Lemon Chicken Tagine

I saw this wonderful Lemon Garlic Chicken with Goat Cheese recipe over at She Cooks He Cleans and I knew I had to give it a try. I’m not generally a fan of “fusion” cooking – no sushi tacos here – but this blending of a classic chicken dish with some Moroccan cooking techniques really piqued my interest.

After a recent trip to our local Greek market, I had some excellent domestic feta and green olives stuffed with garlic in the fridge. I wanted to incorporate them into this dish and push it a just little further east along the Mediterranean.

You could certainly make this dish in a Dutch oven, but I’ve got this rockin’ red Emile Henry tagine, so of course I used that.

Here’s my adaptation:

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped fine (I used thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Some mint or cilantro would work well too.)
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
6 ounces feta, crumbled, plus more for serving
1 lemon, cut into 8 slices lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 (14.5-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 pound green olives stuffed with garlic (or 1/2 pound green olives and 6 cloves of garlic)
1/4 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Over medium heat on stove top, heat olive oil in the tagine (or a Dutch oven). Add the onion and cook until it has softened and started to brown a bit (about 5 minutes).

Add the cumin, turmeric, paprika, and salt. Stir and cook until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add lemon juice and stir to deglaze the pan. Arrange the lemon wedges in the pan. Cover with the garbanzo beans, chicken thighs, herbs, olives, fruit, and tomatoes. Top with feta.

Put the cover on the tagine and move to the oven. Cook for 60 minutes. Remove the lid and check for doneness. The tagine braises the food, so the pan juices should be bubbling and the meat should be very tender. This batch wasn’t quite done at an hour, so I rearranged the thighs so they were covered in the juices, put the lid back on, and let it cook for another 30 minutes.

When done, carefully remove the tagine from the oven.

Tagine safety note: Take the lid off the tangine before removing it, as steam can spit out from under the lid (palm blister). Put the lid on a heat-proof surface and cover with a pot holder to remind you that it is still very hot (finger blister).

Serve straight from the pan with more feta to crumble over top.

The Verdict: ★★★½☆
Amazing mix of flavors – rich chicken bathed in creamy golden juices set off by the salty olives and tangy lemon. I continue to be amazed at how the tagine concentrates flavors.

So what’s with the 3.5 stars? I over-crowded the tagine with too many chicken thighs, so the dish steamed more than braised and I didn’t get the browning I wanted. Eight thighs next time. Also, I really don’t think the fruit brought anything to the party. It distracted from the nice mix of traditional herbs and Moroccan spices. I might add a little more heat to the dish with some black pepper and/or Aleppo pepper.

Many thanks to She Cooks He Cleans for their great recipe.

Asian Chicken Salad

Man, it’s HOT out there! Five days in a row with 100+°F heat indexes has really taken its toll. Everyone is miserable and crabby, and nobody wants anything to do with sweating over a hot stove.

Fortunately, I was browsing  Serious Eats and came upon this main-dish-salad from Once Upon a Chef. It’s light, tasty, quick, and the only cooking involved is boiling noodles.  Talk about a life saver.

2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken (I used the leftovers from a store-bought rotisserie bird)
12 ounces spaghetti, broken in half (I used Mrs. Leepers gluten-free corn pasta)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse well under cold water.

Make the dressing by putting the garlic in a food processor and pulsing until the garlic is minced. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, peanut oil, sesame oil, peanut butter, ginger, and sugar, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, noodles, dressing, bell peppers, peanuts, and cilantro. Cover and stick in the fridge for 15 minutes. Give it a shake to coat everything, and refrigerate for another 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with a topping of sesame seeds and a drizzle of siracha.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve made versions of this recipe as a side dish before, but it really shines as a dinner salad. The chicken makes it a light, but complete meal. The sauce is rich, creamy and tangy, and there’s plenty of crunch coming from the nuts and veggies.

Next time I might try using no-cook rice noodles and precooked frozen shrimp to make this a completely “no stove required” meal.

Stay cool.

Huli Huli Chicken

This is the Hawaiian version of the Oil Drum Chicken that I love so much. The original recipe was developed in the ’50s by Ernest Morgado in Honolulu, and it became a big hit at local fundraisers where they grill up tons of this sweet/spicy chicken.

Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian. Since there’s a good bit of sugar in the marinade and the chicken is traditionally cooked hot and fast over open charcoal grills, huli huli is a reminder to keep turning the chicken so it doesn’t burn.

8 bone-in, skin-on thighs
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha Rooster sauce

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (for the baste)

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken and the pineapple, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and coat with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain chicken and reserve marinade. Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and add the crushed pineapple. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Pour half the sauce off to baste the chicken with. Refrigerate the other half to serve with the finished chicken.

Put the chicken on the grill skin side down. close the lid and let cook for 20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes. Baste both sides with the pineapple mixture, and cook for 10 minutes. Baste both sides one last time and cook for another 10 minutes.

Check chicken for doneness. While chicken is technically done when the internal temperature hits 160°F, the thighs will still be chewy at this point. I like to let them go to at least 180 to 200°F, depending on how crispy the skin is getting.

When the thighs are done, remove to a plate and let them rest for 10 minutes. Serve with the other half of the reserved  pineapple mixture.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I had some reservation about this dish, as the ingredient list reminded me a little too much of the one for that nasty sweet and sour chicken I grew up with. Thankfully – this was not that dish.  The chicken was sweet and sticky, but nicely balanced with the salty tang of the soy and vinegar. The ginger and hot sauce gave it a spicy kick as well.

My only complaints were that the skin wasn’t as crispy as I like and that it could have used even more heat. Another 10 minutes on the grill and an additional squirt of Sriracha should fix both of those issues. Also, I might do this with a raised direct setup next time. Cooking it with indirect heat saved me from smoky flareups and charring, but I think this dish could stand a bit of that.

Asian Pork Skewers

When we ordered our pig we got some truly tasty ground pork and I wanted to show it off with this rough adaptation of Adam Perry Lang’s Asian Pork Meatball Skewers from his book Serious Barbecue.

The Pork

1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Sriracha Rooster sauce

Soak 4 flat, wooden skewers in water for an hour.

In a medium bowl, combine the pork, fish sauce, cilantro, garlic, hoisin, ginger, salt, pepper, and Sriracha. Work everything together by hand.

Divide the meat into 4 even portions. Form each portion into 4 or 5 meatball-ish lumps. Slide the lumps onto the skewer and then form them together into a long, thick kabob. Press the meat firmly onto the skewer.

Cover and stash in the fridge until you are ready to grill them.

The Sauce

1/2 cup fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Sriracha Rooster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

Put the sugar and garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients and give them a whirl until they are well-combined. Set aside.

The Cook

Set your grill up for a direct cook over high (500°F) heat.

Grill skewers until browned and crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Remove from grill and drizzle with a bit of the sauce. Serve with more sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I served this over rice with a side of wokked green beans and it was a big hit. Sweet and spicy with a good amount of tang from the lime juice, a huge umami boost from the fish sauce, and a rich pork flavor.

I scaled this recipe back a bit, complexity-wise, from the original recipe. I may have to try it with the full Adam Perry Lang treatment, but these sure didn’t seam to be missing anything on flavor.

Chocolate Custard Ice Cream

Summer is fleeting. To try and make the most of it, my dear wife whipped up this yummy custard this weekend. A custard-based ice cream is a little more work, but the smoothness and the rich flavor make it worth it.

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a medium-size bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is thick and lemon colored. Add the cocoa and beat to combine. Set aside.

In a small heavy saucepan over low heat, bring milk just to a gentle simmer – just until it begins to bubble around the edges – and remove from the heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon (stir constantly, don’t let it boil or the mixture will curdle), about 5 minutes. Check with an instant-read cooking thermometer, the temperature should be between 165 and 180°F.

Remove from heat and cool the custard quickly by setting the pan in ice or cold water and stirring for a few minutes. Place cooled mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight as this will give the ice cream more body and a smoother texture.

When the custard base is cold, stir in the heavy cream, vanilla extract and half the almonds. Stir until mixture is well combined. The custard is now ready for the freezing.

Set up your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We used a Krups machine that is just about as simple as it gets- freeze the bowl, insert the paddle, pour in custard, slap the lid on and let it run for 20 minutes.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
OMG – rich, creamy, eggy, chocolaty wonderfulness! The almonds added a great little crunch and nutty flavor. Not too sweet, but very rich and filling. The perfect summer treat.

Pulled Picnic

Normally when I’m doing pulled pork I use Boston butt, but when we ordered our pig, I made sure ask for the picnic as well. Contrary to their names, these cuts come from the front leg of the pig. The butt is the shoulder and the picnic is the foreleg.

Because these cuts do the hard work of moving the pig around, they have big bones running through them and are full of connective tissue, fat, and multiple muscle groups. Doesn’t sound like anything that anybody in their right mind would want to eat, right? But that’s the joy of barbecue – taking something cheap and chewy and turning it into something tender and tasty.

I had a request from some friends to cook for a small party, so I went with 2 butts (on the right) and 2 picnics. I seasoned them with a healthy dusting of Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust.

Normally when I do pulled pork it’s low ‘n’ slow – 225°F for 16-20 hours until the meat hits 210°F internal and starts to fall apart. But I’ve also had good luck cooking the butts at a higher temp and then finishing them in foil. Due to weather and logistics, I decided to go the hot and fast route this time. I set the Big Green Egg up for an indirect cook at 350°F. This meant filling the firebox with lump and using a plate setter and drip pan to diffuse the heat. When the cooker was up to temp, I added some chucks of apple wood for smoke.

I put the butts on the bottom grate and the picnics on top of the extended grid and let them cook for 5 hours at 350°F, until they had developed a nice dark bark on the outside and had hit 160°F on the inside.

At this point the meat was done, but it was nowhere near tender. To get to tender I needed to break down all of that connective tissue into melty collagen. That’s where the foil comes in.

To braise the meat, I removed it from the BGE and put it into a large roasting pan. I added 2 cups of apple juice, sealed the pan with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and loaded it into the oven set at 250°F.

I baked the meat for 3 hours, until the internal temperature of the biggest butt hit 210°F. I removed the pan from the oven and let them cool for an hour. When I removed the foil the meat was so tender I could barely get it out of the pan.

I set the first hunk o’ pig in the middle of a large jelly roll pan and started to pull it apart using a pair of bear paws. As I do more of these multi-butt cooks, I’ve started to refine my pulling technique a bit. The first pass with the paws was just to remove the bones and any large pieces of fat, and to start to separate the muscle groups.

Then I set up a second pan and started working by hand to to remove all the inedible bits and move just the meat into the second pan. As I did this I started to open up the muscles and separate the meat fibers.

When all the butts and picnics were done (I kept them separate for pulling so that I could compare the difference between the two cuts) I put the meat into a large roaster with a bit of finishing sauce mixed with pan drippings and went through it one more time with the paws to finely shred the meat.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
I saved a bit of the picnic for me (testing purposes, of course) and sent the rest on with our friends. They reported that the reunion went well and everybody liked the pork.

The picnic was good, though a little drier than I would have liked. It had good smoke flavor with a decent amount of smoky, chewy bark. The picnic meat was noticeably different from the butt – darker with more and thicker stands of meat. It didn’t pull as finely as the butt, but seemed moister. I’d definitely try it again, although next time I’d like to try a picnic shoulder (a whole shoulder with the butt and picnic still attached to each other) and do it low n’ slow.

Not so Black, Plenty of Bleu, Redux

My dear wife is back! Whew, it was getting close there. Almost ran out of salami, Doritos, and clean underwear ;).

To celebrate, I re-made the Black ‘n’ Bleu steak we had right before she left. Only this time I switched to bottom round sirloin steaks and skipped the cast iron griddle.

I set the BGE up for a direct cook at about 650°F. After coating the steaks with olive oil, I seasoned them with a little fresh-ground black pepper and sea salt, and tossed them on the grate.

These were nice, thick steaks, so I ended up going about 3 minutes a side to get medium rare.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆

Getting better – the blue cheese topping is still a winner, and the steaks were closer to being done to my liking, but I missed the heavy char. I also prefer the firmer structure of the strip steak to the grainier bottom sirloin. Just going to have to try again, damn ;).