palette of culinary delights featuring a wide variety of Pacific island and Asian cuisines. What constituted a comfort food for me began to shift. When I married a Palauan, and we adopted our two sons who had CHamoru, Hawaiian and Samoan heritage, choosing a comfort food that pleased all of us became quite a challenge. Even to this day, dinner at our house often features two main meals – one that I prepare and one that my husband, Corman, prepares. Our two sons, grandson and dinner guests usually have some of each.
However, there are a couple of meals that we all enjoy and consider comfort foods. I suspect many readers will identify with our choices. One is chicken adobo, which I featured in an earlier column, and the other is chicken estufao. Of course, as most of you will agree, the recipes for these two island favorites differ significantly from household to household. Cultural and ethnic preferences play a significant role in how these two meals are prepared and what ingredients are used.
The estufao recipe featured today comes from Corman and it incorporates ingredients that appeal to all our family members.
He is a natural cook. He never measures anything. He adjusts the amount of ingredients based on his frequent taste tests. The challenge for me was to come up with a written recipe with exact measurements that readers can easily follow. To accomplish this, he and I worked together last week to prepare his recipe. To his constant irritation, I forced him to measure every ingredient. I had to employ every trick I've learned over the years as a divorce lawyer to avoid a major confrontation. Fortunately, the recipe lived up to its reputation as a comfort food and, as we all sat down and enjoyed the meal, the hard feelings faded away. Well, most of them.
Week 25: Chicken Estufao
3 pounds chicken cut into pieces with bones, or adobo-cut chicken
3 cloves garlic, chopped (more or less, to taste)
1/2 medium onion, chopped (more or less, to taste)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground garlic
3 small hot red boonie or Thai peppers cut into small pieces (more or less, to taste). You can substitute with 1/2 teaspoon of dried pepper flakes
1. Put chicken pieces into a large pot.
2. Pour soy sauce and vinegar over the chicken.
3. Add the garlic and onion, and stir all the ingredients together.
4. Marinate the mixture for 15 minutes to an hour, or longer if you prefer.
5. Turn stove on medium high and bring mixture to a boil.
6. Add the potatoes, garlic powder, and pepper and reduce to medium heat.
7. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Turn down to simmer and allow to cook for 5 or 10 more minutes until you can easily insert a fork into the potatoes.
9. Serve with rice. (It's also great with beer bread. See last week's recipe).
Special note: On Easter morning I went to Ross in Tamuning to see what new spices had arrived. A friend had called me Saturday night and told me that a new shipment was in. Among the stack of new spices, I spied a lone large container of oregano. Since I was nearly out of the herb, I quickly grabbed it. As I was checking out, the sales lady looked at the oregano, smiled and said, "This is my secret ingredient for my estufao!" Knowing that estufao was my next recipe, I looked at her in amazement. She continued, "I always put in about a teaspoon. People always love my estafao and tell me it is a bit different from anyone else's. This is why!" I haven't yet tried adding oregano, but I have a feeling it will be a tasty addition. Other people I've spoken to also add bay leaves, coconut milk and an assortment of other spices.