It’s Thai dinner night again and I love it. The rest of the family, especially the kiddos, not so much. No matter, I’m craving a rich spicy coconut based curry with tons of flavor and that’s what I made. A refreshing crunchy tart Thai salad is always a must to balance the meal.
Making the curry paste using a pestle and mortar is cool, almost therapeutic but also time consuming. This was a weekday meal at our household though. So, as I frequently do, I reached out for my blender and used that to make a smooth green curry paste. I used a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food as a base and made this one with cilantro, stems and leaves, galangal, chilies, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger along with a few spices.
I heated up some coconut cream (I’ve been using Arroy-D brand recently) and used that to cook the paste for a few minutes. I added coconut milk and tossed in chicken thigh pieces and cubed tofu. Thai apple eggplant are cool looking fruit. They are about the size of a golf ball and have a wild green striped color. They are also, as far as I know, the only eggplant that is good to eat raw or under-cooked. They have a nice crunchy texture and mild taste with no bitterness. I added the quartered eggplants in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking to get them heated and slightly cooked. Lastly I put in a bunch of Thai basil and finished seasoning the delicious stew with fish sauce and lime juice.
I made the Thai-style cabbage salad in the granite mortar by pounding some garlic with salt, peanuts, lime and fish sauce. I added the cabbage and bruised the whole thing together. Lastly went in the cucumbers pieces and using a spoon and the pestle everything came together with some fish sauce, lime and cilantro.
Superbowl and wings are perfect party companions. I made wings this Superbowl Sunday but I did not just fry some wings and toss them in hot sauce (as delicious as that is). These are boneless wings stuffed with zippy pork dumpling filling and tossed in a fermented black bean sauce. Boneless chicken “wings” have been a popular item at various fats food restaurants in the U.S. over the past few years. The problem is they are not wings! They are just boneless chicken chunks, fried and tossed with the same sauce as regular wings. I know my kids love them and could not care one bit when i complain that “These.Are.NOT.Wings!” Ah, the power of marketing.
I had been thinking of making true boneless wings for a while but only got the motivation i needed when I saw this recipe in the modern Chinese book, A. Wong The Cookbook by Andrew Wong. The combination just sounded delicious. As expected, getting those two pesky bones out of the wing is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but after a couple of them the rest get a bit easier.
I briefly marinated the wings in a mixture of maltose, sugar, rice wine and vinegar. The marinade is poured hot over the wings to tighten them. They are then removed, dried and set on a rack in the fridge uncovered. This will thoroughly dry the skin and aid in crisping them in the hot oil.
Removing the bones from the wings will obviously make them lose their structure and they will be…well..floppy. So, stuffing them becomes obvious. It adds a ton of flavor, additional texture and helps them retain their shape. The filling is a classic dumpling filling made from ground pork, ginger, potato starch, chives, soy and sesame oil. I used a small piping bag to fill the boneless wings.
In the meantime I prepared the sauce from sauteed red peppers, fermented black soy beans, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice wine and chicken stock. I reduced the mixture by half and adjusted the seasoning. To serve, I fried the wings in plenty of oil till crispy and the filling is cooked through (I used a thermometer to make sure of that). We made a meal of these delicious, crispy juice delicacies with a bit of steamed rice and topped them with plenty of the sauce.
Dish 3 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features chicken and some delicious grains
Jamie Oliver likes to call this “Lebanese Chicken” for some reason. I love his recipe for this dish but it certainly it does not come off as Lebanese to me, more North African maybe. Either way it is delicious. The chicken is tossed with flour heavily spiced with cumin along with a touch of cinnamon and allspice. It is then seared in olive oil and braised in a mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, onions and white wine.
That alone makes for a nice east-west kind of braise but take it one step further and it is more special. In addition to the aromatics, the chicken is cooked on top of Freekeh in the pot. This is an ancient grain used in traditional middle-eastern and some European cuisines. It is really just wheat that has been harvested while green and set on fire to remove the skin or chafe. As a result it has a sweet smoky flavor to go along with a nice toothsome texture. In the Lebanese mountains (ah! that’s where Oliver’s Lebanese name for the recipe must come from) Freekeh was considered a staple of the pantry before the introduction of rice. Thanks to the newish interest in all kinds of ancient, artisan and heirloom grains Freekeh is enjoying more popularity among chefs and home cooks. That is a good thing because it is awesome.
The plate needed some more green in it. So I prepared a quick honey-lemon dressing that I tossed some salad greens in. To gild the lily a bit more I also drizzled a sauce of yogurt, cilantro and lime on the chicken. This went very well with the assertive and rich flavors of this dish. It was still winter-fall food but had a nice sharp and refreshing flavor while at the same time remained light.
I cooked this when mom mom was visiting recently. I’m glad she loves Italian food as much as I do and especially risotto, pesto sauces and any form of pasta. Really, who doesn’t? I have a nice pasta dish coming up soon but for now it’s a soul satisfying dish from one of my go-to Italian food resources, the late Marcella Hazan. I flipped through to her chicken section in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and settled on this homey fricassee. Since mom loves risotto I chose to make a simple one to accompany our chicken dinner.
The chicken dish is based on dried porcini mushrooms and white wine. I soaked the dried mushrooms in very hot water while I got the chicken pieces browned in a hot pan. That pan gets deglazed with white wine and then I add the mushrooms along with their strained soaking liquid and some chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes. The chicken pieces cooked in this mixture while I worked on finishing the risotto.
The risotto is a traditional and very straight-forward preparation. I cooked onions, carrots and celery in a mixture of butter and oil before adding the rice and cooking it for a few minutes. I add wine to that and then gradually add good flavorful chicken stock. I wanted to give the risotto a bit of tartness. So, all the way at the end after adding butter and Parmesan cheese I flavored the risotto with a few splashes of verjus.
Rich, flavorful chicken and a perfect risotto made for a delicious meal. More importantly earned mom’s seal of approval.
Free range chicken like the ones I get from Yonder Way are delicious. These are birds that were never caged and are free to roam around and be as active as they like. The result is tasty chicken but not one as tender as the fryers you can get from the grocery store. These are a bit leaner too. All that means that I cannot just plonk a chicken in the oven and roast it high and fast and it’s good to go. I usually have to cook them a bit longer or use them for fricassees or stews and such. In this instance I had some time to play around a bit, so on spur of the moment while getting ready to joint the bird I ended up just deboning the whole chicken.
I had not planned on this dish so I was not sure what the end result will look like. I figured I’ll just choose the flavor profile as I go along. Since the chicken was not going to be “stuffed” with anything like this awesome duck I needed to make sure that the final result is completely encased in skin. So I could not just roll it like a jelly-roll or else I would end up with skin rolled up with the meat where it will never crisp and render. In this case after the bones are removed we end up with more skin that we need. So, what I did was leave the skin attached to one side of the chicken after it was deboned. After seasoning the meat side I rolled it tightly with the skin and cut off the extra flaps. What I had was a nicely rolled chicken with a perfect encasement of skin.
Looking in the fridge and spice cabinet for flavors I ended up with a Spanish profile. I had chopped garlic (of course), smoked and unsmoked paprika, parsley and last but not least home-cured Spanish chorizo. I had cured the chorizo a couple months back from the book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss and still had a 4 inch piece left. I sliced the sausage thin and laid it in two rows down the length of the chicken.
Cooking the chicken sous vide was the was to go here. It will make sure the chicken is perfectly juice all the way through. I used the Sous Vide Dash app to know for sure when the center of the chicken roll is cooked and pasteurized based on the diameter of the meat in a 150 F/65 C water bath. Before serving I patted the chicken dry very well and cooked it on all sides in a mixture of oil and butter until the skin is crisped and golden brown. This last step would be even more awesome if I had deep fried the chicken roll for a few minutes. I might try that next time around.
While the chicken was happily cooking I had to think about what to serve it with. Recently I have been very interested in the new Southern cuisine of chefs like Sean Brock and John Currence. Their focus on ingredients, tradition and flavors that pop has been an eye-opener as to how amazing this type of cooking can be beyond fried chicken and okra (although these are awesome too!). Sean Brock’s episodes on Mind of A Chef are some of the best food television I had ever seen and learned from. In his book (one with the most striking cover BTW), Heritage, Brock has a recipe for tomato gravy that is served with roasted pork, creamed corn and roasted onions. I love that sauce and have made it several times already. So, that’s what went with my chicken.
The tomato gravy starts like all gravies, with a starch cooked in a fat – a.k.a roux. In this case cornmeal cooked in bacon fat. Then good quality canned tomatoes are added and the mixture simmers and thickens. The only seasoning here is the bacon fat and some salt and pepper but the gravy gains a lot from the cooking of the cornmeal and the excellent acidic San Marzano tomatoes. It is so good I could really eat it by itself with a spoon or on some rice. I also made the onions from the same recipe. I prefer to use smaller spring onions for these but I had none on hand. I quartered yellow onions and baked them in foil along with butter and thyme until tender. Before serving I charred the onions in a very hot pan to add some color and caramelized flavor.
Potatoes would go good with this dish, specifically Heston Blumenthal’s amazing crispy fluffy roast potatoes. The trick here is to boil the potato chunks till they are almost falling apart. This obviously cooks them but also creates a lot of crevices, nooks and crannies that will get very crispy later on. After a cooling period, the potatoes are cooked in a baking pan with a good bit of oil in a hot oven. The process results in amazing crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside golden brown potatoes and they worked great with the lovely chicken and robust tomato gravy.
I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.
The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.
The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.
This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.
Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.
I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.
The last few weeks at work have been (and continue to be) stressful and frustrating. I barely had time to cook proper meals, let alone take pictures and post about them. It seems like I am finally seeing a light at the end of this particular tunnel. What better dish to bring some normalcy back into the kitchen than fried chicken? Well, several actually (including a nice sirloin with chimichurri sauce that I cooked up recently) but for now it is fried chicken time.
While not exactly last minute, I had not really planned on making fried chicken. The chicken was pretty good but with more planning the dish would’ve been superb. Most likely I would have brined the chicken and given it a buttermilk soak. Another version I’ve been wanting to try is the smoked fried chicken from Aki and Alex at Ideas in Food. Just like it sounds, that recipe applies some smoke time to the poultry before frying it. It really sounds awesome. In my impromptu fried chicken dinner I had a couple of pouches of chicken thighs and legs that were cooked sous vide with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I soaked them in a mixture of seasoned buttermilk before shaking them in seasoned flour. Since they are technically already cooked, I just needed to focus on getting that nice crispy crust. So, I fried them at a higher temperature for a shorter time (400F for about 3-4 minutes) than your typical fried chicken.
This was the first time I use my brand new propane burner outdoors right on the backyard grass. I bought it from Academy to use for brewing beer, frying and wok stir-frying. It’s fantastic to fry a bunch of chicken and some onion rings (for garnish) with no worries about oil splatters gunking the stove or the frying oil smell lingering in the kitchen and living room for hours. The chicken was good with a perfect crust but tasted a little bit flat. Brining and soaking the chicken raw in buttermilk would certainly have helped with juicyness and tenderness. Maybe next time.
Now, the potato salad was pretty spectacular and would almost make a nice meal on its own. It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book. It contains boiled red potatoes and blanched green beans in addition to shredded Bib lettuce. The vegetables are tossed in creamy pepper dressing. That dressing is absolutely amazing and I’ve used the rest of it for days just to dip vegetables in and dress a chicken salad a couple of days ago. It’s a bit more involved than your typical dressing but not complicated. First, you make a sweet-sour reduction (a gastrique) from mixture of Banyuls vinegar, black pepper and honey. Once it is cooled it gets whisked with freshly made garlic aioli, creme fraiche, buttermilk and mustard. It’s got a wonderful combination of sharp, tart and sweet flavors and a lovely creamy texture.