Anise Chicken: Ready for Summer Heatwaves

When summer arrives and the heat sets in, my appetite changes. I shift to lighter, easier meals—foods that perk up an often peckish appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Chinese method of poaching chicken.  It results in a beautiful clear broth, utterly pristine flavors, and meat that is succulent and tender. Here’s an outstanding riff on that approach which requires very little actual cooking time—much relies on the broth’s residual heat to do the work. It’s an ideal technique for summertime heatwaves.

The idea comes from Wendy Kiang-Spray’s lovely cookbook The Chinese Kitchen Garden. A whole chicken (here I’ve used the equivalent, 2 Cornish game hens) is dry rubbed with salt, stuffed with whole star anise, and refrigerated for 1- 3 days. When ready to launch, it’s brought to room temperature before lowering into to a pot of simmering water and cooked uncovered for a mere 10 minutes. Then, it’s covered and allowed to steep in the hot broth’s residual heat for 45 minutes. The chicken is fast cooled in an ice water bath for 15 minutes and patted dry.

The resulting broth is bewitchingly addictive: the star anise flavor is present, but not overtly so.  It’s a lovely liquid for cooking rice, grains, vegetables, etc.  For a soup stock, I opted to keep it light and not overwhelm it with too many heavy flavors.

A few slices of ginger, some garlic, and a dash of soy sauce hit the right balance for a soba noodle soup with chicken and a few fresh vegetables.

The anise chicken has happily starred in a variety of applications. When pressed, I have whipped up a simple Asian dipping sauce, but Wendy also suggests a Ginger-Onion Garlic Oil, also included because it is such a nice touch.

Of my favorite uses, I remain a big fan of an easy Asian Chicken Salad served with plenty of sesame crepes (yum—coming soon!) along with spoonfuls of hoisin sauce for stuffing/rolling purposes. Welcome to summer 2017, rolling out with record 101° heat.

Anise Poached Chicken

Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Ingredients
3 pound whole chicken
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
20 pieces whole star anise
Ginger-Onion/Garlic Oil (optional)
2” section ginger, peel and slice
3-4 garlic whistles or 3 “bunching onions” (a leek-like variety), cut in 2” lengths
¼ cup oil

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub inside and out with 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place the star anise in the cavity. Place in zip lock and refrigerate 1-3 days.
  2. Remove chicken and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour ahead).
  3. Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil.  Lower anise-filled chicken into pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer chicken uncovered 10 minutes. Skim residue off top of water. Turn off heat and cover with tight fitting lid.  Allow to steep undisturbed for another 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile make Ginger and Onion Oil. Crush ginger and onions with mortar and pestle or pulse in food processor. Place the paste in heatproof bowl and add 1 tsp salt.  Heat the oil until hot. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger and onion mixture.
  4. When chicken is cooked through, remove from pot, reserving pot liquid for another purpose:  cooking rice or other grain, etc.  Lower chicken into an ice water bath to quickly stop the cooking process. In about 15 minutes when cooled, remove and pat dry.
  5. Chop into pieces and serve with a drizzle of ginger-onion oil. Nice over steamed white rice or other. Serves 4-6.

Soup in a Flash

When it comes to preparing quick meals, planning ahead makes all the difference.  Instead of eating the last of the roast chicken, I like to tuck a portion into the freezer for a rainy day. One large chicken breast could be the makings of a taco dinner for two or a comforting soup, with the help of a little chicken stock.

Hominy is another item that has plenty of applications.  The same corn staple used for grits in the south,  it’s a versatile ingredient used in hearty Tex-Mex breakfasts and serves as a wonderful addition in Mexican soups and stews. Markets often prefer stocking the jumbo cans, which could mean a lifetime supply—unless you are into menudo.  So, when I spot the smaller 12-ounce cans I like to grab one or two for handy use later.

Chicken Lime Soup with Hominy

Chicken-Lime Soup with Hominy

If you happen to have those three ingredients on hand, pat yourself on the back. You have the basis for a tasty soup dinner that’s ready in less than 30 minutes. Zip it up with a heavy squeeze of lime to emulate the flavors of Mexico’s Yucatan; top it freely with a fresh cheese like cojita or a feta and garnish with cilantro or avocado.

Chicken-Lime Soup with Hominy

Inspired by Fine Cooking Make It Tonight

Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 white onion, peel and chop
1-2 cloves garlic, peel mince
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seed and chop
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken stock, or more
1 cup canned hominy, drain
1 large chicken breast roasted or poached; skin, debone, and cut into large chop.  Shred into slightly smaller portions
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper or to taste
1 lime

Accompaniments:  Cotija or queso fresca 1/2″ cheese cubes, cilantro leaves, lime slices, avocado slices, tortilla chips

Directions

  1. Add oil to soup pot over medium heat; when hot add onion and sauté for 1 minute to soften.  Add the garlic and toss until aromatic; add the green pepper, oregano, and cook an additional minute.
  2. Add the chicken stock and the hominy and bring to a simmer.  Add the chicken meat to the soup, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and simmer about 10 minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, season with about 1 tablespoon lime juice and add more to taste; it should be tangy.  Serve in bowls with cheese cubes, cilantro, more lime, and additional accompaniments. Serves 2-4.

Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork

Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

To the Power of 3: Chicken, Lemon and Garlic

Here is an excellent one-pot dish from Jenni Fleetwood’s book One-pot, Slow-pot and Clay-pot Cooking.  This pot-roasted chicken is French-country cuisine at its best:  the flavors literally jump off the plate with an abundance of garlic and lemon, plus lardons or bacon, and cannellini beans.  Chicken, Lemon and Cannelini

The beauty of this rustic composition is that despite the generous amount of garlic and lemon, neither dominates.  The assertive smoky bacon and a leisurely sojourn in the oven see to that.  The pot roasting process serves to moisten and infuse both the chicken and the cannellini beans with all the luscious additions.

Yes, it is a feast to behold.  With thickly sliced artisan bread to mop up the juices, it is simple, sumptuous, and stylish.

Pot Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Garlic

Inspired by One-pot, Slow-pot and Clay-pot Cooking by Jenni Fleetwood
Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup bacon, chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
2 onions, cut 1/8’s
2 tsp all purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 lemons, washed and thick sliced
3 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 lb. chicken, rinsed and patted dry
Salt and pepper to taste
2 – 14 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Directions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a heavy oven and stove proof casserole large enough to generously hold the chicken, coat the bottom with oil and add the bacon; cook until lightly browned and remove from pot to drain on toweling.
  2. Pour off any excess fat, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the pan, and add the onions and garlic to brown over medium high heat.  Stir in the flour and then the stock.  Return the bacon to the pot with the lemon and thyme.  Bring to a boil stirring until thickened.  Place the chicken on top and season well.
  3. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.  Baste twice with pot liquid.
  4. Baste the chicken again. Gently stir in the cannellini beans to surround the chicken.  If the chicken is not browning, leave the lid off and continue to bake an additional 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and it is tender.
  5. Carve the chicken into thick slices and serve with the beans.  Serves 4.

Devouring Dumplings

Dumplings are one of the world’s great comfort foods.  In a single handcrafted portion a dumpling can provide us with an immediate, compact, soothing taste of home.  Made from traditional ingredients and often ritualistic methods of preparation, a dumpling can be viewed as a true cultural touchstone and provide a window into the heart of a cuisine.

Dumplings come in all sizes and shapes, ranging from savory to sweet.  They can be steamed, boiled, simmered, or fried.  In general, you could say a dumpling consists of dough wrapped around a filling; in some cases, a dumpling is made with ingredients directly incorporated into the dough.  Depending on regional availability the dough can be based on potatoes or other tubers, a flour or grain, such as wheat, corn, farina, or rice.

For variety, consider the vast choices in Chinese dumplings: from steamed or fried won tons and pot stickers, to the elaborate array of steamed dumplings used in diverse dim sum offerings.  By contrast, the baked or fried empanadas of Spain or Latin American can vary widely, too; instead of dainty morsels, they are frequently sumptuous enough to rate full meal status.

Molded and simmered dumplings such as Italian gnocchi, German spaetzle, and French quenelle are all precursors of our own colonial dumplings.  Here In the United States Chicken and Dumplings remains a regional favorite.  Hailing from South Carolina, our Cornmeal Dumplings include both egg and baking powder―promising moist, airy pillows, and not heavy gobs of dough.Dumplings

In the old days a tough old bird may have been the appropriate choice for this homey dish, but today we tend to opt for something that does not require hours of simmering to tenderize it.  A whole cut-up chicken can be used; if particular parts are preferred, include some dark meat for a richer flavor.Chicken and Dumplings in bowl

Since Chicken and Dumplings are regarded as a full meal, use plenty of vegetables like carrots, onion, potatoes, celery, and turnips, even a few green peas, if available.   For ease, prepare the chicken and vegetable mixture ahead and reheat it; add the cornmeal dumplings and cook them just before serving.  They are the crowning glory, and the perfect foil for this hearty chicken stew.

Chicken and Cornmeal Dumplings

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced (optional)
1 chicken, cut up or 6 chicken thighs, skinned
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
8 baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, quartered
1 tsp mixed dried herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, marjoram
1 bay leaf
2-3 carrots, peeled cut into bite-sized chunks
2 turnips or rutabagas, peeled, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 medium red potatoes, skins on, cut into bite-sized chunks
½ cup parsley, chopped
3 cups chicken stock, approximate
1 large handful of frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Cornmeal Dumplings (follows)

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat; add the onion and toss to coat, then add the garlic and jalapeno, and cook until aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove the mixture.
  2. Lightly dust the chicken with the flour lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  Over medium-high heat, add 1 tbsp more oil to the pot and toss in the chicken pieces; cook to quickly brown all over, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the mushrooms; when they begin to release their moisture stir in the herbs.  Add the carrots, turnips, potatoes, the reserved onion mixture, and the parsley.  Pour in enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables and chicken, add a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer, cover the pot and cook until vegetables and the chicken are tender, about 30 minutes.  Add water or stock as needed to keep the chicken covered with liquid. Stir in the frozen peas just before adding the dumpling.
  4. Prepare the cornmeal dumplings.  Drop by teaspoonfuls on top of the simmering chicken, cover and cook additional 20 minutes.  Serves 4.

Cornmeal Dumplings

Ingredients
½ cup cornmeal
¾ cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp parsley, minced; or 1 Tbsp fresh herbs, minced (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, etc.)
6 cups soup or stock

Directions

  1.   Sift dry ingredients, cut in butter with fork or knives.  Beat egg and milk together and add liquid to the dry ingredients until just blended, the batter should be stiff.
  2. Wet a teaspoon and dip it into the batter; drop spoonfuls into simmering stock until barely touching.  Cover the pan tightly and simmer without lifting lid, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Chicken Puff Pie: the new pot pie

Pot pies.  They really bring back memories.  Even when times were tough, those little Swanson’s pot pies were always reliable:  they were an easy, hot, affordable meal.  We especially loved their crisp, salty crust and the creamy sauce; even the few token vegetables were a hopeful nod toward a nutritional meal.

Over the years I have stayed loyal to pot pies and perfected big pans of chicken pot pies, packed with moist chunks of chicken, plenty of vegetables, topped with a signature herb crust.  They were a popular commodity during my catering days.

For some time now I’ve been wrestling with the idea of a chicken pot pie without the pie crust.  Bordering on sacrilege, I couldn’t make the leap to abandon the crust without a darn good reason.  Besides, how could it be a pie without a crust?

Well, I have figured it out.  Thanks to recent tinkerings with crepes and an infatuation with fruit clafoutis, I’ve taken the best of both and created Chicken Puff Pie.  Essentially a savory clafoutis, it is so intriguing the pie crust isn’t even missed!  (For more on clafoutis check out the blackberry as well as the peach clafoutis posted previously here.  You will note they both have substantial puffed edges that brown and crisp nicely.)

The basis of a clafoutis is a crepe batter; the primary difference between a crepe batter and clafoutis is the amount of milk, cream, or other liquid incorporated; crepes have less.  Keeping that in mind, the amount of flour as well as liquid has been reduced here, in ratio to the eggs—which lends greater exterior structure and support for the chicken and vegetables, while the interior remains firm yet creamy, reminiscent of clafoutis.  It also moves away from the ultra-custard qualities of a quiche, which I wanted to avoid.  To encourage maximum rising and browning, we also start out with a hot oven then slightly reduce the temperature.

Chix and Veg Puff PieAnything this unique calls for a sauce that will enhance as well contrast with it.  I have included an old standby, equally at home with eggs, chicken, salmon—and more. Noble Sauce can be whisked together and simmered while the Chicken Puff Pie is in the oven.  Although I tend to use pancetta in the sauce, bacon is also fine.  The dab of tomato paste rounds out the flavors and adds a lovely tinge of color to the finished product.

With leftover turkey looming large on the horizon, consider this a viable alternative to the annual turkey soupfest.  I suspect you will be impressed with the outcome, too.

Chicken Puff Pie aka Chicken and Vegetable Clafoutis

All the bells and whistles of a pot pie but easier—the stylish Noble Sauce makes this irresistible.   

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled, small chop
2 cloves garlic, divided, crushed
1 cup crimini mushrooms, small chop
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
1 medium carrot, peeled, small chop
½ red pepper, seeded, small chop
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 cup or more cooked chicken cut into small chunks
½ cup frozen peas, defrosted
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Batter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated
Noble Sauce (see)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, butter a quiche dish, pie plate or other baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cooking to soften; add the garlic stirring occasionally until onions are transparent.
  3. Add the mushrooms and herbs; when mushroom liquid begins to be released add the carrots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the peppers and toss to combine.  Add the chicken, continue to cook another 5 minutes and stir in the peas.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  4. To make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs; with a spoon begin incorporate the flour; stir in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper; add the Parmesan cheese mixing until the batter is nearly smooth.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, about 4 minutes.
  6. Distribute the chicken and vegetables mixture over the partially cooked batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.  Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer.  It is done when the edges are puffed and browned and the center is firm when pressed.  Note:  check after 20 – 30 minutes, if edges are browning too rapidly, reduce heat to 350 degrees.  Serves 4 or more

Noble Sauce
Equally good with eggs, chicken or salmon
Ingredients
2 cups chicken stock or more
1 Tbsp brandy
1 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup pancetta, diced
½ small onion, fine chop
1 clove garlic crushed
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
½ tsp thyme
1 Tbsp tomato paste

Directions 

  1. Heat the stock and brandy.
  2. In large saucepan melt butter, add pancetta and brown lightly. Remove the pancetta to toweling to drain.  Add the onions and garlic, cook until soft.
  3. Stir in the flour; cook 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour in half of the hot liquid, whisking until smooth. Return to heat, add the remaining stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the pancetta and seasoning; simmer uncovered about 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Thin as necessary with more stock; adjust seasoning to taste.  Serves 4 or more