Tuesday, May 18, 2010

caramelized black pepper chicken

Sometimes I possess the willful obstinacy of a small child. No sooner did the Food and Drug Administration announce their new anti-sodium campaign than I dusted off our suite of Kikkoman products. It’s as though an umami bomb exploded in our kitchen, and I’m kind of enjoying it. (Even if my blood pressure isn’t.)

This recipe comes from Charles Phan, of the appropriately beloved Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. While it may not rival my meals there (which have been, for the most part, transcendent), it’s simple enough to be on the plate in 20 minutes, and tasty enough to rival most take-out.

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken
Adapted from Charles Phan

Serves 4

Don’t skimp on the black pepper or Thai chilis—they provide the requisite heat to counterbalance the caramelized chicken.

2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 fresh Thai chilis, halved, or red chile flakes to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Chopped cilantro

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper and chiles. Adjust ingredients to taste.

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

miso-glazed sweet potatoes

My sixth-grade teacher would often recount the story of her neighbors’ German shepherd—let’s call him Max. Max was a notoriously gluttonous dog. At first, people were tempted to blame hubris—a canine “Diamond” Jim Brady complex—but it turns out there was some faulty wiring in Max’s brain. His appetite was literally insatiable.

This, apparently, is a more serious problem than you might think. Max’s owners were forced to monitor his diet, carefully restricting his daily intake. And one day, left alone during the couple’s vacation (with a neglectful dog-sitter), Max ate his way through a week-long ration of food in one sitting. His stomach exploded.

Needless to say, the story haunted me for some time. Whether it was intended as some kind of case study in canine physiology, an allegory to warn against overeating, or merely as an urban legend to torment pre-teens, I still don’t know. What I do know is that last Sunday I felt deep empathy for that German shepherd. No, not because of some brain mis-wiring; in my case, the awareness of one’s own physical limitations was simply overridden by a far greater imperative: deliciousness.

The culprit? These miso-tahini glazed sweet potatoes, whose appeal was undeniable and, in retrospect, totally predictable. (Given my love for miso and tahini—both well documented here—the combination would naturally prove irresistible.)

Sweet and nutty and packed with umami, they are dangerously good—as in, I-literally-can’t-stop-eating-this-good. Google informs me that this whole “exploding stomach” thing is unlikely (at least in humans), but don’t be surprised if you end up in a state of miso-tahini-glazed delirium.

Miso-Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Teaism, via Washingtonian Magazine

This recipe claims to serve eight people. Eight people! I am so ashamed.

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
Canola oil, as needed
1/3 cup yellow miso paste
1/3 cup tahini
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1-2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar

Make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk until completely blended. Taste and adjust seasoning. This dressing is best if it’s prepared and kept overnight in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to mingle. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the sweet potatoes with just enough canola oil to coat. Season with salt. Add the potatoes to a small baking pan; you want to crowd the potatoes in the pan to help them steam. Bake for 30 minutes, or until done. Set aside to cool.

Drizzle the dressing over sweet potatoes and serve.

Monday, May 3, 2010

roasted sunchokes with rosemary and lemon butter

How to describe the flavor of a sunchoke?

• Sweet and tuber-esque.
• Occasionally artichoke-y, though no, the two are not related.
• Jicama-like, when raw. (Try shaving them over the escarole with pickled red onions—a nod to my favorite Otto salad.)
• Deeply chesnutty, especially when roasted.

To be honest, a precise description eludes me. In fact, it may be that elusive quality that appeals to me most. The sunchoke is its own very particular, and very haunting breed of delicious—one you have to discover for yourself.

Roasted Sunchokes with Rosemary and Lemon Butter

You may be tempted to peel these knobbly little fellows, but you'd be missing out. (The skin has great flavor.) Better to scrub them clean under cold water, as you would a potato. If you're looking to up the caramelized ante, cut the sunchokes into 1/4-inch coins or strips and decrease the baking time to 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves 4

1 pound sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes), cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

1-2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Chopped parsley, to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the sunchokes with olive oil (just enough to coat) and season with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet with the rosemary sprigs.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are tender and caramelized. Shake the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.

When the sunchokes are done, melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the lemon juice, then the sunchokes, tossing them to coat. Season to taste, then transfer to a warm plate and serve.

P.S. I didn't want to include this disclaimer, lest you be deterred in trying these, but I should warn you that sunchokes have a particular reputation. John Goodyer, the first person to cultivate sunchokes in England, wrote, “Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.” I say, throw caution to the loathsome stinking wind.