Outstanding Skillet Chicken Recipe from Ixta Belfrage’s Mezcla Cookbook

Ixta Belfrage’s proves that the F-word of the culinary world – fusion – is not only possible, but also an exciting way to cook.

(Photo: Stuart Simpson)

In the fall of 2020, I found myself coming back again and again to a few dishes in Flavor, a new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi focused on plant-based cuisine. There was a deliciously good recipe for a mushroom and lentil ragù that used dried mushrooms for the salty meat and coconut cream for the fat, and fresh corn polenta swirled with dried egg yolks with soy for an extra dose of creaminess and umami. Even in a book titled by a best-selling cookbook author with a distinctive style, these dishes had an identity unto themselves: they featured cross-cultural uses of ingredients that prompted me to rethink how the flavors of traditional dishes can be interchanged or reproduced in new ways.

The recipes were not created by Ottolenghi, but by Ixta Belfrage, a London-based test kitchen collaborator who had co-authored the book. When I spoke to her about it at the time, she described fusion, a much maligned culinary term, as a driving force behind her recipe writing. “Over the past two decades, fusion has acquired this connotation as a kind of confusion and everywhere, [with] too many flavors that don’t make sense together,” she said. “It gets bad press.”

The cover of Ixta Belfrage's Mezcla cookbook

$47, random penguin house

Belfrage has since started a solo career with her own book, Mezcla, out this month. Titled after the Spanish word for blending, this aptly named recipe collection exemplifies the spirit of fusion done right. It’s a mix of influences, celebrating each ingredient, citing cultural references and considering the flavors each component brings to the table. This is true of the dishes themselves – which are inspired by Belfrage’s Brazilian heritage, his family roots in Mexico and a childhood spent in Italy – and the general philosophy of the book, which explains the origins of the ingredients. , the rationales for new uses and, sometimes, their geopolitical histories. . Red palm oil, born in West Africa and introduced to Brazilian and Caribbean cuisine via the transatlantic slave trade, is getting star treatment in Mezcla. The same goes for chili peppers, bell peppers and tomatoes, all foods native to the Americas that have since become staples in many global cuisines. Thanks to these ingredients alone, there’s plenty of surprisingly red food in this book: yucca fries with spicy chili butter, roasted peppers with crispy fried ginger sauce, butter-poached fish and more. Belfrage’s pan-fried chicken, pineapple, and ‘nduja dish, however, is standout. It takes the nostalgic combination of pork and pineapple and dresses it up in sunny mandarin and smoky paprika for a recipe suitable for weeknights. Pouring a final touch of cream on top when I did, I marveled at its comforting yet vibrant scarlet hue.

close up of cooked chicken pieces tossed in brown red sauce with drizzles of white sauce and green leaves on top.

Photograph by Yuki Sugiura; Recipe from Ixta
Belfry

“I love the combination of sweet and savory, and there’s no greater union than pork and pineapple. Here, the pork comes in the form of ‘nduja, a sausage spread with Calabrian chilli. Add chicken, pineapple, chipotle, and tangerine to the mix and you’ve got yourself a party. Get the Skillet Chicken with Pineapple and ‘Nduja recipe from Ixta Belfrage.

Michael M. Tomlin