Monday, May 24, 2010

Grilled Jerk Chicken

We tried the greatest jerk chicken marinade last night, and I couldn't wait to tell you about it! I'd love to take the credit, but we pretty much used a recipe straight out of the most recent issue of Food & Wine. The scent of the marinade by itsef is incredible, then add the smokiness of the grill on top of that--smells alone make this recipe worthwhile.

Although we love simple grilled chicken with our favorite tangy barbecue sauce and can't get enough tandoori chicken, we wanted to do something different (grilling burnout before Memorial Day is not cool). Mike decided on jerk style, and I remembered seeing the F&W recipe a few days before. Easy.

We modified the recipe slightly (it actually calls for pork tenderloin), so I'm writing it as we did it. We used bone-in, skin-off chicken breasts and leg quarters, which we tend to like on the grill. But we also had an extra boneless skinless breast, so we cut it into chunks and skewered it. I was really surprised that my favorite cut was the boneless breast--probably because the small chunks got covered in more marinade relative to their size and cooked quickly, staying moist and tender. If you're looking for something different for grilling over the long weekend, this is it!

Grilled Jerk Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine
You can also use bone-in chicken breasts and/or leg quarters. Remove the skin before marinating so the flavor goes straight on the meat.

Serves 4

1/4 cup safflower or canola oil
2 scallions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 habanero chiles, seeded and chopped
1 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs light brown sugar
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (pre-ground is okay)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks
Salt to taste

In a blender, combine all ingredients through ginger and puree. Place chicken in a large zip top bag and add marinade. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, shifting and turning the bag once or twice.

Brush the grill rack with oil and light the grill. Thread the chicken onto metal skewers and season with salt. Cook over medium-high heat until outside of chicken is browned on both sides. Move skewers over indirect heat, cover grill and cook until chicken is no long pink in the center. Serve right away.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kumquat-Mango Chutney with Curry Leaves

With a bag full of fresh curry leaves in the refrigerator and about a dozen kumquats lacking any direction and purpose, I did the only thing I could do: make chutney!

Chutney can be confusing because there are so many different types, and you can make it with just about any fruit or vegetable. It generally contains spices, sugar and vinegar as well. Plus, it can be either cooked or raw. Lots of room for interpretation, right?

And what to do with all these chutneys? My thought is this: if you think a particular chutney will taste good with something--whether meat, sandwiches, desserts, breads or cheeses--then it probably will. Sweet, sour or spicy chutney can serve as a flavorful addition to just about anything. And I know for a fact that almost everyone reading this has eaten chutney. Your favorite Thanksgiving cranberry sauce (canned hunks of jelly excepted) or as some call it, "cranberry relish," certainly qualifies as chutney.

I'm loving my curry leaves and other Indian ingredients at the moment, but you can make this or any chutney with supermarket staples. Use oil instead of ghee; use whole or ground spices (allspice, cloves and cumin could easily be at home here); stir in some fresh cilantro or mint at the end instead of the curry leaves; use any kind of dried and/or fresh chiles you prefer. And finally for tons of chutney inspiration, look here and here.

Has anyone made chutney (besides cranberry sauce!) before? What did you use? Was it Indian-spiced or totally different?

Kumquat-Mango Chutney with Curry Leaves
With a bunch of curry leaves to use, I tried to exploit their flavor as much as possible in this chutney; if you can’t find them, leave them out. With relatively little sugar, the flavor is a bit savory, a bit sour, a bit sweet, and spiced. You can make chutney a million different ways—it’s really just spiced fruit and/or veggies—so feel free to add or omit ingredients for your own spin. This was delicious with sockeye salmon and roast pork tenderloin.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 Tbs ghee
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1 dried red chile
1 jalapeno chile, finely chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, chopped
20-30 curry leaves, chopped, divided
12 kumquats, thinly sliced crosswise, seeds removed
1 firm mango, peeled and chopped
Water, as needed
Crushed seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
Cayenne pepper to taste
3 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Heat the ghee in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. Add the onion, mustard, coriander and red chile; cook until seeds start to splutter. Add the jalapeno and ginger; continue cooking until onion is soft. Add the garlic and half the curry leaves; cook until garlic begins to color, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the kumquats, mango and 1/2 cup water; bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Add the cardamom, cayenne, sugar and vinegar. Cook until fruit is very soft and almost breaking down, and chutney is slightly thick, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir frequently and add water as needed to prevent chutney from sticking to the pan. Add remaining curry leaves about halfway through cooking. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired and add salt to taste. Cool and transfer to an airtight container. Keeps refrigerated for about 1 week.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Chicken Saag with Dal

Here is another recipe inspired by my favorite Indian grocery store. Chicken saag is probably my favorite thing to order at Indian restaurants. It consists of boneless chicken (or paneer, the firm white cheese, if you want a vegetarian curry) pieces stewed in extravagantly spiced, silky-smooth spinach puree. The really good versions taste complex and are quite addictive.

As with so many Indian dishes, it seems impossible for an American home cook to turn out a version that could compare to what you'll get at a good restaurant. After years of being intimidated by Indian cooking, I'm happy to finally say that it doesn't mystify me the way it used to. I guess I would chalk it up to a greater familiarity with (not to mention access to) Indian ingredients, as well as having spent enough hours in the kitchen doing any kind of cooking, that tackling uncharted territory is a lot less daunting than it used to be. It may be that enough practice can give you the confidence to pull off just about anything.

So I made chicken saag for the very first time. And just for the heck of it, I created a one-dish meal by adding urad dal, or black matpe beans that have been skinned and split to reveal a creamy, white interior. I've never seen a saag dish like this, but I wanted to use these new-to-me legumes, and the results were great! In the picture, I garnished it with yogurt, chutney and lime. I love sampling the endless varieties of chutneys and pickles, but I really love the extra layers of flavor they bring out in a dish. I definitely recommend picking some up to punch up Indian meals. And if you suddenly think some spicy Indian pickled veggies will be amazing on a fish taco, go for it!

Chicken Saag with Dal
I suspect that yellow split peas or plain brown lentils could be substituted for the urad dal. Both will give you a slightly different taste and texture and may take more or less time to cook. The other ingredients are easy to find with the exception of asafoetida, a pungent spice that lends an onion-like flavor in cooking. If you don't have any, omit it. I like the bitter, peppery flavor of mustard greens very much here, but you can use all spinach (2 lb. total) if you like.

Serves 6 to 8

1 lb bag frozen chopped spinach, partially defrosted
1 lb chopped mustard green, thick stems discarded
2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and chopped
1 lb urad dal, rinsed
5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in bite-sized pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs ghee
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 Tbs garam masala
Juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon
Plain, thick yogurt (such as Fage Greek yogurt), for serving
Chutney (mango, tomato, etc.) and/or Indian pickle, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving
Warm naan or pita bread, for serving (optional)

Add about 1/2 inch of water to a large Dutch oven and place over medium-high heat. Add the mustard greens, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until wilted and very tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. A few minutes before greens are done, add the spinach and jalapenos; stir to combine, breaking up any frozen bits. Keep an eye on the water and add more if needed. Transfer greens to a food processor or blender, discarding any water remaining in the pot, and puree. Set aside.

Wash out the Dutch oven and add the dal, water and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Add the chicken, season with salt (about 1 1/2 teaspoons at this point) and pepper, and simmer 10 minutes more, or until chicken is cooked through and dal is tender. The lentils should absorb most of the water during cooking to reach a thick, stew-like consistency; if you don’t think there is enough liquid to submerge the chicken, add more in 1/2-cup increments.

Meanwhile, heat the ghee in a medium skillet on medium low. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cumin and cook until onion is browned and cumin is fragrant, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, turmeric, coriander and asafoetida; cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, about 2 minutes; remove from heat.

Add greens to dal and mix well. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes so flavors can blend. Remove cinnamon stick and add the onion mixture and the garam masala. Continue cooking five minutes more. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary with more salt, spices or lemon. Serve with yogurt, chutney, pickle, lemon wedges and naan, if desired.