Crêpes de Pollo La Guarida

Chicken Crêpes La Guarida

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La Guarida is one of Havana’s most glamorous and romantic paladares. It gained international fame as the setting of the award-winning Cuban film Fresas y chocolate (Strawberries and Chocolate). Owners Enrique Nuñez and Odesis Baullosa work with Chef Manuel Antonio Sió Ibañez to turn out well-executed and original examples of New Cuban cooking with international flair. One of my favorite dishes from their menu is spinach crêpes filled with chicken in a nicely seasoned cream sauce, gathered like a purse and tied with a blanched scallion green. The crêpe purses are served in a pool of wild mushroom sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of piquant minced beets.

It’s a spectacular presentation, but a bit hard to pull off if you are alone and cooking for several people. With that in mind, I’ve included a suggestion for another, more manageable presentation that tastes just as good. It may seem as though this is a dish that requires lots of preparation, but all of the components may be made in advance.

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Ingredients

For the Chicken Filling

  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons light rum
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ cup light or heavy cream
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
  • Spinach Crêpes

For the Beet Garnish

  • cup finely diced cooked beets
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

Make the chicken filling: Cut the chicken into ½-inch cubes. Place the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until lightly browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the rum and carefully light it with a long kitchen match. Shake the pan gently back and forth, spooning the rum and pan juices over the chicken. When the flame subsides, add the butter, flour, herbs de Provence, and salt. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cream, broth, sherry, nutmeg, and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, then taste and adjust the seasonings. Keep warm, or if making in advance, cover and refrigerate.

Make the mushroom sauce: Place the mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and pour in 2 cups hot water. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Place a sieve over another bowl and line it with a coffee filter or a double thickness of cheesecloth. Swish the mushrooms around in the water to loosen any grit or sand. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour the mushroom soaking water through the filter into the bowl. You should have about cups liquid. Finely chop the mushrooms.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter with the oil. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, the sherry, and broth and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sauce has thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, then swirl in the remaining butter and the parsley. Set aside.

Make the beet garnish: In a small bowl, combine the beets, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a crêpe with the prettiest side down on a clean work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the chicken filling across the middle of the crêpe and roll it up around the filling like a tube. Continue in the same manner until all of the filling and crêpes have been used. Arrange the filled crêpes in a shallow buttered baking dish. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for about 10 minutes, until heated through. To serve, spoon hot mushroom sauce over the crêpes and sprinkle the beet garnish over the tops.