“El Pollo Loco” (“The Crazy Chicken”) is a popular restaurant chain in Northern Mexico and Southern US. On its History page , the company’s website says that back in the mid 1970s, in the small town of Guasave, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, when founder Juan Francisco (Pancho) Ochoa told his friends that he was going to make his family’s grilled chicken famous, they had a cynical reaction, calling him “loco” (“crazy”) in jest, but indeed he proved them wrong, and became a great success. His delicious grilled chicken, marinated in a secret family recipe concoction, is one of the many versions of Sinaloa style grilled chicken. Other chains, such as “Pollo Feliz” (Happy Chicken), and “Porti Pollos” (which I recently visited in Culiacan, Sinaloa, a few blocks from my sister’s house) also feature whole or half chickens, charbroiled to perfection; house marinades, to season and tenderize, and the spatchcock (or butterfly) technique to flatten the chicken, render a crispy outside and juicy and fully cooked meat:
The traditional side dishes are raw red salsa and a pile of warm corn tortillas; from there, each chain has graduated to become its own, adding many other items to their menus, such as rice, beans, salads, pickled vegetables, potatoes, etc. The photo below shows the take-out family pack that my sister and I bought at “Porti Pollos”, with the omnipresent chicken, raw salsa and tortillas, in addition to tortilla chips, pickled onions and a couple of grilled jalapeño peppers:
Pancho’s “Pollo Loco” might appear as an anomaly because of its sweet and sour notes, and its “crazy” bright yellow colour, but those simply come from the use of fruits and food colouring in its marinade.
My recipe is based on a simpler Sinaloa style, citrus marinade, and I opted against adding food colouring; I still used the spatchcock technique to achieve a charred but not dry exterior, and a fully cooked interior. Also, since I tested the recipe a few weeks ago when it was still very cold outdoors, I have adapted the cooking directions to use the broiler in my oven, indoors.
Broiled Sinaloa Style Chicken –
Pollo asado estilo sinaloense
1 whole chicken
1 orange, juice only
1 lime, juice only
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp cayenne or other ground dry pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 red tomatoes
3-4 red hot peppers
Onion, shallots and/or garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste
Warm corn tortillas
Other, optional (pickled onions, fried peppers, salad, potatoes, etc.)
Mix all the marinade ingredients; set aside. Prepare the chicken by cleaning and patting dry with a paper towel. Place on working surface, back facing up. With sharp kitchen shears, cut along either side of the back bone; remove and use for broth or other recipe. Open back sides, so the flesh is exposed (photo below, left); flip chicken breast side up, and press down in the middle, to flatten breast halves, and arrange wings and legs widespread (photo below, right):
This presentation is what is called to spatchcock; place the spatchcocked chicken in a deep container, pour marinade on top, then turn chicken a couple of times, to coat both sides with the marinade:
Let rest in the fridge for at least two hours, or overnight. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Place chicken, skin side down, in a roasting pan; switch oven setting to broiling, and place roasting pan at the centre of the oven about three inches from the broiling element. Broil for 20 minutes, then take out of the oven and flip to bring the skin side facing up, using tongs and a spatula:
Baste skin side with juices from the pan:
Cover loosely with parchment paper or foil, and return under the broiler for another 20 minutes. Uncover and keep broiling until the skin is brown and charred; I checked doneness by slicing the breast:
While the chicken is in the oven, prepare sauce with all the raw vegetables:
Wash and dry tomatoes and peppers. Remove stems and seeds from peppers, remove stem end from tomatoes and slice into quarters, peel onion/garlic/shallots. Process in the blender with salt to taste until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.
To plate, cut up chicken into portions and serve with reserved sauce, and warm corn tortillas on the side:
This method is great for winter time, or if an outdoor grill is not available, such as in an apartment building. For outdoor grilling, follow my recipe and use the cooking directions, for example, in The Mountain Kitchen’s great post on how to cook the perfect grilled spatchcocked chicken.