Frida’s Fiestas, courtesy of Powells.com
More than 60 years after her death, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is having a banner spring in the United States.
This March has seen the opening of both an opera and a (shared) retrospective at the Detroit Institute of Art, and in May, the New York Botanical Garden will unveil a show themed on the painter’s fascination with the natural world. Along with these celebrations of Kahlo’s artwork, some attention is at last being paid to one of her lesser-known oeuvres: cooking.
It turns out that Kahlo had a thing for feeding people—so much so that, in 1994, Guadalupe Rivera, Kahlo’s stepdaughter with husband Diego Rivera, published a family cookbook and memoir called Frida’s Fiestas. The book, which chronicles a year’s worth of recipes and menus, suggests that Kahlo’s passion for Mexican traditions extended to her kitchen: There are moles, enchiladas, tacos, ceviche, and flan. But when a Detroit chef trying to recreate Kahlo’s food mentioned the book—and I then bought it—I was struck not by Kahlo’s traditional dishes, but by the outliers.
Witness: Fried chicken with peanut sauce. At first blush, it looks to be a mishmash of Kahlo’s Germanic heritage and Mexican flavors. The bird is fried once to cook the meat, then rolled in cracker crumbs, dipped in an eggy capeado batter—the light, airy kind used on chiles rellenos—and, finally, fried again, dusted with cinnamon, and served with a peanut-and-almond sauce. If the combination of crackers and nuts sounds surprising, it shouldn’t: Mexico has long been a destination for immigrants fleeing wars in Europe and poverty in other parts of Latin America, all of them bringing food traditions along. But still, how Mexican can a “reverse chicken schnitzel”—the description of the recipe I got from Jeffrey Pilcher, a food historian specializing in Mexican cuisine—be?
Frida’s double-fried chicken. Photo by Tracie McMillan
With that sauce, I found, the answer is plenty. The cinnamon enhances a light, nutty sauce of almonds, peanuts, and milk—think almond horchata—that soaks satisfyingly into the capeado, which acts almost like a bread.
Kahlo’s recipe, below, prescribes a simple puree of almonds, peanuts and milk. Pro tip from my kitchen: If you can stand the heat, it’s worth garnishing the dish with tangy pickled jalapeños as a foil for all that egg and oil. The result was so good that over the course of two weeks, I double-fried it…twice! (Since Kahlo’s recipe is a bit Spartan, you can perfect your fried chicken game here, if need be.)
After devouring as much as I could, I did the only responsible thing I could with the leftovers: I wrapped them up and delivered them to a friend’s aging mother. The rationale? I couldn’t trust myself to have them in the house.
Frida’s double-fried chicken amped up with pickled jalapeños to suit the author’s taste! Photo by Tracie McMillan
Fried Chicken with Peanut Sauce
From Frida’s Fiestas
2 whole chickens, cut in parts
Salt and pepper
Lard or corn oil
6 eggs, separated
2 cups cracker crumbs
1 cup peanuts, roasted and peeled
1 cup blanched almonds
1 quart milk
1-2 T. sugar
Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Fry in an inch of hot lard or oil, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through. Drain on brown paper.
Beat the egg yolks until thick. Beat the egg whites until stiff and combine with the yolks to make a batter. Coat the chicken parts with cracker crumbs, then dip into the batter. Fry briefly in lard and drain on brown paper.
To make the sauce, puree all the ingredients and strain. Simmer in a skillet until hot.
Place the chicken in the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Turn onto a serving platter, dust with cinnamon and serve.
Reprinted courtesy of Clarkson Potter, © 1994
Craving Mexican food now? Us, too. Check it out:
Will you make Frida’s chicken recipe? Tell us if you do, and how it goes!