Tag Archives: Chicken

Spicy sweet basil chicken

Sweet basil chicken is a big go-to of mine in Thai restaurants. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s fragrant, and it nestles oh-so-nicely over a pile of jasmine rice. Plus, because it’s stir-fried to order, I’ve now started asking for it without garlic or onions, which makes it lower in FODMAPs and easier to digest.

Until recently, I never would have thought to make Thai sweet basil chicken at home. But it’s turned into a staple dish in our household. As with so many stir-fries, it’s easily customizable–add or subtract vegetables you like, and dial the spiciness up or down as you prefer. Plus, unlike the no-garlic-please restaurant version, you can use tricks like garlic oil and scallion tops to restore some of that familiar allium spike.

I make no claims to authenticity here. Bringing this into my American kitchen–and adapting it to be low-FODMAP–means I’ve had to make a few tweaks and tucks to the recipe. It’s not an exact match for the restaurant version, and it’s not trying to be. But it is a darned tasty stir-fry, and much easier on my digestive system than the stuff in the takeout box.

Here’s the first bit of sacrilege: you don’t have to use Thai basil. Oh, you should, if you can find it–the sweet, licorice-y aroma will get the dish closest to what you’d find in an American Thai restaurant. But Italian sweet basil from the grocery store is just as delicious, and often much easier to find. If you’re forever buying a bunch of basil just to use a few leaves, then this is the recipe for you. Just toss in the rest of the leaves, and watch as the wok swallows them up.

thai basil chicken 1

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Chicken and vegetable baked pasta

The great low-FODMAP experiment continues. Despite talking a big game about cooking, I’m actually a pretty big takeout junkie. Now–curse that garlic!–a lot of my favorite restaurant dishes and prepared foods are suddenly off-limits. So, to satisfy my grab-and-go impulse, I’ve been doubling down on freezer meals.

This has been an opportunity to break out of my (tasty, but repetitive) freezer-cooking rut: beans, soups, stews, chili. A couple weeks ago, I started asking around for recipe ideas, and a friend suggested baked pasta. With a new go-to tomato sauce┬árecipe, it didn’t take long to put two and two together. From the fridge, I gathered a mishmash of cooked chicken, carrots, zucchini, bell pepper, dino kale, and provolone cheese. Together with a pound of brown rice pasta and a batch of homemade tomato sauce, these became one of the most delicious freezer meals I’ve ever made.

I love this just the way I made it: tender zucchini, sweet carrot, barely-wilted greens, tangy provolone cheese, and the occasional nugget of chicken. But baked pasta is perfect for cleaning out the fridge, so think of this recipe as a template. You can swap in another kind of cooked meat, or omit it altogether. Use whatever vegetables you like, or whatever’s in the fridge. In place of the provolone, try mozzarella, cheddar, smoked gouda, or a mix of cheeses–sliced or shredded, it’s up to you. Pretty much the only requirements here are pasta, tomato sauce, and a heap of grated Parmesan.

chicken veggie baked pasta

My lunch today–a pan of pasta, saucy and golden brown, baked straight from the freezer

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Chicken chorizo meatloaf

I really can’t leave well enough alone. A little while ago, I made some tasty little cocktail meatballs with chicken and chorizo. They were a raging success, and I blogged about them and set the recipe aside. By rights, that should have been it.

And then I kept thinking about them. I had a theory that meatballs and meatloaf were just the same thing in different guises. Clearly, the only way to prove this was to try the recipe again in meatloaf form. So I did, and I think it’s even better this way.

The quantities here yield a fairly small meatloaf, enough for four hungry eaters or six demure ones. I love just how different it is from a traditional meatloaf’s beefy softness and sugary glaze. The flavor is deeper and more interesting, with the spicy sourness of the chorizo tempered and rounded out by the mild-mannered chicken. I added a poblano pepper to the vegetable mix this time around, which was lovely both for its sharp flavor and the flecks of green it contributed to the loaf itself. The whole thing is vaguely Southwestern in flavor, a sort of Tex-Mex thing, which makes it both special and casual, the kind of homespun main course that impresses without coming off as fussy.

When I made this recipe as meatballs, they turned out loose and soft, threatening to collapse under their own weight. With the meatloaf version, that wasn’t a problem. The mixture shaped easily and held together perfectly, baking up slightly crusty on the outside and incredibly juicy within. Even though it took us close to an hour after the meatloaf was cooked to actually eat it, it was still warm and inviting inside when we sliced it. It yielded obligingly under a bread knife, as easily as cutting warm butter.

There’s also another reason this works better as a meatloaf, I think: the texture. The recipe calls for crushed tortilla chips in place of the usual breadcrumbs. Last time, I wrote that processing the chips in a food processor would break the chips down finer; I was wrong. I tried processing them, which didn’t accomplish much, so I switched to bashing them in a zip-top bag with a rolling pin; after a lot of noise and mess, they were still much coarser than ordinary breadcrumbs. In meatball form, that chunkiness was less than ideal; in meatloaf, it’s wonderful. I find traditional meatloaf texture to be a bit boring, and this is anything but, with soft nuggets of tortilla and slippery bits of onion and pepper. That alone is enough to earn this recipe a spot in my regular dinner rotation.

chicken chorizo meatloaf

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Chicken chorizo meatballs

It’s pretty well established here that I’m a compulsive recipe-tinkerer. I’m also a big fan of returning to recipes I’ve already played with, and tweaking them to make something new. Usually, when I do that, I tend to keep the bones of the recipe the same. But every so often, I’ll come back to a recipe I riffed on months or even years before, and decide to make something entirely different from it.

For example. About four years ago now, my friend Mel tipped me off to an online cooking show her friends were doing, called Economy Bites. The show is sadly now defunct, but I loved it for its goofy spirit, its no-bullshit realness and its creativity. One of the recipes on the show was a chicken and chorizo meatloaf, which inspired me to start mixing ground meat and sausage, which eventually morphed into my turkey andouille chili recipe–still one of my signature and most-requested dishes. But even with the triumph of the chili, I still thought about that meatloaf, and wondered what other directions I might take it in.

My friends were throwing a finger-food potluck, so I decided to make a batch of Southwestern-ish cocktail meatballs. This time, I stayed a bit more literal to the inspiration: chicken and chorizo. The original recipe called for the hard-cured Spanish chorizo, but I swapped in the squishy Mexican stuff. It blended in with the ground chicken, giving the meatballs a smooth and succulent texture. It also made the meat mix fairly delicate and loose, compared to the meatballs I usually make. They were a bit challenging to shape, but the payoff was juicy, tender, almost airy meatballs. The chorizo rounded out the chicken’s blandness with richness, sourness, and a tiny touch of heat; I could easily see these as game-day party fare, alongside a plate of nachos or chips and salsa.

Speaking of chips: there’s another twist in here, which I’m pretty proud of. Because we had a gluten-free partygoer (and I’d forgotten to buy breadcrumbs), I decided to crush up tortilla chips to use as a binder. The crumbs worked beautifully to soak up fat and juices, while adding a hint of cornmeal sweetness to the mix. I crushed my chips in a bag with a rolling pin, but I think pulsing them in a food processor would have worked even better. The finer the crumbs, the smoother the meatball texture–and with these, smoothness is absolutely a virtue.

chicken chorizo meatballs

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Chicken, chard, and cranberry bean stew

When life hands you lemons, make preserved lemons. And then put some in this stew.

This came about as a happy accident. I found a very old bag of cranberry beans in my cupboard, and was feeling in the mood for a one-pot meal. I had my trusty jar of preserved lemons, and a strong craving for something with greens. We’d gone to a local meat market and deli earlier in the day for lunch, and they had a terrific price on chicken legs. And so dinner took shape: a bubbling braise of beans, chicken, and chard, flavored like a classic north African tagine.

The result was a little more brothy than a tagine, and so I’m calling it a stew. But whatever you call it, it’s a wonderful winter meal: warm and soothing, rich with spices and starch. The preserved lemon adds a pop of brightness and a salty depth, and the beans thickened the broth to a lightly saucy consistency. As Audrey said, it felt like the perfect meal to eat if you were feeling under the weather; it tasted like it could cure a lot of ills.

Another reason I love this meal is because it uses meat as a flavoring, rather than the main attraction. For six people, I could have easily bought three pounds of meat; but I decided to go with just a pound of bone-in, skin-on legs, and stretch them a bit. I browned the pieces in oil, then simmered them in the pot along with the beans; then, when the flesh was lush and tender, I pulled the chicken from the pan and shredded the meat to be stirred in at the end. The bones and browned skin contributed flavor to the braising liquid, as if it were a stock; the meat provided little pockets of chew in between the creamy beans and slippery greens.

I said this was a one-pot meal, and it easily could be. But there’s a fair amount of rich liquid involved, and for my money you really need something to soak it up. I made a quick whole-wheat flatbread to dunk in the bowls, which was a real treat. But I could also imagine putting a heap of warm couscous in the bottom of each bowl and ladling the stew over that. Either way, you’ll be looking at dreamy faces and full bellies by the time this meal’s over.

chicken chard preserved lemon stew flatbread

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Chicken and plum stir-fry

The day I raided the plum tree, I asked a few kitchen-inclined friends for suggestions on what to do with them. There were the usual recommendations–freeze them, jam them, bake them in pie–but then my friend Sandy threw me a curveball. “Stir-fry,” he said.

So I stir-fried. And I’m very glad I did.

It might sound odd to put stone fruit in a stir-fry. But it really works. Think of it as a fresh summer spin on the sweet-and-sour thing. Toss a few wedges of plum into a hot pan at the last minute, and they slump and half-melt into the sauce, adding pockets of jammy sweetness to an otherwise savory jumble. Some of the skins come loose, draping chicken and vegetables with a thin tart bite. The juices filter into every crevice, coating the vegetables and pooling thickly in the bottom of the pan. (More on that later.) It’s not quite like any other stir-fry I’ve ever made, and not coincidentally, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made.

Part of the reason this stir-fry is so good is the plums; part of it is the chicken. There’s a trick to this, which Chinese restaurants use to keep meat–especially lean, easily-overcooked meat like chicken breast–juicy and tender. It’s called velveting, and it’s the only way I’ll stir-fry meat from now on. First, the sliced meat is marinated in a foamy slurry of egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine. Then it’s par-cooked in boiling water, drained, and finished off in the stir-fry pan. I don’t know what kind of sorcery takes place between the marinating bowl and the water pot; all I know is that it produced the plumpest, softest, most luxurious chicken breast meat that’s ever come out of my kitchen. The meat fairly glistened in the pan–you can see it in the photo below. This is one of those instances where taking the extra step is extraordinarily worth it, even if it means dirtying an extra bowl and pot.

I’m normally too lazy to cook rice for stir-fries, but I’ll make an exception here: you must serve this with rice. The reason for this is the plum juices, which filter to the bottom of the pan and thicken over the heat. Then there’s a simple hoisin sauce mixture, which mingles with the plum juices to form a soft purple sauce, rich and oozing, but without the gumminess of starch. The flavor is deeply plummy, a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy. You’ll want to mop up every last purple streak of it. Trust me.

chicken plum stir-fry

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Buttermilk roast chicken

I don’t cook meat all that often. It’s not my favorite thing to eat, and handling raw meat has always struck me as being more hassle than fun. So when I’m in the mood to do something meaty, I like simple, relatively hands-off preparations. Overnight marinades are nice for this kind of cooking–if you plan ahead for it, you can prep in five minutes and then forget about it for a good long while.

This particular recipe is inspired by the traditional pre-treatment for fried chicken: an overnight soak in a buttermilk bath. The acid and milk enzymes in the marinade help break down the chicken, making it silky and chin-dribblingly juicy. As it turns out, the chicken doesn’t have to be fried for a buttermilk marinade to work; you can roast the chicken parts instead, adjusting the proportions of sugar and salt in the marinade so that it functions more like a brine. The skin doesn’t get as crisp as it does on unmarinated roast chicken, but the tradeoff is rich, tooth-tender meat that’s so juicy it glistens. Any combination of chicken parts will do–use what you like best.

The base marinade is buttermilk, salt, honey, garlic cloves, and black pepper. Just as-is, it’s delicious; the honey adds a light sweet-savory note, and the garlic is there but not pungent. But you can customize it any which way you please. When I made this, my inspiration was medieval–I was brining drumsticks to take to Audrey’s Game of Thrones season finale party–so I added a touch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It sounds like an odd combination, but I encourage you to try it at least once–the combination of ancient sweet spices and honey might be the best flavor I’ve ever tasted on roast chicken.

Having tested this as potential party food, I can say it was a big hit–with one caveat. I wanted something meaty that people could pick up and eat greedily with their hands, like medieval lords. The drumsticks were definitely pick-up-able, but also so juicy that we had to either use plates or stand over the sink. This is not quite finger food–I’d call it plate-fork-and-finger food. Not that that’s a problem.

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