Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chicken Paella

Lately, I've been trying to get over my anti-chicken bias. I like to roast a nice chicken, but I become deeply unenthusiastic when the carcass gets broken down any further. I never order chicken in restaurants, or check the chicken option on those little reply cards for weddings and banquets. This is totally unfair to the humble bird, which can be a very delicious and non-utilitarian foodstuff.

This is a variation on another paella I posted long ago--tweaked to accommodate ToastMom's shellfish allergy and shopping schedule that didn't permit live mussel purchasing. It is perhaps a closer kin to the simple, luscious tomato paella posted more recently. But, in the spirit of pluralism, I'll give you this one too, and you can decide.

In general, though, the paella trick is a useful one. The big secret: It's essentially a classier, snazzier, and much tastier version of the rice-based casseroles beloved of Midwestern moms. It seems like a lot of steps, but once you know how to build a paella, you can adapt it to many purposes.

Chicken Paella

In a very large skillet with tight-fitting top, warm:
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Add and brown on all sides:
1-2 pounds chicken thighs, or parts from a whole cut up chicken, with bone in and skin on

Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Wipe out pan and warm:
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Add and cook until fat renders a little, about 2 minutes:
1/4 - 1/2 pound chorizo sausage, the dried kind is best cut into 1/2 inch dice, but you can crumble in the kind from the refrigerator case, too.

Add, and saute until soft:
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced

Add and cook until softened, about 5 minutes:
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained

Add and stir until well coated in oil:
2 cups long grain rice

Pour in and bring to a boil over medium-high heat:
4 cups chicken brothwhite wine, or water

Then add:
1/2-3/4 teaspoon saffron or ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch black pepper

Arrange chicken pieces on top of the rice, put on the lid, reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed, chicken is cooked through, and the rice is soft and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. 

Toss in:
1/2 cup frozen peas

Cook for 5 more minutes until peas are no longer frozen. (NOTE: A good trick is to thaw the peas in warm running water before adding them.) Turn off heat and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.  

Serve up in the pan and let people dig out steaming bowlfuls for themselves.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Crab and Avocado Soup with Wasabi

My favorite kitchen muse--rotting food--is at it again. With a package of (fake) crab meat expiring in the fridge and an overzealous Costco avocado purchase, the Human Vacuum and I turned desperately to Google. And who came through for us?, of all places, with a recipe from Sam Hazen. According to the very enthusiastic prose of his bio, Hazen is a "celebrity chef" of Tao in New York, who knows "secrets of a most delectable variety."

Here is one of those delectable secrets--an odd, cold soup that is surprisingly satisfying as a winter lunch. It's filling, which you could probably guess from looking at the ingredients. But it's also not guacamolesque in the slightest, which you might not expect.

Crab and Avocado Soup with Wasabi

adapted from (seriously)

In a food processor, puree:
3 large ripe avocados
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cups minced shallots (or onion)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons wasabi paste
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

Add and gently whir:
1 cup heavy cream (I used milk, and it was still plenty creamy)

Pour into four bowls. Divide between the bowls as garnish:
4 oz. jumbo crab meat

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Matzo Ball Soup

Though I am a shiksa, raised by a shiksa, matzo balls did make the occasional appearance in my house growing up. My sister's godfather is a Jew (ponder that one for a minute!) and there was a period where ToastMom was in charge of the soup at his Passover festivities. But I didn't really understand the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into a real Passover matzo ball until I married one of the Chosen People.

I awoke in New York on the morning of a seder and emerged from the bedroom to find the Human Vacuum's mom on the floor of her kitchen trying to strain chicken broth through cheesecloth, which involved lifting the biggest stock pot I have ever seen. She was on the floor because she's 5 feet tall on a good day and 100 pounds on a bad day, so the counters were too high for this activity.

I chipped in that day, and have helped make the soup for every seder hosted by ToastMom-in-Law ever since. I may be a gentile, but I have known the anxiety of waiting for the matzo balls to float on Passover. I have strained chicken broth in the early morning. I have suffered for this marvelous, perfect soup. Which is it should be.

Tales of soup-based heroism aside, matzo ball soup should not be reserved for Passover. It has all the healing powers of chicken noodle soup (indeed, it is known in some circles as Jewish Penicillin). And it's not hard to make if you have the chicken broth already on hand.

You should give it a try. Or, in the idiom of the ethnicity responsible for the soup: Eat! You look thin!

Matzo Ball Soup

For the soup:
In a large dutch oven with a lid, warm over medium heat:
1 Tablespoon olive oil or schmaltz (chicken fat)

Add and saute until soft:
2-3 large carrots, cut into coins
2 medium onions, minced
2-3 ribs celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

Then add:
2-3 quarts chicken stock
(NOTE: If there is one place to use real, homemade stock, this is it. That said, broth from a can or box is fine. I personally wouldn't bother with bouillon broth, but it would work in a pinch--if, say, the sun is going down on Passover and you have no soup.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add:
1 teaspoon dried dill, or 1 Tablespoon fresh dill
Generous salt and pepper

You can leave this simmering as long as you like, or no additional time at all. Whatever your schedule demands.

For the matzo balls:
Start these about an hour before you want to eat, though most of that time does not require your attention. I buy a box of matzo ball mix (not the soup mix, just the balls), but you could also buy matzo meal in its raw form. Both will have directions about how to turn the mix into matzo balls.

When the directions call for refrigeration, don't skimp. That part is important to the eventually fluffiness of your creation. The recipe will also call for oil. If you have homemade chicken stock and, like me, you've been too lazy to skim it before freezing, scrape off the fat and use that instead.

Make the matzo ball mix, refrigerate as instructed, then form into 1 inch balls. Wet or oil your hands before rolling the balls. It's less sticky that way. Drop them all in the simmering pot with the broth and close tightly. Cook for 20 minutes.

Serve piping hot. Eat. Feel happy. Then guilty. Then happy again.