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Since my visit to Asturias, Spain, last October, I’ve been dreaming about a rustic chicken dish I was served there. I was visiting for the natural paradise that is Asturias, with hiking, climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, even coal mining on my itinerary. But all that exercise led me to explore the fantastic kitchens of the region too.
Since that Asturian trip I’ve researched recipes for Pitu Caleya only to learn that, as is so typical of true rustic dishes, each household has its own way of making it! The version I was served was a rice-centric dish with all the flavors of chicken but no big pieces. The recipes I found online were more formal, featuring chicken pieces and rice ranging from a risotto consistency to a crusted paella style. Below I combined the best recipes to deliver the great chicken flavor I remembered with a rice somewhere between the two. I’ve made it several times now and really like the fragrance, texture, and taste. I even included a shortcut so the dish can be made in one day if you are short on time.
A note about the spelling: Pitu caleya is the Spanish version. Pitu Calella is the Asturian version, with the double “ll”s pronounced as “l”, not as a “y” in Spanish.
Pitu Caleya – Asturian Chicken “Paella”
Ingredients – serves four (with the best leftovers!) to eight
- 4 each chicken drumsticks and thighs, (eight pieces) bone-in, skin-on
- 3 tbsp salt
- 1 ½ tbsp sugar
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil – more as needed
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 1 garlic head, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups whole apple cider
- 2 cups Sidra (Spanish cider) Preferably Trabanco, but in the US Angry Orchard would do.
- 2 cups chicken stock or broth as needed in braise or paella
- 5 tbsp butter (or more as needed)
- ½ cup flour
- extra chicken stock or broth
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 medium carrot diced
- 1 medium red pepper diced
- ¾ cup Calasparra rice
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- mixed chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, chives) to garnish
- Stir the salt, black pepper, and sugar in the oil until sugar dissolves, then drizzle over the chicken legs and thighs in a zipper plastic bag and rub chicken through sides of the bag to fully moisten and refrigerate from six hours to overnight. (Alternately, rub the marinade on the chicken and proceed to the next step.)
- Remove chicken from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken skin side up in a 9×12 baking pan, add thyme, garlic, and bay leaves, pour in the cider and sidra, (the liquid should be halfway up the chicken – if not, add enough chicken stock to get there) and braise in the oven uncovered for about 1 -1 ½ hours. The chicken should be tender, golden and caramelized on top and the liquid should have reduced by about half. Allow to cool enough to handle.
- Remove the meat (skin attached) from the chicken drumsticks in pieces while keeping the thigh intact as you remove the bone.Set aside the thighs and garlic, strain and defat the liquid, mashing the roasted garlic back into the strained braising liquid. Reserve liquid and set aside the bones for your next stock.
- In a large sauté pan or paella pan brown the butter. Toss the pieces of chicken leg meat and skin (not the intact thighs) in a plastic bag with the flour and the remaining salt and add to the brown butter. Cook until the chicken becomes golden brown and crispy. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
- Then add the chopped onion, carrot, and both diced and dried red peppers and saute’ until soft, 3-4 minutes, adding more butter as needed. Return the chicken legs to the pan. Add the rice, stirring to moisten, followed in a minute by the remaining braising liquid from the chicken and, if needed, enough extra stock to make 4 cups.
- Cook over medium heat until the rice absorbs most of the liquid, stir, trying not to disturb the bottom layer of rice as it begins to stick to the pan – about 30 minutes. Taste the rice and adjust for seasoning, especially salt. Preheat the oven to 350.
- Arrange the reserved chicken thighs (halved if serving eight) on top of the cooked rice in the pan and finish cooking in the oven for ten minutes. Garnish with chopped herbs and set on the table. Serve on warm plates each with a thigh on top of the rice. Pass a salad.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get chef Noé Alvarez’s recipe for pitu caleya, of Castillo Del Alba Hotel, but this slightly fancier substitute will still deliver the delicious flavor while being true to the traditional regional specialty. I hope you enjoy it!
Note on accommodations: In the old quarter of Aviles, my hotel, the Palacio de Aviles, is a converted palace with centuries of history and beautiful, formal gardens to relax in. From there it was an easy walk or short drive for the culinary adventures described above. All but Pitu Caleya. I stayed at the Castillo Del Alba Hotel for that meal.