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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hatch Chiles and Chicken Tacos

Sticking with this side of the Pacific Rim, it is Hatch chile season, and for many, these are special peppers. Although the actual variety of the pepper is not distinct, the region of Hatch results in a chile that is revered amongst chile eaters. I enjoy the complexity and rich flavor, and will grab a few, fire roast them and freeze them for use throughout the year. But, since I was doing that, I opted to go ahead and prepare one for dinner as well.

I used some Mary's chicken thighs, partially butterflied them and marinated them in a simple citrus based mixture.

Simple Citrus based marinade:
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime
2 tablespoons mild vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon Lucky Dog Green Label hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 small onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix all of this together, and add in the chicken thighs. Marinade for 4 hours.


I had the kettle fired up with a full load of lump charcoal, it was very hot, and the chiles took no time at all to blister and start to peel. Pulled them and throttled back the kettle to grilling hot. At no time did I do that hand test, it was just hot. In fact, while turning the chiles, the tongs I was using became dropping on the ground hot even though I had BBQ gloves on.

No human flesh was harmed, okay, a little was

From the time the chicken was ready, I had decided to save the chicken skins, and these were placed on the fire. It was still ripping and the chicken skins fried in their own fat, chicken cracklins! The chicken was placed on the edge of the kettle and grilled until done. I was shooting for the minimum for chicken, right around 155°F, as I intended to reheat the chicken prior to eating.

Note pepper and chicken craklin'

Look at those thighs

The chicken was coarsely chopped and reheated along with the cracklin's, this was then placed on the tortillas along with some avocado salsa, the julienned pepper and a little cheese.

Almost there

And finally a little snipped cilantro to freshen the dish and dinner is served. I opted to drink some sake straight from the bottle for this one, all that Fusion cuisine and such...

Ta da!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tsukune with Pirikara and Tomatoes

So, a Facebook group I am in has issued a challenge, to cook a dish with ground chicken, tomatoes, peanut butter and cayenne pepper. Simple, and the obvious choice would be to go Thai with it, or perhaps something more fusion. I decided to stick with something more along the Japanese lines that I am thinking of moving towards. Ground chicken really says Tsukune to me, Tsukune literally means 'to knead', but, in the world of cooking, it most often refers to ground chicken cooked 'yakitori' style on skewers over a Konro. I decided to riff off of that, by cold smoking a chicken breast, then grinding and making the Tsukune, and frying them into an appetizer. I wanted to make sure the texture was light, as opposed to grilling, the frying would be best with a fluffy meatball and a crispy panko texture.

What I ended up with

Once the chicken was cold smoked, I removed it from the smoker, and placed it back into the refrigerator for 4 hours to let the smoke settle. I also smoked the skin and bones, which was simmered to create a stock, along with celery, red pepper and onion trimmings.

Tsukune Chicken:
2/3 pound skinless chicken breast, cold smoked
1 teaspoon each grated ginger
1 teaspoon finely minced Mitsuba
2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon lemon rind
1 teaspoon sake
1/8 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Cube chicken into 1/2" chunks and combine with all ingredients except for bread crumbs. Process in pulses in food processor until chicken forms a medium textured paste, add bread crumbs and combine. Form into balls about 1" to 1-1/4" in diameter and chill to harden. Note that the mixture ios very soft and will slump if not very cold. Once chilled, coat with egg wash and panko, let sit in refrigerator until cold, while heating oil. Fry at 275°F until golden brown. Much hotter and the center will not cook, and this is chicken, it needs to cook.

 Pirikara Pickles:
 These are nothing more than salt, sugar and cayenne pepper powder tossed with cucumbers, and then allowed to sit in refrigerator overnight. The cucumbers remain crispy, but, take on a sublte sweet-hot flavor along with the cucumber flavor.

Tomato Pickles:
Peeled 6 grape tomatoes, then prepare a vinegar and sugar mixture that consisted of:
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

Soak peeled tomatoes in the vinegar solution overnight. The tomatoes will have a sweet and sour flavor and have a fresh tomato texture. Obviously the fresher the tomato, the better, but, the harder to peel. It's worth it, I actually did 12 of them, so I have a few extra.

Now, if there was one element of this cook that was going to be problematic, it was the peanut butter, and surely, not a typical ingredient, Thai would have been so much easier. In any event...

Peanut Miso Sauce:
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons peanut butter, smooth
1 tablespoon shiro miso
1/2 teaspoon sugar syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon Togarashi oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sudachi juice
sake, not sure how much, a healthy splash

Heat it all over low heat until it starts to combine, raise heat to medium and whisk until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove and use quickly. It will thicken on cooling. You will want to adjust sweetness and heat to reflect the peanut butter and miso flavors.

Pirikara, tomatoes and peanut-miso sauce

And the texture was excellent, I think just the touch of baking powder and lemon juice aided that texture greatly. The cornstarch improves the texture of the chicken as well.

Fluffy Chicken Balls

These totally worked out as a riff on the traditional and the smoke, citrus and even the peanut butter worked well together. The cayenne which would have seemed likely to over-power the other elements worked to create a subtle and somewhat random piquant quality to the dish.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tofu thoughts

I was asked about tofu, and I know that many of my BBQ friends generally eschew tofu as a tasteless and horrifically textured food item. However, for many of the world’s population, tofu forms a staple of their diet. It is actually rather a versatile ingredient once it is understood.

First thing to understand is that fresh tofu should always have a slightly sweet taste, tofu that has no taste is old, tofu that tastes sour is spoiled. There are some more advanced tofu preparations that require some getting used to, such as fermented tofu and stinky tofu, I highly recommend avoiding these unless you have a strong affection for powerful flavors and interesting textures. Tofu will have a very faint aroma of beans, however, unless you are eating it cold, that aroma is a non-factor.

There are three textures that are commonly found in most Asian stores, ranging from soft to firm. The soft tofu is very similar to a soft custard, and is most often eaten plain, or in preparations that do not require a lot of handling. The medium texture is probably the most common in Japanese cooking and many other Asian kitchens, it is rather unique in its texture, being firm to the touch, but yielding easily to the bite, Finally, there is firm, which is much like a firm cheese. This is often the most commonly found tofu in American stores, as it mimics cheese, and this is how most Americans have learned to use tofu. There are also pressed tofu’s, these are often found as flavored tofus, and are the most common style made in American companies, these are meant to mimic the texture of meat.

The idea of using tofu as a mimic of cheese or meat is what had given tofu such a bad name for many people who were not raised on tofu. It is a terrible substitute for cheese, as it lacks the fermented qualities that cheese has, and it truly does not have the taste or structure of meat. Tofu is at it’s best, and it’s most common best, when used as an extender for a dish that if flavored with other flavor elements. Using the right texture for a given dish really makes eating tofu a much more enjoyable dish.

My favorite use is as a cooling element is spicy stir-fry dishes, which are heavily seasoned with chiles and pork or lamb. The use of a medium tofu allows the tofu to not break down and that allows it to function as a cooling element in the dish. Most Asian dishes are based upon balance, for a hot element, a cooling or numbing element is added. The most famous of these dishes in Ma Bo Dofu, which is an incredibly hot yet flavorful dish from Sichuan Province in China, which balances heat from chiles, with numbing from Sichuan pepper corns, it uses tofu to carry the flavor, while providing a cooling texture. Taking hints from that, you can build any number of dishes in which you build strong flavors, and counterpoint those flavors with the tofu.  One of my favorite quick uses is to use some chopped up smoked chicken or pork, do a quick stir-fry with some greens, like Swiss Chard, then use a spicy BBQ sauce, some sugar and a little soy sauce to create a little interest, tossing in the tofu to function not unlike potatoes might.

To my sense, the key to making tofu more palatable is to understand that it is its own type of food, not a substitute for cheese, meat or vegetable, but, as a means to balance and enhance a dish. I highly encourage using the freshest product you can find and taking a small taste before using it. It should have a faint sweet taste.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Roasted Chicken with Sudachi butter

Just discovered that a local store carries my favorite chickens, they are frozen, but, from this farm, I am willing to eat frozen birds. A whole small chicken set me back $4.00. This was such a great deal, roasting a bird on the kettle is one of the best ways to get a low cost meal.

The butter and herbs

I made a compound butter from some unsalted butter, some minced chives, chopped flat leaf parsley and some garlic, crushed with salt. No measurements, but, that picture sort of show what I did. This was all made into a compound butter to which 1 tablespoon od Sudachi citrus juice was added. The Sudachi is a very aromatic citrus from Japan and adds a great aroma, as well as acidity to any dish.

Trussed bird

There are a lot of ways to cook a whole bird, of late, a lot of people are into slashing the meat, or spatch-cocking (butterfly) the bird. For me, trussing is the tried and true method, it takes little times once you've done a couple and will result in a more juicy bird. Because the bird is tied into a lump, cooking is more even and the meat remains very juicy. I do place seasonings into the cavity of the bird and tie it to minimize any openings. In this case, I also added compound butter under the breast skin and into the leg joint, this is done just by loosening the skin and working the butter under it. I had a small silicone spatula for this, it works great.

Rubbed and resting

Decided to mix up a couple of west coast BBQ favorites for this cook, equal amounts of Simply Marvelous Cherry rub and The Rub Company Original BBQ flavor, as well as some fresh medium grind black pepper. This was patted on, then left to rest in the fridge for 2 hours. When it was time to cook, I loaded a couple of pounds of lump, fired the kettle up with all vents wide open and let it rip. When the thermometer I stuck in the vent read well past 400°F, I placed the chicken in there, butt to the fire, along with my new mini-cast iron skillet full of potatoes and compound butter for Potatoes Anna. This was allowed to cook for 30 minutes, then the lower vents were closed by half, the chicken rotated 180° and left to cook for another 20 minutes. Then the chicken was removed and tented glazed with a little of the compound butter and foil tented for 30 minutes.

Rested and ready

Upon carving, it was clearly juicy and done just to the point where there was no pink at the joint. The skin rendered nicely and the aroma was what I was hoping for. When you loosen the skin, and add the butter, and with the high heat, the skin will crisp up nicely, and even after the rest, it remained delicate and crisp. I was really happy with the texture and flavor.

Artsy breast shot

Artsy leg shot

Some steamed broccoli, and the Potatoes Anna, which are just some potatoes severely caramelized with butter and herbs, and you have a fine dinner.

Potatoes Anna

And really, the measure of a good kitchen in my mind, every cook should be measured by their roast chicken. One of the most simple dishes, and hence the challenge.

Yes, that was dinner

Texture shot

I am really happy with the texture of the breast, it was quite moist, dense but tender to the tooth. A very satisfying cook. No sauce was needed, this was great chicken.