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How to Feed a Mob

December 15, 1991|LAURIE OCHOA

In ample space under the broadest shade, A table richly spread in regal mode, With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort And savour--beasts of chase, or fowl of game, In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled . . . And at a stately sideboard, by the wine That fragrant smell diffused . . . --John Milton, Paradise Regained

People may be what makes a great party, but it's the food that sparks the crowd.

What follows are party recipes for good eating: finger food for nibbling during those first nervous moments; a salad to refresh and keep the mood light; chicken, crisp and flavorful, to get the juices flowing; a soup kept warm on the fire; and a sweet ending.

At Yuca's Hut, a Loz Feliz taco stand, Socorro and Jaime Herrera cook only burritos, tacos and burgers--food that can easily be prepared in the stand's tiny kitchen. Still, Yuca's tacos have become famous. The best, filled with the marinated pork called cochinita pibil, is similar to the tacos the pair was raised on in their native Yucatan. On Saturdays, they serve Yucatan-style tamales. But it's only when the Herreras cater parties that they're able to stretch out.

One delicious thing you'd find at a Herrera party--but not at the taco stand--is Pollo En Escabeche. It's at its crispiest and most flavorful when you use lard, but vegetable oil will work too. The Red Onion Garnish, made with vinegar, garlic and other good flavors, is wonderfully sour.

POLLO EN ESCABECHE

3-4 chickens, cut in halves

Salt

8 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

24 leaves fresh oregano

4 sprigs mint

8 green onions

4 heads garlic, grilled whole over open flame

4 small brown onions, grilled whole over open flame

4 (3.5-ounce) packages spiced annatto seed paste

1 cup cider vinegar

Lard or vegetable oil

Red Onion Garnish

Place chickens in 1 or 2 large pots and cover with water. Season to taste with salt. Add pepper, cumin, oregano, mint, green onions, grilled garlic and grilled brown onions. Bring to boil and boil 30 minutes.

Blend annatto paste with cider vinegar. Drain chickens and place halves on broiler pan, skin side up. Coat chickens thoroughly with prepared annatto paste. Bake at 375 degrees 30 minutes, then baste with lard and bake 45 minutes longer. (Cover with foil if chicken starts to brown too fast.) To serve, top chickens with Red Onion Garnish and pass extra in bowl at table. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Note: Spiced annatto seed paste is available in most Latin markets.

Each serving (made with vegetable oil) contains about:

281 calories; 137 mg sodium; 76 mg cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 23 grams protein; .47 gram fiber; 55% calories from fat.

Red Onion Garnish

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup vinegar

6 leaves fresh oregano

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 head garlic, grilled whole over open flame

1 yellow chile, grilled over open flame

2 medium red onions, sliced thin

Combine chicken broth, vinegar, oregano, pepper, cumin, garlic and chile in saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil. Add red onions and cover. Remove from heat and let stand covered until room temperature. If desired, remove whole garlic and chile. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

Variation: Cut chickens into pieces and dip in annatto paste-vinegar mixture. Skewer with red-onion chunks and barbecue. Serve with Red Onion Garnish as described above.

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