Schmalz & Gribenes: A Kitchen Experiment in Using Every Bit

Schmalz? Gribenes? Sound like characters in a cartoon strip from the turn of the LAST century, don't they? In this case, though, they refer to two products from one of the most maligned chicken parts in our health-conscious world: the chicken skin. Schmalz is the liquid or semi-solid rendered fat, and gribenes is the crispy bits of skin left after rendering fat from skin (think: chicken equivalent of pork rinds). Why on earth would any one want to make these, much less eat them? Because they taste so-o-o good... Bad for you, absolutely. Delicious, undeniable.

We first sampled Schmalz when we lived in Germany, where it might be brought to the table as an alternative to butter for bread, or purchased as an open-faced sandwich snack. In Germany, though, most of the Schmalz we saw was made from pork lard, rather than from chicken — it was white and firm, and very bland on its own though it was most often flavored with herbs, onion and salt. I was never crazy about Schmalz in the 7 years we lived there.

Chicken schmalz, though, is a different animal. Golden yellow and fragrant, it makes a nice little smackerel on crusty bread, preferably sprinkled with its fraternal twin, gribenes. Schmalz can also be used as a condiment — I read that some delis offer schmalz on roast beef sandwiches! And gribenes can be used to garnish pasta, potatoes, salads — pretty much anything to which you want to add a little crunch. Other types of schmalz can be made from goose or duck fat.

Undertaking this process was more about finding useful purpose for things we would otherwise throw away than as a call to endanger heart health. I decided to try my hand at making schmalz when I ended up with a tray of a dozen kosher chicken thighs. Normally when we buy large quantities of meat, I divide them into smaller freezer packs, trimmed and ready for use later.

In this case I de-boned some of the thighs, and removed all backbones still attached to the thigh bones — those made a quick chicken broth that can be used for soup or for cooking. I also trimmed away the excess fat and most of the skin. Rather than throw out the skin as I usually did, I cut it up (kitchen shears worked much better than my knife) and threw it and the trimmed fat into a cast iron pan set on medium low.

To start, I did not add any seasoning. I wanted to keep some plain schmalz to use as a cooking medium, the same as we have a jar of ghee for certain types of South Asian cooking. As the fat began to render and liquefy, I removed enough to fill a half-pint jar to keep for cooking. I then added a quarter of a small onion, finely diced, to the pan and about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt. The pan continued cooking on medium low until the skin reached the desired browning and crispness. This took about 40 minutes total rendering/browning time.

I considered this finished.

After decanting the seasoned liquid schmalz into 2 containers (top and bottom right), I added some of the onions and gribenes to each container. The remaining gribenes were kept separate — they can be re-crisped before using. The clear gold jar is the unseasoned schmalz for cooking.

In the remaining fat in the pan, I browned a few skinless thighs for dinner, then deglazed the pan with some of the broth on the back burner. To be honest, I was so focused on the fat products that I hadn't made an actual plan for the thighs themselves, so I put them and the deglazing liquid in the slow cooker with onions, garlic and bay leaves, as well as a cinnamon stick and cumin and caraway seeds with a vague notion of later adding chickpeas and dried apricots for a North African style stew. After cleaning up, I sat down for a break and to catch up with some favorite blogs when I came across an inspired touch from Rowena @Rubber Slippers in Italy. She shared a recipe for an African beef stew with a peanut butter sauce called Mafé, and there was something about the peanut butter that sounded really good to me. I immediately added some butternut squash, the chickpeas and the remainder of our jar of peanut butter — about a 1/3 cup, to the slow cooker. Rowena used different seasonings so I wasn't sure how this would turn out, but in fact we really liked the final combination. Don't you love when inspiration smacks you on the head like that?! (Thanks, Rowena!)

The schmalz for snacking will look like this before and after the fat cools. In the photo on the right, the gribenes was toasted in a toaster oven, where they "popped" and became even more like pork rinds in texture — airy and very crispy. I'm thinking they would be great mixed in with some popcorn too...

In keeping with my resolve to bake bread at home, I opted to make my own light rye bread to go with the schmalz and gribenes. I count kneading bread as exercise to justify these calories. LOL. No, really....

I limited myself to a single slice of bread as a snack. It was hard. Very hard.

From this kitchen experiment, we also got that African (via Lecco, Italy) chicken stew
with butternut and chickpeas in peanut butter sauce, and...

From the chicken broth we got a soup with Cinderella squash, lacinato kale, meatballs
and whole wheat shells for a second dinner the following night.
All in all, a very satisfying experiment!


Serious Eating: Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings and a Prize

Can you tell what's different about this fried chicken wing? OK, if you hadn't already read the title of this post would you have thought that this wing was deep-fried? See the blisters on the skin, the crunchy bubbly bits that will hold all that buttery hot sauce? That does not just happen on oven-fried chicken skin, no matter how long you keep them in the oven, no matter how close to the broiler you might dare to put them. I know, I've tried. As I've mentioned before, I avoid deep-fat frying and even shy from shallow frying if I can help it. Not because of health concerns but because I hate the clean up. You have to be a deep-fried stuffed olive to tempt me to the fryer!

But I do love Buffalo wings. I remember the first time I tried them. I was visiting Seattle. The restaurant specialized in seafood, but one of my companions insisted on ordering this strange appetizer — it was the 80s, Buffalo wings were just hitting the far coast. One bite, two. The plate was soon emptied and a great love was born.

As a rule, I have limited Buffalo wing consumption to an occasional treat enjoyed only when eating out. In the last few years, though, more often than not, Buffalo wings we've been served have been a disappointment and not worthy of the caloric overload they entail. A year or so ago I tried oven-baking wings at home, it satisfied the taste craving but not the crunch craving because the oven-baked chicken skin came out smooth and slick. I was consigning myself to the dread task of frying for this year's Buffalo wing orgy until I came across a Food Lab dissertation on how to get the fat-fried effect in the oven. Again, our sensei in this journey is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the very same who talked us through making fresh cheese at home. The great (and twice repeated) success of that venture prompted me to try Mr. Lopez-Alt's carefully researched method for the perfect crunch in oven-fried chicken skin.

As you can see, it worked very well! I won't spoil the secret to Mr. Lopez-Alt's method — his writing is always a fun read and his research is thorough (did he really say 12lbs. of chicken wings to perfect this method?) so I encourage you to discover it for yourself. (Hint: the first picture of the uncooked wings below gives you 2 clues on how it's done.)

Food Lab is part of the Serious Eats family dedicated to all things that can be imbibed, noshed, slurped, and otherwise happily consumed. While we were in the midst of prepping these wings, I received an email from Erin, an editor at Serious Eats, with the stunning news that an haiku I submitted for their BBQ feast giveaway was one of three selected by the SE team as a winner! How exciting is that?!

What this means is that instead of re-creating these wings this Sunday, we will instead be immersed in intense BBQ porkiness in the form of a couple of racks of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, sauce and Magic Dust from none other than BBQ legend Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL. Consistently chosen as "best ribs" in the U.S. (Bon Appetit, and Playboy!), 17th Street Bar&Grill was most recently featured on the Food Network's Food Feuds wherein host Michael Symon declared 17th Street's "the single best rib I've ever had in my pork-lovin' life." I've only heard tell of legendary Memphis BBQ, never having had the pleasure of a visit myself — so to know we'll be receiving the best of the best, I can hardly contain myself!

Mahalo nui loa, Domo arigato gozaimashita, Vielen Dank, Merci beaucoup, and a heartfelt Thank You to the Serious Eats wordsmiths and to Mike Mills and the 17th Street Bar&Grill crew for this incredible bounty! We'll be sharing the spread with friends, and will post the Feast here over the weekend. In the meantime, you can read my winning tribute to the sauce and bone here. If you'd like to order a BBQ Feast for yourself, 17th Street can deliver to your doorstep, too! BUT I'm seriously digressing...

Back to the wings... Here is a quick look of how we achieved better (especially for our hearts) than deep-fried chicken wings for our favorite Buffalo hot sauce.

After 18 hours of non-attentive prepping (3d hint), the wings are ready for the oven.
One thing I did that was not in JKL's method was to drizzle a bit of
light olive oil over the wings after this pic was taken.

Hot out of the oven, they are perfectly browned and
have just the right kind of bumps and bits to cling to sauce.

An incredibly satisfying first course (we had these with rice — weird, I know)
or perfect for a party since you don't have to stand over a hot stove
and splattering oil to cook up a large batch!
Read how this was done, or go straight to the recipe.


Loroco Cream Sauce

Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland's metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, "Do you like it?" Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I've also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we've made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse's tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don't they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I'll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan project in Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I'm looking for breadnut flour too... Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you'd like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don't recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven't frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.

UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

Adapted from Anne's recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!


Blueberries of Happiness

Recently my entire family came for a visit here to Maryland — that’s my dad, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, a niece and two nephews. One family, my brother’s family on Guam, I had not seen in over 4 years. And T had not seen them since they came to our wedding in Germany, and that was in 1997! There were also a few first meetings, as the cousins had never met each other, and T had not met his nephew from Guam.

It was a wild ride because not only were we still staying in a hotel, but while they were here we finally saw it: our elusive holy grail — the house we were going to buy. Yes, it was kind of a crazy week. We put in an offer on the house 2 days into their visit, which also happened to be my sister-in-law’s birthday. Mind you, this was the 4th offer we’ve made on a house, so we were both jaded and exhausted by the whole process. And for 3 of the 5 days of this visit, everyone wanted to spend their time in DC visiting the Smithsonians, touring the monuments, you know the drill... but at a pace too strenuous for our 83-year-old dad. T and I stayed with Dad, who was here last year and had done the tourist circuit at his own pace already, and instead showed him around the neighborhoods and towns where we were house-hunting.

Finally the word came down from our realtor: the house was ours. You would think there’d be joy in Mudville that night, but I was more in shock than anything. Six long months... over. At last. Assuming everything is copacetic with the inspections, etc. Wow. I call my sister-in-law our good luck charm now since our successful bid was made on her birthday! But the next day was the last full day of everyone’s visit, so it was a little sad, too.

For their last day we wanted a day of more low-key adventures that our Guam family did not have the opportunities to enjoy at home: picking blueberries and fishing for trout and bass in the country, away from the hectic pace of Downtown.

Picking a papaya or mangoes from a tree was old hat to the folks from Guam,
but berries and apples.... now THAT was exotic!

It was a warm day, but fortunately it wasn’t during
the record-breaking heatwave we had here this summer.

With 5 buckets and 9 pickers, we ended up with way too many berries!

A natural athlete, our niece brought her athletic grace to this new sport too.

It’s neither a trout nor a bass, but this little sunfish did spawn two new sport fishermen!

Then just like that, they were all gone! And even after everyone took a share for their respective plane trips home, we were left with 5-6 lbs. of blueberries. We gobbled many handfuls straight from the colander, and in cereal, yogurt and pancakes. Some were shared around the hotel (you get to know people after 4 months...). Soon, the berries were gone, too. (The photos are just food porn and only representative of ways to use blueberries, they weren’t taken while we at the hotel!)

I so enjoyed spending that almost full day with the family together, and hope it won’t be another four years before we see everyone again. In 21 days we will be closing escrow on a house (*knock on wood*), so we hope everyone returns soon to spend time in the house their good luck helped us find!


Tandoori-style Chicken

Chicken tandoori is always a favorite — the velvety texture of piquant and lemony chicken is hard to pass up.

But... in fact we have skipped ordering chicken tandoori the last few times we visited Indian restaurants — opting instead to explore new dishes. Always good to try new things, but this has left an itch that hasn’t been scratched in well over a year. Solution? Pull out the recipe file, fire up the oven!

The ingredients for this iconic South Asian dish are not as exotic as you might think — you probably have most of them in your pantry and fridge: lemon, ginger, cumin, coriander seed, turmeric and green chilies in a plain yogurt base. With the popularity of South Asian flavors these days, most people will also have garam masala on a pantry shelf as well. If not, you might find garam masala and the optional ingredient, chaat masala, available in bulk in your local natural foods or health food store — here in Maryland, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op, and on Oahu, Down To Earth, have bulk spices you can buy by the spoonful so you can try new spices without getting stuck with shelves full of ones you don’t use often or decide you don’t like.

Two keys to achieving the right balance of flavor and moist texture under the high heat which is the hallmark of tandoori cooking are skinless chicken and at least 24 hours in the yogurt marinade. The yogurt both tenderizes the meat and helps it retain moisture; while removing the skin allows the marinade to thoroughly work its magic. This recipe is an amalgam of different recipes we’ve made at home or school over the last 12 years and is still evolving...

Since we’re not fans of artificial food coloring and red dye contributes nothing to the flavor, we omit the red dye paste that is included in many recipes and let the food speak for itself. (“Eat me, eat me!”) Our research has turned up some natural coloring sources that have been used in tandoori pastes, including cayenne pepper, Kashimiri chilies, and annatto (aka achiote). We’ve tried both the cayenne and the Kashimiri chile, and would use Kashimiri chilies if they are available — it adds both heat and flavor as well as color — but it just isn’t something that is a pantry staple yet. We just learned about achiote as an alternative, so a further evolution of this recipe may include that, too — we’ll have to see how it affects the flavor.

Serves 4 persons

3 to 3 1/2 lbs. (1.3 - 1.5kg) chicken, whole legs
1 whole lemon, juiced and rind cut into 6 pieces
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1-1/2 cup (180g) plain yogurt (full fat is best, low fat is OK; can’t recommend non-fat)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 TBL)
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 - 4 serrano chilies, seeded and diced (we usually use 2)
(keep the seeds and up the heat factor exponentially if that floats your boat)
1/2 tsp sweet paprika (optional - more for color than flavor, not used here)
ghee or unsalted butter, melted (for basting)
1 lemon, quartered (for serving)
Chaat masala (optional, for serving)

Remove skin from chicken legs: With kitchen shears or sharp knife, score skin all the way around the tip of the drumstick, then pull skin from thigh over the tip of drumstick and off. Cut flesh on both sides in several places.

Sprinkle lemon juice, then salt over chicken and massage into meat.

Combine yogurt, lemon rinds, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, serrano chilies, and paprika, if using. Place in glass or other non-metallic container, or zippered plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, and completely cover with marinade. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours.

Preheat oven to 500F. Set oven rack to upper third of oven.

Melt ghee or butter in oven as it pre-heats, carefully remove ghee once warm through.

Remove chicken from marinade, and gently pat dry but do not rub off all the marinade.

Place smaller rack on a cookie sheet, and set chicken over rack. Baste with ghee, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over, baste again and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked through. If chicken starts to burn, cover affected area with a foil tent.

While hot, squeeze lemon juice over chicken and sprinkle with chaat masala if using. Chaat masala is a fine powdered mix of spices that adds an extra tang and punch to the finished dish — similar to sprinkling sumac on Persian and other Middle Eastern style grilled meats.

Serve with basmati rice and your favorite side dishes.

Vegetable side dishes you might like with this: Tarka Dal, Brussels Sprouts or Cabbage with Coconut, Chaat Potatoes, and Aloo Gobi.

Or if you have more time, this tasty pickle: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle

Another yogurt-based marinade: Persian-style Grilled Chicken

With Basmati Rice with Peas and Cucumber Yogurt Salad


Chicken & Pot Pie Noodles

When I hear the term “pot pie” I first think of flaky pastry encasing a creamy filling of savory chicken and vegetables. But around here, so near to the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch country just to the north, if you ask for “chicken pot pie” you are more likely to be served a casserole type dish with large chunks of chicken and large flat toothsome noodles as in the photo above. One of our finds at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market in Burtonsville last week was dried pot pie noodles, so of course this meal had to follow...

This is my own take on the Dutch country style chicken pot pie — the broth is made with ginger, as well as the more usual onions, black peppercorns, and carrots (which are all removed when the broth is made) then finished simply with chervil and flour to thicken.

For 4 persons

For the Broth:
2 lbs/ 1kg chicken thighs
2 fingers of ginger, wahed well, and cut into thick slices
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and cut in quarters
2-3 medium carrots, washed and cut in half crosswise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
3 qt/L water

Combine all ingredients in large 6qt/L slow cooker set on HIGH. After 3 - 3 1/2 hours, remove chicken to clean bowl and separate meat from skin and bones, reserving meat. Line colander with clean cheesecloth, and strain broth, discarding all solids. Return broth and meat to slow cooker and set again on HIGH.

Finish “Pot Pie”:
2 cups/ 500ml boiling water
1 tsp. dried chervil
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
dried pot pie noodles
4 TBL. flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Add to slow cooker, cover and cook for 40 minutes — noodles should be softened but not falling apart. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the dissolved flour mixture, and stir well. Make a well in the center of the noodles, and pour flour mixture into well and stir through completely. Cook another 20-30 minutes, or until broth thickens.

This is comfort food at its best. With the whole wheat loaf and fresh churned butter (also from the Market), and an ice cold Yuengling lager (in keeping with the Penn country theme), cool summer al fresco meals don’t get better than this.


Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage

Three simple ingredients take an average Sunday roast chicken to new and exotic heights: sage, preserved lemon, and garlic. Taking flavor cues from the classic Italian sage chicken, this roast is infused with an intensely flavored paste of preserved lemon rind and garlic, as well as fresh sage leaves placed in strategic locations under the skin. What could be simpler?

The preserved lemon lends a deep citrus flavor even after long cooking and marries beautifully with the fresh sage. There’s a reason this combination of lemon, garlic and sage has remained a stand-by in so many kitchens!

Make the paste: In the small bowl of a food processor or blender, mince together 3-6 cloves of garlic with 4-6 preserved lemon rinds (to equal one lemon; roughly chop the rinds), several grinds of fresh black pepper, about 2 TBL. olive oil, and 2-3 tsp. of liquid from the jar of preserved lemons (which contains a lot of salt already). Taste paste and correct seasoning. You should have almost 1 cup of paste, enough for a 5-6lb. bird.

Rinse and pat dry the whole chicken, and carefully lift skin to separate it from meat without tearing. Put 1 TBL of paste inside chicken cavity, and spread around interior wall of the bird. Take 1 TBL. of paste at a time and place under skin around joints between leg and thigh, under thighs, and between leg and breast. As an optional step, you can take a small paring knife and make small slits, especially in and around he thick breast meat and fill the slits with lemon-garlic paste. When paste if used up, place 6-10 cleaned fresh sage leaves under skin over the thigh and breast sections.

Lightly oil chicken skin and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Then bake in pre-heated oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh and not touching bone registers 180F/83C. When cooked, the chicken skin becomes almost translucent and the pattern of he sage leaves beneath can be seen. The Thanksgiving turkey never had it so good!

Serve with your favorite potato mash or pasta, or as we did with a couscous pilaf with dried fruit, minced veggies and pine nuts.

More Recipes with Preserved Lemons:
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Figs
Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (dessert)


Carapulcra: Spicy Peruvian Stew with Freeze-dried Potatoes

Since we landed here in north metro D.C., we’ve been awed by the availability of dry and frozen goods from Latin America. It almost makes up for the dearth of the Japanese goods that we got so used to having around in Hawaii. Almost.

Anyway, as the pantry shelves have filled with wonderful herbs and spices, beans, and drinkables from south of our borders, I’ve been combing the library and Web for the best ways to use them. I’ve had one cookbook on my shelf for almost 10 years called “Bistro Latino” that has gotten little use, but that is already changing. There is a recipe there for
Carapulcra, a spicy Peruvian stew made with pork, chicken and dried potatoes in a chipotle-peanut sauce. I’m not a huge fan of cooking with peanuts, so this recipe never really caught my imagination until I repeatedly found dried potatoes on grocery shelves everywhere around here.

In Peruvian cooking, Chuño are “potatoes naturally freeze-dried by the extremely cold, dry air of the Andean highlands.” (BL, p.10 ) I love potatoes so the idea of shelf-stable potatoes was particularly appealing. (That disaster-preparedness streak still runs deep, even decades after leaving earthquake-typhoon-power-outage-for-months-prone Guam!)

At the time I made this dish last December, we had dried **diced yellow potatoes (papa seca amarilla)** on hand, and that’s what I used in the carapulcra recipe. Since then, I’ve also seen whole dried yellow and purple potatoes, and I think I will try those in this dish next time.

Despite my doubts about peanuts, I did like this dish, especially the combination of savory nuts and spicy chipotle.

** The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled the Goya brand of these potatoes (which is what we used) in February of this year. The recall was for undeclared preservatives -- i.e., sulfites -- that can cause a severe allergic reaction in asthmatics and others with sulfite allergies. Neither of us is allergic, so thankfully we were not affected but please be aware of this issue if you have a sulfite allergy.

(adapted from
Bistro Latino by Rafael Palomino)
For 4 persons

2 TBL olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 lb/455g pork shoulder, cut into 1” dice
1 lb/455g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” dice
2L chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 cup/225ml water
small bunch of cilantro stems (leaves picked and reserved), minced
8 oz. dried diced yellow potatoes (or whole dried potatoes), rinsed well
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
6 TBL peanut butter (we used smooth only because we don’t keep chunky peanut butter around)
reserved cilantro leaves, divided for cooking and garnish

Heat 2 TBL oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat, and cook half of garlic until it is fragrant. Add pork and brown well, about 6 minutes Remove to small dish to hold, and return pot to stove. Heat remaining 2 TBL oil and garlic, and brown chicken, about 4 minutes. Remove to dish with pork, and return pot to stove again.

Increase heat to high, and add small amount of broth to pot, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add full amount of broth, then water, cilantro pieces and dried potatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until potatoes begin to re-hydrate — for the small diced potatoes, this took about 20 minutes, but for the whole potatoes it must take at least twice that amount of time (40 minutes).

Meanwhile, mix together minced chipotle and peanut butter.

Add browned meats and any accumulated juices in dish to pot, along with chile and peanut butter paste. Taste and season with sea salt and ground black pepper as needed. Cover and simmer another 40 minutes, or until stew starts to thicken. Stir in 3/4 of cilantro leaves in the last 10 minutes, and cover again to finish. Garnish serving bowls with more cilantro.

Chef Palomino did not make any serving suggestions, so we had these with thick corn tortillas called arepas (purchased). And although it is not traditional — and perhaps Verboten in Peru — we indulged in a practice we learned in an Oaxacan (Mexican) restaurant of adding fresh ingredients to stews. In this case we topped our bowls with radishes, green onion and avocado cubes — the juicy freshness of veggies is a great contrast to the deep layered flavors of this, and most, long-simmered dishes.


Kochujang Chicken

We haven’t acquired a new grill since we re-located to D.C., but with warmer weather on the way, I have noticed T. hanging out by the grill displays when we’re supposed to be picking up potting soil and plants...

As I look over grill recipes, the ones that keep rising to the top are our favorite flavors from Hawaii that we now miss so much. This one for Kochujang Chicken is actually the last one we made before we gave up our gas grill on Oahu. Literally. We made this chicken as part of the lunch for the moving crew who were packing up all our household goods and furniture. After they were done, we offered to let them take anything that we didn’t plan to take with us, including the grill. One of the crew took us up on it and the grill found a good home!

Kochu Jang (also spelled Gochujang) is a wonderful Korean condiment that has found many uses in our home. It’s a thick paste made with medium hot peppers, garlic and other spices and glutinous rice powder. It’s a great shortcut to adding layers of flavor to soups, marinades, and sauces. This sweet-spicy marinade will give you a juicy, flavorful chicken with familiar yet exotic notes.

The Korean red pepper used in Kochu Jang, and also found dried as a flakes, is a mild to medium heat pepper with a sweetness to them. They are more similar to Aleppo pepper than to what is called “crushed red pepper” or to cayenne pepper powder in the U.S. Substitute 3/4 amount of Aleppo pepper for Korean red pepper powder called for in the recipe below. If neither is available, omit the dried peppers — the marinade will still be spicy from the Kochu Jang.

This recipe is my own. Most recipes call for the chicken to be cooked in a sauce, but I wanted something that was marinated and cooked dry, either on a grill or oven. Kochujang Chicken was also part of the Korean-theme meal we shared with friends in January when we also had Bulgogi Letttuce Wraps and Watercress Dumplings. For that meal, the chicken was simply baked instead of grilled.

For 4-6 persons
This recipe easily doubles and triples for large BBQs. Allow to marinate overnight for best flavor.

2 lbs./1kg chicken thighs, with or without bones

2 TBL kochu jang
1-2 tsp Korean red pepper flakes
2 TBL soy sauce
2 TBL raw sugar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame oil
2 TBL sake or mirin

Combine marinade and stir well to dissolve sugar. Place chicken in non-metal bowl or plastic zippered bag, pour marinade over chicken, and massage marinade into meat. Place in refrigerator at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight, and up to 2 days.

One hour before grilling (or baking), remove from fridge. Prepare grill or pre-heat oven to 350F (180C).

Remove chicken from marinade and lightly pat dry. Oil grill or baking pan. Grill/Bake until juices near bone run clear, about 40 minutes.

Serve with rice, kimchee and/or other pickles, and vegetables such as Choi Sum, Watercress or Mustard Greens.

T. with his beloved grill on Oahu for the last time...


Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Figs

Hello... Feels like I went into hibernation after Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) when Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog saw his shadow, predicting 6 more weeks of winter! (And how did this little guy get so clairvoyant anyway?)

Anyhoo, as an island girl at heart, even though we’ve lived in places with snow-on-the-ground winters before (Boston, Germany), I was not happy with the groundhog’s prediction. Yes, even more reason to miss the balmy 77F weather of Ewa Beach, Oahu in February... Of course, we really can’t complain since my in-laws in Maine were buried in a Nor’easter (snow storm) last week — and that is not a figure of speech, they were literally BURIED, as you can see on my MIL’s site,
Maine Musing. Glad it wasn’t me shovelling out the second floor balcony!

This morning, though, I spotted a pair of robins — a rather frisky couple chasing each other around the front lawn. This can only mean the cherry blossoms near the Tidal Basin can’t be far behind, even though the temperature here is back into the low 40s after hitting a balmy 58F yesterday.

So, thoughts are turning toward spring, but warm and warming meals are still the order of the day for a little while longer. I had a hankering for the bright flavor of those
preserved lemons we made last November, but wanted something a little different too. I played around with flavors and put together a twist on our favorite Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, adding a touch of sweetness with honey and dried figs. The result was a salty-sweet (think: Silver Palate’s “Chicken Marbella), lemony soul-warming casserole.

When brainstorming this dish, I was tempted to include cinnamon but instead put it in the side dish — adding cinnamon to the boiling water before the couscous grains are rehydrated. The combination of lemon and cinnamon is classic, but I really wanted the clean intense flavor of preserved lemons to shine here. The added warmth of cinnamon in the couscous livens every mouthful.

Preserved lemons are welcome in our house all year, but their sunny citrus flavor with its promise of warmer weather ahead are the perfect antidote when rumbling grey winter skies numb your outlook as well as your bones. Keep warm, Everyone!

Serves 4

4-6 dried whole figs
2 TBL honey, preferably a non-flowery variety
(I used
NZ manuka honey, but any with a minerally (thyme), citrusy or earthy (chestnut) flavor will work)
1 cup boiling water

Rinse figs under warm water, and cut each dried fig in half. Dissolve honey in hot water, and add dried fig halves. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
3 TBL olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly mashed

Cook onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until onions are translucent and sweet, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is fragrant. Put onion mixture into bottom of oven-proof casserole that will fit all the chicken in a single layer.

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.

1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces, or 4 whole legs
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt

Combine cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Rub spice mixture into chicken pieces, especially under the skin. Place chicken in a single layer on top of onions in casserole.

4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, to equal 1 lemon
1 cup (160-200g) small-medium green olives with pits
2 tsp. raw/turbinado sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
2 TBL olive oil

Separate lemon pulp from rind. (Pulp is usually discarded, which you can do, but I like to include it in the braising liquid) Cut each rind into 3-4 thin strips, and tuck 3/4 of the lemon strips under skin and between joints of the chicken. Sprinkle sugar.

Remove fig halves from soaking liquid (do not squeeze), reserving any liquid. Add water to soaking liquid to bring it to 1/4 cup. Scatter olives, figs, remaining 1/4 lemon rinds, and optional lemon pulp between chicken pieces. Pour broth, reserved fig-soaking liquid, and wine over everything, then drizzle on olive oil.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then turn temperature down to 350F/180C, and continue baking for another 35-45 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through (whole leg joints will move easily and juices run clear).

Serve with cinnamon-scented couscous or long-grain rice, and think of spring...

Cinnamon Couscous
Prepare couscous according to package directions, but add pieces from 1/2 cinnamon stick to the water when you put it on to boil. When the water reaches a full boil, add a pinch of salt and the couscous, cover tightly and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and fluff couscous grains with a fork.

More Recipes with Preserved Lemons:
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage
Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata
Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (dessert)


Piri-piri Chicken

Have you tried Piri-piri Chicken? If not, you’re in for a treat. There is a chicken franchise in the U.S. called El Pollo Loco that prepares chicken in a similar way — marinaded in citrus and spices for a few days, then grilled low and slow, and basted with more flavor. I was a big fan. Then we moved overseas, and I tried to duplicate the flavors of EPL chicken at home, but with no luck.

One day I happened upon a Nando’s chicken restaurant in London (at Earl’s Court) and fell in love all over again. Nando’s is a South African restaurant franchise that serves a
Portuguese-style piri-piri chicken BBQ (I know, it’s confusing — it has to do with historical migration patterns but never mind that now). Piri-piri (Nando’s spells it differently) is a zestier, tastier and more succulent BBQ chicken than even EPL, so the urgency to grill chicken at home was temporarily quashed — I could just nip over to Nando’s for a grilled chicken fix! When we later moved to Boston, we were treated to even better home-style piri-piri chicken in some of the small Portuguese-run eateries around Cambridge, the best was at a tiny 6-table cafe in Inman Square.

Since that long ago time we’ve found a primo marinade recipe to make at home because we’ve lived the last 6 years out of reach of ready-made piri-piri chicken. The name piri-piri comes from the sauce made with small red chile peppers, called malagueta, that are the key flavor ingredient in the marinade. Finding the right pepper sauce, also called molho de malagueta, is the first and hardest part of making this recipe. Look for it in Brazilian or Portuguese markets in your area — it is a thick, deep red sauce usually sold in a tapered bottle. There is also a clear vinegar sauce with whole peppers floating in the bottle that is also labelled molha de malagueta or piri-piri sauce, but that’s not what we use.

Also, the
malagueta chile pepper used in this sauce is not the same as the melegueta pepper, also known as “grains of paradise.”

The original recipe from which this is adapted says you can substitute Tabasco (brand) sauce for the real thing, but the chicken will taste very different when made with Tabasco (and by different, I mean “wrong”). The Portuguese sauce is much thicker than Tabasco, and has a wholly different flavor. If you don’t care for very “hot” foods, don’t worry. The cooked chicken does not enflame your mouth with pepper-heat — the piri-piri sauce is primarily a flavoring agent. You can, of course, increase the heat by adding larger amounts of piri-piri sauce to the marinade.

This recipe is more like the home-spun piri-piri chickens we enjoyed around Cambridge than the commercial versions. Plan to prepare the marinade at least 24 hours before you intend to start grilling. If you can give it a 2-day headstart, you will be richly rewarded.

Warning: once you do try this chicken, you may become as obsessed with its addictive flavor as we have!

Adapted from
The Barbecue! Bible (1998) by Steven Raichlen

For the Marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil
4 TBL. unsalted butter
1 whole lemon, juiced and rind cut into 10 pieces
1 TBL. red wine vinegar
2-3 TBL. Piri-piri sauce (use minimum 2 TBL. to get the piri-piri flavor)
2 tsp. sweet paprika
3/4 tsp. ground coriander seed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 scallions, washed and thinly sliced
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, washed and leaves separated from stems
1” piece of ginger, peeled and slivered
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Place all marinade ingredients
except lemon rinds into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Taste and correct for salt, especially if using larger quantity of piri-piri sauce. Put half of marinade and the lemon rinds into a non-reactive bowl, or a large plastic zipper bag.

1 whole chicken (3.5-4lbs/1.5-1.8kg), cleaned, backbone removed, and cut into quarters

Cut partially through the leg joints where the the drum and thigh meet. Carefully slide a finger under the skin and loosen skin from flesh. Add leg portions to marinade, and insinuate some marinade between skin and flesh.

Cut partially through the joint between wing and breast. Carefully separate skin and flesh around the breast, and make a pocket between the tenderloin and the top of breast. Add to marinade, and also incorporate marinade under skin and next to tenderloin. Add remaining marinade, cover and let marinate in fridge for at leat 24 hours. 48 is better. The best we’ve made at home was marinated for 60.

Prepare your BBQ or grill for cooking with
indirect heat. (Learn how from the master himself at Steve Raichlen’s site)

Oil your grate well. Add chicken pieces to the grill, skin-side up. Baste with remaining marinade, cover grill and cook for 30 minutes. Uncover and baste again with marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. (Do not use marinade to baste in the last 10 minutes of grilling.) Cover grill and cook another 20-40 minutes, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the thigh and breast (instant-read thrermometer will show 180F). Leg joints may cook faster than breast quarters, so start checking them first.

If you want to crisp up the skin, cook over direct heat for the last 5-8 minutes of grilling time.

Cut into serving pieces. In every restaurant we’ve ever had piri-piri chicken, it is served with fried or roasted potatoes, but at home we prefer rice! Offer extra piri-piri sauce and lemon wedges on the side.


Stuffed Chicken Roll-up

We actually dined on this in March, shortly after my dad returned to Guam and we found we still had ground chicken in the freezer. We don't usually buy ground chicken, but it was the best meat alternative for his gout maintenance diet. I wanted to make something a little different than the meatloaf or meatball alternatives running through my head. We also had some beautiful asparagus and a large quantity of caponata newly made. Instead of adding it all into a loaf, what if we rolled it into the center of a meat casing. How would they go together?

Pretty well, actually. Although the roll did not hold its shape as well as it might have with ground beef or pork, the flavors melded well. The lightly seasoned chicken and fresh asparagus absorbed the salty play of flavors in the eggplant relish. Served over a bed of polenta-style grits with oyster mushrooms, it was a colorful and satisfying meal. I used a lot more caponata than I would have liked (less for me to snack on), but I didn't begrudge the loss of my favorite appetizer (too much).

For the ground meat mixture:
1.5 lb ground chicken (or beef, pork)
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper
1/2 medium onion, diced fine
1 medium egg (optional -- if I made this with ground chicken again, I would omit the egg so the roll might keep its shape better)

Combine all ingredients well. Chill until needed.

To Finish:
4-6 spears of asparagus (depending on width of spears)
1-1/2 cups prepared Caponata (recipe)

On a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap (about 16" long), form meat mixture into a rectangle, about 12" long and 6" wide.

Add layer of caponata to within 1/2-inch of the long side closest to you and 2" from the far end. Lay asparagus spears side-by-side over caponata.

Using the paper/plastic wrap as a guide, begin to roll the meat over the filling, jelly roll or sushi style. When completely enclosed, twist ends of plastic/wax closed and tuck under. Place roll on cookie sheet and leave in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C.

Lightly oil a baking sheet, and place chilled meat roll on sheet. Drizzle olive oil over loaf, if using chicken. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn heat down to 350F/180C and continue baking for 20 more minutes. Allow to cool on the sheet for 15 minutes. Using a wide fish slice/spatula, remove roll to cutting board and slice on the diagonal.

Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or pasta.

Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives

This may look like a simple bottle of salt covered lemons, but in fact it's a statement — an acceptance of the fact that we won't be moving as soon as we had thought we would. Why? Because these preserved lemons won't be ready for another 4 to 6 weeks, so . . . here we will be for the near future. So while I will continue to use up most of our pantry stock, I will also have to re-stock some of our most frequently used and beloved items, such as preserved lemons.

But what is a preserved lemon and why would anyone want them in their pantry? Because they are one of the most concentrated and divine lemon-delivery systems yet devised. And one of the easiest to make at home. All you need are lemons, salt, a bit of olive oil (to seal the jar), and time. There are different types of preserved lemons, some cured only in salt (no juice), others which are spiced with cinnamon and other flavors. Our favorite style is preserved in salt and lemon juice only. Our first taste of this exotica was a jar of juice-and-salt preserved lemons purchased 10 years ago in a Turkish dry goods shop in Germany. It was such a revelation and so versatile an ingredient, our pantry has been stocked with it ever since (between moves anyway). But that first jar was also our last purchased jar, because once I learned how easy they were to make it seemed a shame to to buy them. But before we go through the
making of the lemons, let's talk about one of the most popular uses for them.

These 2 photos were taken last year, though I used the last of that jar earlier this year to make our favorite Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives. You will find many versions of this dish all over the Internet, and with good reason. It's easy on the cook, slightly exotic but with familiar flavors, and elegant enough to serve to company. In fact, if you find yourself entertaining a mixed group of palates — some willing to try the exotic, some more sedate — this dish will often satisfy both. (Sometimes I leave out the word "Preserved" when offering this to some of the shy-er palates because they can find the descriptive off-putting, although they are also usually the ones most taken with the intense lemon flavor.)

Once cured, the lemon becomes nearly translucent (photo at right) and very soft. Cookbooks and recipes will usually advise you to separate the rind from the pulp, and discard the pulp. If I were using the lemons for a cake or a drink, I would use only the rind; but for this casserole style dish, I do include the separated pulp in the cooking medium for the added flavor, but it is not eaten.

We've tried different variations of this Middle Eastern classic, and this recipe is devised from many of those so I'm not sure I can say it is Turkish or Middle Eastern. I can tell you it's delicious, and is our current favorite recipe though we're still open to taste-testing other versions. Even keeping the spice combination the same, the most striking flavor difference can be wrought by changing the type of olives used. You can certainly mix green and black varieties, or go with your favorite one. The absolute best version we've made with this particular recipe used grande Spanish green olives (with pits), so if you have those around, do try them here. We prefer to keep the pits in almost all our cooking with olives, even pizza, but you can pit your olives before adding them to the dish. If you opt to leave the pits in, be sure to tell your guests to prevent a cracked tooth!

We used the last of our stash to make this chicken dish for my dad when he was visiting earlier this year. With all the lemons and spices, I thought it would be okay for him on his low-purine diet (without the chicken skin, of course). He really liked it, so I'm including it in the
GDC round-up in case he's moved to try it at home sometime.

Make a hole through the olive oil seal to remove your lemon quarters, and reseal with additional oil if necessary. I've found the lemons will keep for up to a year in the fridge this way.

Please note that there is no salt specified in this recipe. That is because we use both the pulp and juice from the preserved lemons, which contain a lot of salt.

1 3-4 lb. (1.5-2kg) chicken, cut into serving size, or an equal weight of chicken thighs
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Combine cumin, coriander, paprika and pepper. Rub spice mixture into chicken, especially under the skin and between the bone and breast meat, if using whole chicken. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, but as long as overnight in the fridge.

1 whole preserved lemon (
method here)

Separate pulp and rinds. Cut rinds into thin slices, and place 3/4 of slices under the skin and between flesh of chicken. Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

2 TBL. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3-4 bay leaves
1 - 1 and 1/2 cup whole olives, unpitted (depends on type of olives used, and personal preference for olives)
1/2 cup (120ml) chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
2 TBL. juice from preserved lemons

Heat oil over medium-high in a large skillet. In batches, brown chicken and place in oven-proof casserole dish or dutch oven. Turn heat down to medium-low, and In same oil cook onions until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking together until garlic is fragrant.

Meanwhile, scatter remaining 1/4 of the lemon rinds over the casserole, and tuck bay leaves between chicken pieces. Add lemon pulp (optional step) and olives to the dish, and evenly distribute the onions and garlic over the chicken. Add broth, wine and lemon juice. Cover and bake in pre-heated oven for 45 minutes.

Serve with couscous and a crisp green or tomato salad.

Other recipes with preserved lemons: Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta, and Lamb Shanks with Preserved lemons and Gremolata.


Persian-style Grilled Chicken

One of our favorite stand-bys for the grill is this lovely Persian style yogurt-marinated chicken. A friend shared her Iranian mother-in-law's recipe with us in broad strokes, giving general proportions of each ingredient for the marinade. After 8 years of tossing this marinade together every few months, and borrowing a basting technique from well-known Persian chef Najmieh K. Batmanglij in her book, "A Taste of Persia," I finally had to develop an actual recipe to share with other friends.

The yogurt serves to tenderize as well as flavor the chicken, leaving it moist and juicy even after high grilling. This marinade gets better the longer it has to marry with the chicken, up to 2 days in the coolest part of your refrigerator. Served with lavosh or other flat bread, grilled zucchini and tomatoes, and a yogurt salad, this is an exotic way to break out of the seeming confines of a low-purine diet (see the Gout Diet Challenge) that my dad faces for the next 9 months or so. Basmati rice is another traditional accompaniment.

As is sumac, a coarse dark burgundy colored powder made from the berries of a bush that grows wild in the Middle East and parts of Italy (related to, but not the same as, the poison sumac found in North America). It is an essential flavoring and souring agent in many Middle Eastern cuisines, including Persian. Here it is used as a condiment for the cooked chicken and rice. To be honest, I think I sometimes make this dish because I'm really craving the combination of yogurt, rice and sumac that are essential components of this meal. On Oahu, I finally located a local source for sumac India Market on South Beretania, near University Ave. (right where King St. becomes a one-way road), has many Middle Eastern pickles and spices, as well as Indian foods, clothing, music and movies.

1/4 cup (30g) plain full-fat yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup, 60ml)
2 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. saffron threads, soaked in 2
TBL. water (optional)
sea salt
ground black pepper

1 whole chicken, backbone removed, quartered, and wing tips removed
1 lime, quartered

Combine marinade ingredients in glass bowl or zipper bag. Add chicken, and combine well, massaging marinade under skin and into joints. Cover or zip up, and let marinate at least 8 hours, and up to 3 days.

To prepare to grill, remove chicken from refrigerator about 30 minutes before it is set to go on the grill (i.e., while the grill is pre-heatting or the charcoal coming up to cooking temperature). Make basting sauce.

Basting Sauce:
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tsp.)
TBL.. unsalted butter, melted
sea salt
ground black pepper

Combine ingredients and blend well to dissolve salt.

Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Place chicken on grill, skin-side down first. Turn over and baste liberally. Grill until each piece runs clear when cut near the joint, basting each time the chicken is turned. Remove fully cooked chicken from grill, and immediately squeeze lime juice over.

Serve with lavosh, basmati rice, grilled vegetables, yogurt salad, and liberally sprinkled with sumac.

Note on cutting chicken for serving: In the U.S., we generally cut a half-breast at the joint between breast and wing, leaving a tasty but tiny wing piece and a rather over-sized breast portion. Here's a more equitable cut
cut through the lower third of the breast so some white meat goest with the wing, and further divide the remaining part in two. This will allow more diners to get a share of white meat, if they like, and it encourages portion control as well.

The GDC: Five-Spices Chicken

Five-Spices Chicken

We're still in the market for gout-friendly recipes that tickle the palate. This is one I actually dug up from my recipe files after dad reminisced about a Chinese-style chicken he remembered that was flavored with star-anise. I copied the original recipe from a newspaper article probably 20 years ago (yes, when I was a mere child in grade school . . .) onto a 4x6 index card. It's quite westernized, but still answers to its original Asian influences. I've adapted the old recipe so it is friendlier to the gout sufferer and can be cooked wholly in a slow-cooker for 6 hours, though the sauce must be finished in a pan. It's a recipe designed to leaves the chef free for a day to pursue other interests. Note how the chicken browned nicely even without the pre-browning step.

Even if you don't have gout, this is an easy and delicious way to add a little something different to your weekday menu. Follow the suggestions for non-restricted diets in parentheses.

TBL. tomato paste (or ketchup, as in the original recipe!)
1/4 cup raw honey (better for gout diet), OR 3 TBL. brown sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or regular if you have no restrictions for gout)
1/4 cup natural apple juice (sake, sherry, or Chinese rice wine if you have no restrictions for gout)
1/4 cup broth or water (if using only whole breasts, I recommend using broth, as the breast pieces don't have enough bones to substantially flavor the sauce) + more to cover the chicken pieces in the pot

Combine ketchup, honey, soy sauce, juice/wine, and 1/4 cup broth/water and stir well to dissolve honey or sugar.

1 onion, sliced
3-6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 4-in. (20cm) slices of fresh ginger
1 stick of cinnamon, halved
3-4 pieces of whole star anise
6-10 whole black peppercorns
1 whole frying chicken, or whole legs or breasts (3-4lbs, 1.5-2kg)

To Finish:
2 heaping
TBL. of cornstarch
TBL. water

Stir together to dissolve cornstarch.

Lay onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and peppercorns on bottom of slow-cooker. Cut chicken into serving size pieces, and lay on top of spices. Add prepared Sauce, and enough additional broth/water to cover the chicken. Set slow-cooker on LOW setting and leave to enjoy the rest of your morning.

After 6-7 hours, remove chicken to serving dish and cover to keep warm. Strain remaining sauce into a skillet and boil over high heat to reduce to about 1.5 cups. Taste and if the flavor is not too concentrated, further reduce to 1 cup. If flavors are already strong, proceed to thickening.

Taste and correct seasoning. To thicken, reduce heat to medium and add cornstarch mixture, stirring well as you pour in cornstarch. Stir well to combine and cook until sauce is slightly thickened and takes on a shine. Pour over chicken and serve immediately with
Mestizo Rice, and steamed or braised vegetables (see GDC Round-up for other gout-friendly recipes)

This recipe is going out to Sunita at
Sunita's World . . . life and food for her wonderful "Think Spice . . . think star anise" event this month. I love the distinctive flavor of star anise, it is the signature spice in Five Spices Chicken, and I'm looking forward to Sunita's round-up at the beginning of March to discover new recipes featuring this pretty spice.


The Way of Cooking: Chicken Soup Revisited

Happy National Homemade Soup Day! Truth to tell, I didn't know such a day existed until my sis-in-law, Tra, sent us an e-card to commemorate this happy day! (Thanks for the head's-up, Tra!) We can't let an occasion like this pass, especially when there is a soup-in-waiting in the fridge as we speak.

We've touched on the healing properties of soup, especially chicken soup, earlier, and how centuries of folk wisdom is now backed by clinical study (see
Chicken Tinola post). Chicken soup is the first thing I think to make for anyone in crisis, whether it's illness, death in the family, or other emotional stress. When someone has no appetite, simply sipping some chicken soup broth can be reviving and sustaining.

Even when travelling last month, I had a chance to make chicken and vegetable soup with another sister-in-law, Angie, in Seattle on my way back to Hawaii. With the rain and damp that typifies the great Northwest of the US, and after 5 days of travelling and eating unwell, it was a luxurious comfort to sit down to a bowl of homemade soup. Angie started the soup off in the crockpot with a whole chicken, a couple of fingers of ginger, and a couple of carrots. After a night of bubbling and simmering, the chicken and vegetables were removed and the broth decanted to a shallow container to cool; then refrigerated at least 4 hours to allow the rich fat layer to congeal for easy removal. Since we used a whole chicken this time (as opposed to just chicken backs, as in the Chicken Tinola recipe), we kept the de-boned breast and thigh meat to return to the soup pot (store separate from broth).

An hour prior to dinner, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, corn, celery, green beans, kale and fun pasta shapes (we used "Shrek" pasta from a box of macaroni-and-cheese) were added to a boiling broth, along with the diced meat. With some Tafelbrotchen (water rolls) and Brezeln from the authentic Deutscher Baeckerei, Hess' Bakery, in nearby Lakewood, everyone enjoyed the hearty soup, even restaurant-critic-in-training, 5-year-old, Masato.

When my dad arrived on Oahu a couple of days after my return, we had chicken and veggie soup again to stave off any airline-borne "cooties." This time, zucchini, watercress, carrots, potatoes, corn, and whole wheat penne complemented the broth (from stewing hens) and chicken meat. Generous slabs of skillet-baked cornbread rounded out the meal. Chicken vegetable soup is as versatile as it is nutritious
you can use just about any vegetable or combination of vegetables to create a soup you will love.

Enjoy your soup today!

The Broth:
2 stewing/soup hens (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg, total weight)
OR 5-6 lbs (2.5-3kg) assorted fresh chicken bones from your butcher
OR 1 whole chicken fryer (3-3.5 lb/1.5-2kg)
1 hand of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (peeling is optional)
1 lb. carrots, scrubbed well and trimmed at the top and bottom (peeling is optional)
1 medium onion, scrubbed well and dark brown layers removed, halved lengthwise

The critical factor in broth-making is, of course, the bones for flavor, the skin for flavor and unctuousness, and the joints/tendons for body. You can make soup with fresh chicken carcasses alone, but not with just meat alone. Place chicken/bones, ginger, carrots and onion in 6-7quart slow-cooker, and cover with water. Set on HIGH for at least 3 hours or until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove any "scum" that rises to the surface. Turn slow-cooker setting to LOW, and leave for at least 8 hours. Turn off slow-cooker and carefully remove the chicken and all solids to a colander placed in a large soup pot. or wide cake pan. When cool, debone chicken and keep meat in separate container in fridge. Strain broth through a sieve into the same pot or pan into which the broth solids earlier drained. When broth reaches room temperature, place in a tightly covered container to store in fridge overnight.

Remove most (85%) of fat layer from the chilled broth, then return to soup pot or Dutch oven. Add diced chicken meat, 2 cups water and bring to rolling boil for at least 10 minutes before adding other ingredients.

To Finish Soup:
Add 3-4 lbs (1.5-2kg) of diced vegetables and/or shredded leaf greens as you like or according to what is in season. I try to get as many colors of the rainbow as possible into the pot, each
providing important nutrients and vitamins:

1. First choice is always to use fresh vegetables, of course. Eating what is in season and local, and preferably organic, will keep your body in tune with your environment. The good news is that many frozen vegetables, including peas, corn, squashes and leafy greens are just as nutritious frozen as they are fresh, and in many cases
especially with the corn and peas taste better flash-frozen than trucked "fresh" miles away from where they were born. So don't be shy about using frozen vegetables to supplement scarce fresh veggies out of season, but do try to get some fresh vegetables in as well.

2. Add root and other longer-cooking vegetables early on. Save leafy greens and vegetables that turn to mush (e.g., potatoes, cooked beans like red kidney or black beans, and hard squashes like kabocha) for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

3. Choose from:
Root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips/rutabaga, potatoes, etc.
Green vegetables: green beans, peas, edamame, chayote, broccoli, etc.
Gold veggies/Squashes: kabocha, butternut, upo/loofah, wintermelon, corn, etc.
Cooked Beans: kidney, lima, black, navy, etc.
Leaf vegetables: spinach, kale, watercress, mustard greens, etc.
Mushrooms: button, crimini, oyster, shiitake, chanterelles, etc.

4. Add 2 cups of fully cooked small pasta shapes (optional).

5. Add seasoning to taste: sea salt, ground black pepper, and up to 1-1/2 tsp. of chervil, or herb of your choice: fresh oregano, marjoram, savory (especially nice if soup includes beans), thyme, basil.

Simmer on medium-low until vegetables are tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on what vegetables you add. Taste again to correct seasoning. Serve hot, with bread
    • and salad.

Soup with sweet potatoes (pre-cooked leftover), watercress, peas, zucchini, carrots, beans, corn and whole wheat penne (leftover).


The Way of Cooking: Chicken soup

When you're really not feeling well, there's few things better than chicken soup to make it all better. So what is it about chicken soup that makes it so popular as a cold remedy? Is it just the warm liquid soothing the chest? Hot vapors loosening nasal congestion? Or is it something more? At least two different scientific studies have taken a crack at what mothers and folklore the world over tout as the best cold remedy. The earlier study showed that warm chicken soup "increased nasal mucus velocity" (what a lovely term!) and so would alleviate the "acute rhinitis" (stuffy nose) that accompanies the common cold. (A) The later study, in 2000, demonstrated that the synergistic combination of chicken and vegetables in a homemade chicken soup inhibited the movement of white blood cells (called neutrophils) that caused inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. (B) By limiting the number of neutrophils at the infection site, the inflammation was reduced, and so was the duration of the cold. Interestingly, the second study also tested several commercial brands of chicken soup and found some of them had a better or equal anti-inflammatory effect as the homemade soup. (See the list of the commercial soups in the survey)

But what's the one key ingredient all the commercial brands of soup will be missing? TLC, of course — love. Chicken soup is not hard. Here's an easy, foolproof method you can start in a crockpot. The only catch is, I recommend starting the day before you serve so you can chill the broth and remove most of the fat. I usually start this in the morning and let it do it's thing until evening. (Meanwhile I can do my thing and not fret too much over an open flame)

In a 5-7 quart crockpot, place:
3-4 lbs chicken backs, or a 1-2 whole stewing chicken
2 well-scrubbed unpeeled carrots, cut in half
1 large well-scrubbed unpeeled onion, quartered
green tops of one bunch of scallions
1/2 hand of ginger, sliced

Cover with water and set crockpot on High setting for 3 hours, skim as impurities form "scum" in broth.
Turn setting to Low and simmer for another 6 hours. (The long simmer is necessary to extract maximum goodness from the bones)
Remove broth to a large shallow pan to cool, then in a container to refrigerate overnight.
When cold, remove all or most (I leave about 10-15
% in for flavor) of the layer of yellow fat at the top of the broth.
Chicken backs and vegetables start the soup base
Now you can do anything you want with it -- add all the vegetables you like; add chicken, seafood; add macaroni, orzo, rice noodles, rice or potatoes; add herbs or more spices; add . . . your imagination!

Here is one of our favorite chicken soups. It's a Filipino soup with green papaya
called Tinola. The papaya is supposed to be a stark white color. The one in these pictures had started to ripen on the inside, although the outer skin was still green. But it was very firm, not sweet, and stood up well in this soup. The watercress is not traditional in the original Philippine version, but I love watercress and think it adds a great flavor, not to mention all the extra nutrition from the greens. I"ve also seen this made with togan (also called winter melon) or upo (also called loofa gourd), instead of green papaya.

(Look here for a more traditional
Chicken & Vegetable Soup)
Peeled whole green papaya

(Chicken and green papaya soup with watercress)

1 large knob of ginger, julienned
1 onion, sliced
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
8-9 cups prepared chicken broth
1 whole chicken breast, cut in half
1 whole green papaya, peeled and cut into 4-inch cubes
1 large bunch watercress, cleaned and chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 TBL fish sauce (patis)
1-2 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt, if necessary
Cleaned watercress

The most important step in developing the right flavor for this soup is to saute the ginger, onions and garlic together until the onions become translucent, then slightly brown. Add chicken broth, and breast halves and bring to boil. Remove any scum that surfaces. When chicken is fully cooked, remove from broth.

Add papaya pieces, watercress, patis and pepper. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bone, tear into large chunks and return to soup. Cook over medium heat until papaya is just tender (pierces with a fork). Taste and adjust seasoning.
Raw green papaya Chicken and green papaya soup

Although this is a soup, you've probably guessed from the large chunks that this is not eaten directly from the bowl. I was taught to eat this with fork, spoon, plate of rice and a side dish of patis. We've given up on the tableside patis for health reasons (like all fish sauces, it's very salty with a high sodium content), but still eat this the traditional way: put some meat and vegetable on your plate and eat it with rice. You can use the broth to moisten your rice and/or drink the broth separately.

(A) Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach study (1978)
(B) University of Nebraska Medical Center report: "
Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro*" (2000)