Ever heard of pechuga, the mezcal from Oaxaca made by suspending a chicken breast (pechuga) from the top of the still? Forget about the worm in the bottle. That's just folklore. But this, this is something wild and woolly from the back country.
Ron Cooper, the Venice artist and adventurer who jump-started the whole mezcal craze in this country with Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal almost two decades ago, was showing José André's creative director Ruben García the pechuga process at the village of Santa Catarina Minas. It involves taking double distilled mezcal and distilling it for a third time with wild fruit, almonds, white rice and that chicken breast (skin removed) suspended by strings.
Like Andrés, García is an elBulli alum, and has a natural scientific bent. "We went out to Santa Catarina Minas to meet the old man that makes our pechuga in an old-style clay still with bamboo tubing," says Cooper.
To create the pechuga, which sells for $200 a bottle in the States, the palenquero (mezcal maker) puts 100 liters of double-distilled mezcal in the still, then adds 100 kilos of wild mountain apples and plums, big red plantain banans, pineapples, a handful of almonds, some white rice, and then the skinless chicken breast suspended by strings."
"This slow distillation takes place and at the end of it, you get this clear liquid. When you open the still, all that's left of the chicken is this brown parchment. All the juice and flavor has gone into the liquid," explains Cooper.
That day, when they opened the still, "this crazy Spaniard grabs this dried-out chicken breast and starts gnawing on it," says Cooper, laughing. "I couldn't believe it."
A couple of months later, a box arrives at Cooper's house in Taos, N.M. It's from José Andres and Ruben García. Inside, is an entire jamón ibérico de Bellota -- the raw cured ham of the black-footed pig, some of the most expensive and coveted ham on the planet.
They want Cooper to make a mezcal with the ham the same way he makes the one with the chicken breast. Cooper was just about to leave for Oaxaca and couldn't see himself toting the entire ham, so he got out a band saw, cut off the foot and part of the meat and took it with him to make the initial batch.
The first six cases of Del Maguey Ibérico are arriving in the U.S. this week, just in time for the annual Tequila and Mezcal festival Andrés holds every year at his restaurant Oyamel in Washington, D.C. This year's celebration kicks off on March 10 and is where the new Del Maguey Ibérico will get its first exposure.
Until I can get to try it, here are the official tasting notes on the collaboration: Del Maguey Ibérico "has a spicy floral nose of carnation, tropical aromatics of gardenia and jasmine, ripe pear, dark fig, notes of wet green hay and forest floor. It enters the mouth like a caramel, and is round, soft and gentle, full-bodied, with a big middle palate. The long finish tastes of roasted root vegetables and umami, leaving the mouth with terra cotta, a slate-like minerality and a touch of salinity."
Del Maguey Iberico will sell for $200 a bottle. Once more is released, I'm guessing you'll be able to find it at the bar at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills or Las Perlas in downtown L.A.