Farewell, Sunshine; Hello, Comfort Food!
Finally! It's nice and cloudy and cool and rainy. In this Food for Thought Nancy Leson and I talk about some of our favorite cold weather food. Strangely, two of our favorites come from places where the weather is anything but cool.
Laksa, a kind of coconut curry seafood noodle soup, is from the food cultures of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. There's another kind, Assam Laksa, which is a spicy and sour fish soup without coconut milk. I've been eating and making the first kind for years and have taken bits and pieces from so many recipes that I no longer even use one. Here's one recipe pretty close to what I've been doing. It's from (where else?) Laksa.com. Or try this one from Rasa Malaysia.
Nancy and I both love Molly Stevens' All About Braising and her follow-up All About Roasting. From that, here's a favorite of Nancy's, mine, and the L & T Cheryl DeGroot.
Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons
(from “All About Braising” by Molly Stevens, serves 4-5)
The Spice Mix
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon sweet pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) or sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup green olives in brine, such as Lucques or Cerignola, not pitted
One 3 1/2 to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, wing tips, back, neck, and giblets reserved or 3 pounds legs and thighs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
1 lemon, halved
1/4 cup mixed chopped flat-leaf parsley and cilantro
1 whole (4 quarters) Salt-Preserved Lemon: Note: Do not use fresh lemon! Make your own preserved lemons, or buy them at a well-stocked Mediterranean grocer or specialty supermarket.
Freshly ground black pepper
1. The spices: In a small bowl, stir together the ginger, cumin, black pepper, pimenton or paprika, red pepper, and saffron. In another bowl, cover the olives with cool water and set aside to soak.
2. Browning the chicken: Rinse the chicken pieces with cool water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat the oil and butter in a large deep-sided skillet or shallow braising pan (at least 4-quart capacity, with a lid) over medium-high heat. While the oil and butter heat, season half the chicken pieces lightly with salt (keep in mind that the olives and preserved lemons will add saltiness).
When the butter is sizzling, add the salted chicken pieces, skin side down and sear, without disturbing, until the skin is crisp and evenly browned, about 4 minutes. Peek by lifting one edge with tongs to see that the skin side is browned, then turn with tongs and brown the second side, another 4 minutes or so.
Transfer the browned chicken to a platter or tray to collect any drips. Pat the remaining chicken pieces again with paper towels just to be sure they are as dry as possible, and lightly salt both sides. Add these pieces to the pan skin side down and sear them as you did the first batch, transferring them to the plater with the other chicken when they are browned.
3. The aromatics: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan and return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stir with a wooden spoon and saute until you can smell their fragrance and they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. (The bottom of the pan will develop a walnut-colored crust.) Add the spice mix, stir, and saute for a minute longer.
4. The braising liquid: Pour in the water to deglaze the pan and stir and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve the flavorful cooked-on crust.
5. The braise: When the water boils, return the chicken legs and thighs, and the wing tips, back, neck, heart, and gizzard, if using, to the pan. Tuck the liver, if using, between the pieces. Cover, reduce heat to a low, and braise the chicken for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan, and if the liquid is simmering too forcefully, lower the heat to a quiet simmer, or set a heat diffuser under the pan.
Turn the legs and wings over with the tongs, and place the chicken breast pieces skin side up on top of the legs and wings. (Adding the breasts after 10 minutes prevents them from overcooking. If you’re using all legs and thighs, add them all at the start.) Squeeze the juice from one lemon half over the chicken, and sprinkle over half the chopped herbs. Continue to braise for 20 minutes more.
6. While the chicken braises, prepare the olives and preserved lemons: Drain and rinse the olives. Remove the pits by crushing them one by one with the side of a large knife and pulling out the pit. Most olives will remain in one piece, but it’s fine if some olives break in two.
Rinse the preserved lemon quarters under cool water, and remove and discard the pulp. Chop the peel into 1/2-inch pieces.
7. Adding the olives and preserved lemons: After the chicken has braised for a total of 30 minutes (20 minutes more after you’ve added the breasts), lift the lid, add the olives and preserved lemons, and turn the chicken pieces again.
8. Optional step, if using the liver: Remove the liver from the pan, place it in a small bowl, and mash it to a paste with a fork. Set aside.
9. Continue the braise: Replace the lid and continue to braise until the juices from the legs run clear when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, another 10 to 15 minutes (for a total of 40 to 45 minutes). Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or tray to catch the juices, and discard the wing tips, back, neck, heart, and gizzard, if you used them. Cover the chicken loosely with foil to keep warm.
10. The finish: Increase the heat under the braising liquid to medium-high and bring to a boil. Return the liver, if using, to the skillet and stir it into the sauce. Squeeze in the juice from the other half of the lemon. Simmer the sauce until it reduces just a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.
"Food is an important part of a balanced diet."
– Fran Lebowitz