Chicken Estofado, A Oaxacan Version

In Mexico, and more specifically, Oaxaca, moles play an important part in the country’s culinary repertoire.

In Canada, we only see moles, usually red, and made with the addition of chocolate on menus, but moles in Oaxaca are not only red (rojo) but black (negro), yellow (amarillo), green (verde), and made with various chilies, spices and herbs. There are the fruit-forward moles of the coastal regions known as manchamanteles, the rich pumpkin-seed based pipianes which also fall under the mole umbrella, and the estofados (stews). Many recipes are attributed to a person, a family, a pueblo, there are moles made on regular rotation and others made only for special occasions. They’re far removed from the small jar of pre-prepared mole sauces available on the market. Making a mole from scratch is very labour intensive, but so worth the effort.
Anyone who digs long and slow barbecue techniques, or nose-to-tail cooking will love making moles.
Going through my notes and recipes over the last 15 years of Oaxacan travel, I discovered a recipe for chicken estofado, taught to me by Reyna Mendoza.
Many of the estofado recipes find an extensive list of ingredients, as one would expect, but this one is a simpler version, using sesame seeds, almonds, raisins, roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion as the base.
Like moles, estofados are blended and seasoned creating a rich, velvety sauce, but there are exceptions, such as this estofado we enjoyed in Rojas de Cuauhtemoc.


I checked in with Reyna before making this dish, and discovered she was taught the recipe by another gifted cook, the late Irene Garcia. For many years, I’d enjoyed the food cooked by Irene, a longtime cook for Oaxacan friends we visit regularly. Knowing the source of this recipe has brought a whole new meaning to the dish and I’m happy to share it with you.
Irene had the most amazing palate, and could instantly memorize how to make any dish and knew exactly how it should taste. Her repetoire ran the gamut from Mexican moles and tamales to Indian curries and Canadian-style Christmas cookies and cakes. She was an awesome person and incredible cook.
This estofado finds chicken pieces fried in olive oil first, instead of par-poached, and then finished in the blended and seasoned sauce.
Roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion, and toasted sesame seeds really drive this sauce.
The classic addition of capers and green olives are added at the last minute before serving.
Absolute ambrosia.
Estofado is served with white rice, served on the side – hey, isn’t that one of those corn husk boats? – and pickled jalapenos for those who want a bit of zip. The vinegary heat adds another level to the sauce, cutting through its luscious richness.
This is so freaking good.
Here’s to you, Irene!
Chicken Estofado by Irene Garcia and Reyna Mendoza
8 pieces of chicken (thighs, legs and breasts)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs ripe Roma tomatoes
1 whole head of garlic
1 med. white onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup raisins
8 whole almonds with skin
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
3 thick slices of pan de yema, or one thick slice of challah *(See note below)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup small pitted green olives
1/4 cup capers
Pickled jalapenos (Morita or Herdez brand, if you don’t make your own)
Rinse and pat dry chicken pieces and lightly season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven to medium heat. Fry the chicken, covered for 5 minutes, turn over and cook another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the cover on.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and add whole tomatoes, sliced onion, and garlic (in its skin). Roast in the oven until the tomato skins blacken in spots, and the onion and garlic soften. At the same time, place the bread slices in the oven and toast until golden brown.
Heat 4 cups of water in a saucepan and keep it handy.
Heat a dry cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet to medium, and add the sesame seeds all at once, stirring constantly until lightly golden. Transfer to a bowl. Add the raisins to the hot skillet, stirring until they plump up. Transfer to another bowl. Add the almonds to the skillet and toast evenly. Add to the raisins.
Turn off the heat, allow to cool slightly, add the oregano and thyme and quickly give them a stir, just long enough to give off their aromas. Remove from heat.
Remove the chicken from the dutch oven to a platter. Cool slightly, cover and refrigerate until ready to add to sauce.
Pour 2 cups of hot water over the toasted bread and set aside.
Blend 1/2 of the tomatoes, 1/2 of the onions, garlic squeezed out of their little sleeves and all the sesame seeds on high speed until as smooth as possible.
Heat the Dutch oven over medium heat, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom. Place a large sturdy metal strainer over the pot, and pour in the blended tomato-sesame mixture. Giving small sharp jolts to the strainer, pour the mixture through bit by bit, pushing the last through with the back of a spoon. Add a little hot water to the strainer to help wash through the last small bits.
Whatever’s left in the strainer, add it back to the blender along with the rest of the tomatoes and onions, the raisins, almonds, oregano and thyme.
Repeat the straining process as described above.
Note: I find stirring the mixture through the strainer a lot faster.
Lastly, blend the bread and water until smooth and add to the estofado. Stir often.
Add the chicken and continue simmering the estofado for another 30 minutes – adding the extra hot water if the mixture is too thick. It should be velvety. Adjust seasoning. Add the capers and olives just before serving.
Serve in deep bowls, spooning the sauce over the chicken. Serve with rice and hot corn tortillas. Accompany with the chilies on the side.
Welcome to your new addiction.
* I have made this dish with and without the addition of bread with really no noticeable difference. It’s completely up to you.

5 Responses to “Chicken Estofado, A Oaxacan Version”

  1. el nahual says:

    UY¡ se ve perfecto y muchas gracias por los comentarios de Irene,

  2. Mitzi Linn says:

    Hi Shelora–thanks for the recipe and for remembering Irene that way. She was a friend and since I lived at times with MJ etc, I got to eat her cooking

    Ale, Reyna, Tito continue to be friends in Oaxaca I spend time with. My blog is on Coyote Woman’s Journal….art, writing etc…

    Take care, nice blog!!!!

    Mitzi Linn

  3. Hola Mitzi,
    Thanks for the commentary! I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that Irene was the source of the recipe, and so happy that I could honor her in some way.
    Her spirit lives on in this delicious dish.
    Meanwhile, I’m off to check out your blog.

  4. Steve says:

    Can you give us the recipe for chicken estofado, taught to you by Reyna Mendoza?

    Thank you

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