Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chicken Man

I somehow ended up with 3 bottles of toasted sesame oil in my pantry. Toasted sesame oil? That's potent stuff. What the heck ever am I gonna do with 3 bottles of something that I normally use as sparingly as Spam in my kitchen? Not that I'd equate sesame oil with Spam or anything... it's just that I don't know much about Asian cooking. I ended up with those little bottles after I overbought for a cooking demo awhile ago, and not one to toss, waste, or give away anything (not when you're livin' on a student budget, sugar), I put them on the shelf and wished for the fairy of Asian Cookery to descend upon my kitchen in a flourish of kimono and chopsticks spouting inspiration and Zen wisdom... Or at least just hand me a copy of Better Homes and Gardens with the dog-eared section "Fourth of July Egg Foo Young for 40!"

But eventually, and slowly, I began to use that oil on more and more dishes. I began putting it into salad dressings, tossing it with maple syrup, rice vinegar, soy sauce and hot peppers to pour over noodles, I started to think of it more as just another oil (albeit one with lots of personality) to use on things that, well, I use oil on all the time.

But opening myself up to using that oil meant I also began to use much more ginger, soy sauce, garlic and lime. What a revelation. I started cooking 'Asian' all the time. Yes, I know that using Asian ingredients doesn't mean the dish is 'Asian' but you gotta start somewhere. So when I was planning out our Sunday night supper to be shared with our friend Austin (who when asked what he liked to eat, he replied "meat"), I decided to do some sort of creative take on sweet and sour chicken. I don't cook chicken much, but I like to think that it's just like tofu, but with blood and stuff. Not too hard really.

So I pulled out that sesame oil, some organic chicken, and grabbed a recipe for Spicy Orange Tofu from Vegetarian Times (I realize now you may be appalled). In my head I pictured the plate, tasted the chicken and thought, "coconut rice." A chewy, creamy mound of Basmati rice with coconut milk and lemongrass would go so well lying right underneath that tangy and spicy skewer of chicken.

The dish turned out well enough that our meat-boy Austin was impressed, and the other meat-boy Mark couldn't help but eat the leftovers the next night for dinner - straight outta the skillet.

That's my boys.

Spicy Orange Chicken Skewers
adapted from a recipe from Vegetarian Times Magazine
serves 4 -6

1.5 pounds boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons dried hot chili pepper (whatever's spicy and hanging around your spice rack)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 small sweet onion, diced
handful chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
bamboo skewers

Cut the chicken breast into pieces small enough to skewer. Skewer the chicken on the bamboo, making sure to leave a few millimeters of space between each piece. Prepare the marinade. Mix all of the rest of the ingredients together and marinate the skewers from 1 hour to 1 day. The longer the better.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the skewers from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Place skewers on a broiler pan with a slotted sheet so that the liquid and fats may collect underneath. Cook until your tester skewer is no longer pink in the middle. A few times through baking, brush the skewers with the marinade. Add all of the marinade toward the end, so that it reduces a bit and gets syrupy. Serve the skewers with the sauce over coconut rice.

Coconut Basmati Rice
serves 4 - 6

You may use fresh lemongrass in this recipe, if available, but the dried is a good option too if you don't have access to an Asian market.

1.5 cups brown Basmati rice
2 cups coconut milk (lite or full fat)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dried lemongrass

Bring the water to boil. Steep the dried lemongrass to make a strong tea. Strain out the lemongrass and set water aside. Bring the coconut milk and lemongrass water to a boil, then add rice. Stir once, then cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes to 1 hour.

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