Over the weekend I received the best kind of email. It not only came from an individual, living, real person, but also from a friend. She had written to tell me about her new favorite thing to eat, a salad of marinated fennel, burrata, and mint. She also casually mentioned she had made a grilled poblano, corn-off-the-cob and cotija cheese salad to serve aside some grilled New York Strips.
I still haven’t made the fennel, which sounds utterly delicious, but I can’t find enough uses for this grilled poblano salad. On its own, as my friend made it, sprinkled with cotija cheese, the sweet, smokey, charred vegetables combine to make a wonderful summer salad.
You know how sometimes a day — a year — can rip by in an instant? But somehow the ten minutes while the steak is resting feel interminable? Without gainful employment, that steak will draw you in, those crispy bits will dangle and taunt, that carving knife will reflect light in your eye until you succumb.
The only possible way to survive those torturous ten minutes is to stay busy, and I have the perfect distraction: make a simple pan sauce, something like this red wine-shallot reduction, a delectable Daniel Boulud recipe. Those ten minutes never will pass so quickly. That steak, at last, will rest without fear.
Last week, a friend, a reliable source of all things cooking — books, ingredients, attire, drinks — texted me a recipe. It came from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 6: The Grocery Store, and she described it as a small miracle.
I, of course, made the dish, “chicken and rice,” immediately, and then made it again, and then made it once more last night. The dish is miraculous foremost for its reception — we ALL gobble it up — but also for its simplicity: it’s a one-pot wonder calling for nothing more than butter, one onion, a few stalks of celery, one chicken, rice and water. I added a bay leaf because I can’t not when cooking rice — that’s what my mother does — but otherwise, I followed the text-message recipe to a T.
My senior year of college, a Chinese restaurant opened half a block from my apartment, and when I discovered that they used thighs to make their chicken teriyaki, I ran home to tell my roommate.
As you might imagine, my roommate neither shared nor understood my enthusiasm. Her silence spoke volumes: It mostly said, “Why should I be excited about this?” but also, “Only you would be excited about this.” (I love you, Chandra.)
I have known for a long time that most people prefer white meat chicken to dark and that no matter how many times I post a recipe featuring bone-in, skin-on thighs and drumsticks, I’m not going to make any converts. And so when I saw in last July’s Food & Wine, an issue highlighting mega-talents from the past 25 years and their tried-and-true recipes, that Nobu Matsuhisa’s recipe for classic chicken teriyaki called for boneless skinless breasts, I had to try it.
Soooo, I know it’s January 7th, and I should be eating kale and tofu and sipping on homemade kombucha, and I probably should not be interrupting your New Years’-resolution-dining regimen with visions of béchamel-slicked toast layered with black forest ham, gruyère cheese, and oozing poached eggs, but, um, well, I’m sorry?
Upon receiving Jerusalem early last summer, I poured through it cover to cover, reading about hummus wars and baba ghanoush, feeling inspired to start burning eggplants and preserving lemons with every turn of the page.
Every recipe and photo made me want to run to the kitchen, but six months later I’m only just enjoying my first real taste of the cookbook: roasted chicken with clementines, a recipe my mother has been urging me to make since the start of citrus season.
This recipe calls for high heat — 475ºF — for a long time — just under an hour — which allows the chicken skin to brown and the vegetables to caramelize beautifully. The liquid, a mixture of freshly squeezed citrus juice and some sort of anise-flavored liqueur (Arak, Ouzo or Pernod), keeps the chicken meat incredibly juicy below its crispy skin. Ottolenghi and Tamimi suggest serving this chicken with plain rice or bulgur, but the volume of slightly sweet, mustard-seed laced juices pooling below the chicken demands, in my opinion, lots of crusty bread.
On January 23rd, 2006, two cases of duck legs arrived to the restaurant, and per the day’s to-do list, I threw them into hotel pans, covered them with a layer of kosher salt, then headed to the walk-in to find the duck fat. This was how we made duck confit at the restaurant: 1 case of duck legs per hotel pan, liberal coating of kosher salt, duck fat submergence, tight covering of aluminum foil, two and a half hours in the oven.
But when I got to the walk-in, I couldn’t find the duck fat. I looked and looked. I had made the mistake more than once of declaring we were out of something when we weren’t, and so I looked some more. Shit, I thought. But before running to the chef, I looked and looked again. It had to be there. I was positive this was the greatest conspiracy of the inanimate I had ever faced. There was no way two 8-quart tubs of duck fat had walked out of that walk-in.
But after awhile, I had to tell the chef. He looked too. He couldn’t find it. We suspected it had been tossed. There had been a lot of turnover in the kitchen staff in recent weeks, and it was likely someone had innocently trashed the duck fat, a supply the chef had been building for eight years, a supply that grew more flavorful with every use, the key ingredient to one of the restaurant’s staple dishes.
After the chef berated me for allowing this to happen, noting that this — me — is why he could never take a vacation — oh, the drama! — let alone a day off, he set to work rectifying the situation. Into each hotel pan he tossed pounds and pounds and pounds of butter along with a few sprigs of thyme. Then he cooked the legs just the same: tightly covered with foil for two-and-a-half hours. And when those legs emerged from the oven, we stored them just the same: legs in one tub; fat, clearly labeled, in another.
So, as you can see, I’m kind of on a Barefoot Contessa kick right now. And it’s not stopping here. I’ve got one more recipe coming, something sweet and chocolaty and festive, and I can’t wait to share it.
In the meantime, let’s talk about this chicken, which has become a favorite around here, both piping hot right out of the oven for dinner and cold straight from the fridge for lunch. Like the vodka sauce, this one comes from Foolproof; unlike the vodka sauce, this one wasn’t entirely foolproof, for me at least.
Last Friday, Ben and I arrived at our friends’ house to find a beautiful scene: a rice cooker sitting on the counter, a serving dish spilling with pickled bean sprouts, a plate towering with sheets of roasted seaweed, and a jar glistening with brilliant red pickled cabbage. All week we had been looking forward to Korean bbq, a meal we learned to love many years ago at Kim’s, a hole-in-the-wall in North Philadelphia.
At Kim’s we could always count on a few things: a blazing hot charcoal grill, replaced several times over the course of the evening; an array of banchan ranging from spicy pickled daikon to steamed egg custards to scallion pancakes; and a table surrounded by a crew — friends, family, coworkers, anyone willing to spend an evening charring whole cloves of garlic, slices of jalapeno, and platters of paper-thin beef.
More often than not, the gathering at Kim’s had been organized by Thien, the chef of Fork at the time, who found any excuse to cab north for Korean food, and who somehow managed to pack into his messenger bag both wine (for everyone) and glasses (for everyone) — as much as Thien loved his cheap eats, he pooh-poohed plastic cups. We always stayed at Kim’s for hours. We never left hungry, and upon exiting, we never felt more grateful for fresh air — Kim’s ventilation system (or lack there of) could use some work.
When I think of summer dinners growing up at home, I think of this meal. I think of the smell of charred garlic and basil; I think of my stepfather sweating at the grill, a slave to his stopwatch, the wrath of my mother should the chicken be the slightest bit overcooked driving his utmost concentration; I think of sitting at the table in our screened-in porch with my brother and sister and eventually Ben, too. I think of eating for hours, a time of considerably faster metabolisms. I think of the candles melting into the tabletop, the humidity just beginning to subside and the buzz of the crickets as we clear the table at the end of the night.