Mexican Chicken with Prunes and Bananas is adapted from Buen Provecho, a 1995 recipe collection compiled by the AT&T Hispanic Employee Group HISPA. I’ll admit that my first reaction was “hard pass” but was encouraged by the author’s note to take a second look:
People may at first be a little startled by the combination of ingredients in the following recipe. However, it really is delicious.
A closer look at the ingredient list suggests a rich, tomato-based chicken stew with the fruit thrown in at the end to sweeten it up. Prunes and other dried fruits are common ingredients in Mexican dishes, including picadillos and savory Oaxacan stews and a common fixture in many other cuisines as well. Bananas not so much, but I suspect that they are a substitute for plantains – also ubiquitous in Mexican cuisine. So once I got past the idea of Mexican chicken with fruit to thinking of it as a hearty sweet and savory tagine I was determined to try it out. The recipe’s author is exactly right: it’s weird, but absolutely delicious.
At the heart of Mexican Chicken with Prunes and Bananas is a delicious chicken stew, and even if you don’t have the chutzpah to add the fruit you’ll still end up with a rich and scrumptious dish. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s important to give yourself plenty of prep time. First, chicken is dredged in flour and pan-fried. The chicken is then baked in a rich tomato sauce fortified with sauteed onions, garlic, tomatoes, and carrots and a just a smidge of herbs and spices. The extra dredging flour is stirred in to thicken things up, and the prunes and bananas are added towards the end of the cook. The key to making everything work is choosing firm, green bananas – they’ll still be sweeter than plantains but won’t disintegrate into the stew. In the final dish both flavor and texture meld with the rest of the stew; encountering a bite of banana is like coming across a sweet potato. It works way better than it should. I’ve made a couple of subtle changes to suit our family’s tastes. I’ve swapped the boneless, skinless chicken breasts for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Breasts will work fine but I find them flavorless, and I prefer the fatty richness of the dark meat. I’ve also given it a little bit more cumin and heat, but you can feel free to scale back the spice as needed.
The recipe’s author recommends serving with a big bowl of white rice and a Caesar salad, a pairing I can get on board with. You might even consider serving it over a bowl of rice and let the rice soak up all of the delicious juices and flavors. A traditional rice and beans pairing is also appropriate, or consider making the Latino Yuppie Baked Green Rice from the same cookbook. Or, if it’s cold outside, add an additional cup of broth and serve in a soup bowl with a side of crusty bread, or even a grilled cheese sandwich. Enjoy!
For the chicken:
- 3-4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the stew:
- 2 sweet onions (finely chopped)
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (drained, juice reserved)
- 3 carrots (cut into thin coins)
- ½ tsp oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
- ½ tsp thyme
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup white wine
- 18 pitted prunes
- 3 bananas (firm, green, and unblemished)
- Preheat oven to 350º F.
- Trim excess fat from chicken thighs. Divide larger thighs into two pieces.
- Mix flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a large plastic ziploc bag. Add chicken pieces to bag and give it a good shake to coat. Save any of the excess flour coating for use later in the recipe.
- Melt butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, until olive oil just starts to smoke. Pan fry coated chicken thighs in batches, about 3 minutes per side, until crispy and brown. Set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium and add remaining olive oil. Add onions and saute for 5-6 minutes until soft. Add garlic and saute one minute more, then stir in tomato juice and any leftover flour coating and bring to a simmer.
- Add tomatoes, carrots, cumin, oregano, and time and stir to combine. Lay chicken pieces on top, making multiple layers if needed.
- Bring chicken stock and white wine to a rolling boil and pour over top of the chicken. Then cover and place in the oven.
- Cook for about 35 minutes. Lay prunes on top of and around the chicken and return to the oven, covered, for 20 more minutes.
- Peel bananas and split into two equal pieces, then slice in half lengthwise. Remove any bruised spots. Lay bananas on top of prunes and chicken and return to the oven for 15 minutes.
When it comes out of the oven it will look funny because all you’ll see is the bananas. They’re delicate and if you try to stir them in you’ll pulverize them and give a weird starchy texture to your meal. When you serve the dish ladle from the bottom and pull out a little bit of everything. It will look much better on your plate.