Monday, August 18, 2008

Curry Fever

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken

This is a can of Maesri curry paste:

This is a can of coconut milk:

Mix them together with chicken and vegetables, and you have a curry as good as you will get in most Thai restaurants. You may also consider adding some lime juice, cilantro and lemongrass, but even if you just stick with the cans, it's a quick and satisfying meal. Maesri curry paste comes in several flavors, including yellow, green, red, panang, masaman, karee, etc...take your pick. It typically costs less than a dollar, and is strong enough to get two or three meals out of a can. Pack the leftover paste in a piece of plastic wrap and freeze for a later date.

When you buy coconut milk, shake the can- you should be able to tell how thick it is by the sound. Of course, you can be a pansy and buy the reduced-fat version, but only if you like watery curry. I prefer to cut corners elsewhere, thank you very much. And do not use the coconut stuff that goes into a pina colada, since it is heavily sweetened and not the same thing as regular coconut milk.

Chicken Curry With Vegetables

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
1 small onion, sliced
1 red pepper
1 zucchini, sliced in half-circles
1 6 oz. can bamboo shoots
1 12 oz. can straw mushrooms
1-2 tbsp. curry paste
1 12 oz. can coconut milk
splash of lime juice
fresh cilantro (if desired)
Salt (if desired)

Sautee the garlic and onions in oil on medium high heat until brown. Add the zucchini and brown lightly. Add the chicken and allow it to get a little brown if possible. Then add your bamboo shoots, mushrooms and curry paste, and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well to distribute curry paste, adding a little water if the consistency is too thick. Cook ingredients together until chicken is just about done, then add the red peppers and stir. Add the lime juice and cilantro at the end if you like. Personally, I didn't think this needed salt, but you may respectfully disagree. Serve with jasmine rice to soak up all the lovely curry liquid.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roast Beast (Beast = Chicken)

Oven-Roasted Chicken

I have passed another culinary milestone this weekend by roasting my first chicken. There is something uniquely satisfying in having successfully roasted a whole animal. I'll be moving up to roasting camels shortly.

This basic recipe, which I adapted from various versions, worked extremely well with a 3 1/2 lb chicken. That's pretty small, enough for 2-3 people. If you use a bigger chicken, add 20 minutes of cooking time for each pound of meat. This was a standard, pre-packed Perdue bird, with the gizzards and whatnot cleaned out and packed inside. You can use those bits to make a nice gravy, but I didn't have time. I felt slightly bad wasting them. I swear I'll use every part of the buffalo if I ever roast one.

I seasoned my dainty little capon with a combination of Turkish seasonings, though the next time I roast a chicken, I'll experiment with different flavorings. I have some Jamaican jerk seasoning that seems promising. *Note to healthy chefs: if you must remove the skin, do it after the chicken is roasted. The skin keeps the rest from drying out. You can even season under the skin by making a few little cuts and sticking in some slices of garlic, so that you're not stripping the flavor away when you peel your poultry.

Oven-Roasted Chicken

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes

1 chicken (3.5 lbs)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp seasoning of choice
1 small onion, quartered

Clear the bag with the innards out of the chicken and rinse inside and out, then pat dry all over. Rub the lemon juice and olive oil all over the bird, inside and out, making sure all surfaces are covered. Sprinkle your seasoning on and rub in evenly. Stuff the body cavity with the quartered onions and close over the opening. Tie the chicken's legs together tightly with cotton twine. You can wrap and leave the chicken for a few hours at this point, but try not to leave it for more than six (remember- acids like lemon juice "cook" things and change their texture).

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and place your chicken in a roasting dish, on a rack if you like. Cook the chicken at 450 degrees for 20 minutes (this will seal in the juices), then lower the heat to 350 degrees and let it cook for one hour. Mine was juicy and tender, but definitely cooked all the way after this treatment. The skin had a nice crispness to it, and was extra-yummy from the seasonings. I'm looking forward to trying this again when I can cook at a leisurely pace.