Happy Halloween! If you are of the costume and party cohort, then merry festivities to you. If you're like me, and envision an ideal Halloween evening as involving the couch, a t.v. show, and quiet, then here's a perfect dish for fall: chicken poached in ginger and garlic, served over brown rice. It's soothing and a welcome change of pace from the usual Western fare.
Being Korean, I feel I should have some recipe of my heritage, something passed down to me through generations. Alas, instead, I have a Mark Bittman recipe, although this recipe turned out to be delicious. I went through a ginger and garlic kick a few weeks ago, when I couldn't shake this insatiable craving for Asian flavors. While this rendition of chicken, garlic, and ginger isn't immediately familiar to my Korean taste buds, it hit the spot. In fact, I wish I had a bowl of this stuff right now (instead, I'm tending to a pot of risotto with white wine, but that's irrelevant...yum).
Check it out! Ginger-garlic chicken over rice, a variation of the same but with fish sauce, and a Thai fish vinaigrette. Good luck!
1. Ginger-Garlic Chicken with Rice
Adapted from Mark Bittman's Hainanese Chicken with Rice
Ingredients: Start with several cloves of garlic and several slices of peeled ginger. Also have on hand: chicken for two, vegetable oil, 1 small onion, two cups of brown rice, a pile of minced scallion, and sesame oil. You can see I am a stickler for exact measurements.
For the chicken: Bring to boil a pot of water--just enough to cover your chicken. Add the chicken, plus several slices of both garlic and ginger. Reduce the heat to medium-low or medium, and leave the pot alone for about ten minutes. Then turn off the heat, and let the chicken sit on the stove in the pot for about another half hour, until it's fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool. Set aside the remaining broth.
Note: If you are indeed using a whole bird, as Bittman requests, and are cooking it for up to an hour, then I'm thinking the liquid would properly be called a stock. But since I used boneless meat and only cooked it for about half an hour, I think this is appropriately called a broth. Note that either way, you can save any liquid you don't use in the final plating and freeze it to use next time. This way, you have more concentrated flavor.
The rice: Put about 1/4 cup of neutral oil (vegetable, canola, etc.) in a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add more sliced garlic, and the chopped onion. Stirring occasionally, cook the onion and garlic for about five minutes, until the onion starts to become translucent. Next add the rice, and stir to coat the grains in oil. They will become glossy.
See? Nice and glossy. Add about 4 cups of your reserved stock, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and cover. Cook the rice for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Plating: Slice the chicken and arrange over your cooked rice. Drizzle sesame oil over the chicken and serve, along with the dipping sauce, which in my haste, I forgot to photograph.
To make a dipping sauce: Combine a tiny bit of neutral oil, some minced ginger, some sliced scallion, and a pinch of salt. I used less oil than what Bittman called for, since I found the sauce was otherwise way too oily. In fact, I think you could omit the neutral oil and instead go for a tiny bit of sesame oil mixed with ginger and scallion.
2. Variation: Ginger-Garlic Chicken with Fish Sauce
After making Bittman's recipe, I stumbled upon yet another New York Times' recipe, similar but with less simple. I made the chicken again, using Bittman's instructions for the chicken and rice, but adding cilantro (which I omitted the first time around) and scallions. For the sauce, I used a Thai sauce I made the week prior, and added soy sauce, sugar, and reserved chicken broth.
Note: This combination of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy is ubiquitous in many different Asian cuisines. It's all about balance, which is why you should really make your sauce to taste.
For the sauce: In a food processor, blend 2 cloves of garlic and a few slices of ginger. Then add about 1/4 cup each of your reserved ginger-garlic chicken broth and fish sauce vinaigrette (recipe below), plus a tablespoon each of soy sauce and brown sugar. Blend.
Plating: Arrange your chicken over brown rice, garnish with chopped scallions and cilantro, and drizzle some sauce over the top. Delicious!
3. Thai Vinaigrette
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce*
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
ground red pepper to taste (I used cayenne, since that's what I had)
Put everything in a jar, screw on the lid, then shake until everything is combined. Open the jar, add about 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil, reseal the jar, then shake until smooth.
Adjust as desired. I increased the lime juice considerably, finding that this vinaigrette was more like salad dressing, less like a light Asian sauce. Next time, I would decrease the amount of vegetable oil. Try starting with just 2-3 tablespoons of oil.
* A Note on Fish Sauce, and "Asian" Food:
Fish sauce is not to be underestimated! I could write an entire post on what has become my new favorite flavor. I shouldn't be surprised, since my mom always added dried anchovies or kelp to stocks to flavor Korean stews and soups. Fish sauce is used in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, not exclusively. No two are alike, and there are different grades of fish sauce. I love it because it adds an umami flavor to all sorts of dishes, Asian or not, and it has an interesting history. If you're curious, read more at Cook's Illustrated or take a listen at The Splendid Table (start at 23:27). And what is this I read about artisanal fish sauces?
A pet peeve of mine is(are?) generalizations about Asian cuisines. Not that I'm an expert (far from it), but calling all Japanese food "sushi," Chinese food "stir fries," and Korean food "bbq and kimchi" is like saying American food is "burgers," or Italian food is "pizza." The worst is hearing people say Asian food is all the same: spicy and unrefined. If you ask me, pastas and butter-and-sugar-laden pastries all taste the same, too.
Unfortunately, many people, including me, are more than happy to rely on American restaurants to dictate what single dish, authentic or not, embodies an entire culture: pad thai, Korean bbq, sushi, pho, General Tso's chicken, and naan & curry. But I'll stop there. Instead of being critical, I should take my own medicine and start exploring. After all, this is Los Angeles. Any takers?