Monday, January 26, 2009

Mark Bittman is Two-Timing Me*

Dear Boo,

You know that recipe you have somewhere in your files, on your computer, in your various cookbooks, that you keep coming back to and yet somehow never pony up and actually make? I have this enormous tome of a cookbook by Mark "lovably awkward butt of batali and paltrow's sickeningly chummy jokes" Bittman, called The Best Recipes in the World, which includes over 1,000 recipes from--duh--all across the globe. And yet, despite it's 672 pages, I kept opening to the same one, kept reading the same delectable recipe for what Bitty calls "Two-Way Chicken". The two-way title comes from the fact that you can, according to the book, "stop after step 2 and have a Thai-style dish, which is good, or proceed to step 3 and have one of the best Vietnamese-style chicken dishes you've ever tasted." One of the BEST I've EVER tasted?? Well, who could resist trying THAT? Well, me, apparently, since it took months before I tried my hand at it, despite its simplicity, a combination of flavors that make me salivate instantly (soy sauce, ginger, red pepper, fish sauce, sugar, lime and cilantro, oh MY!), and my love (though admittedly I know not much about it) of Vietnamese food.

I finally made it one night at A-Mac's place, which was only fitting since she was the one to give me the oft-neglected cookbook. And it was DE-licious. Everything I had hoped for. Except for one small thing. Which is hard for me to admit, being a food blogger and all, who supposedly knows a bit about what she's doing. After cooking it WAY longer than the recipe dictates. The chicken. Near the bone. At the thickest part. Was not cooked through! I was so embarrassed. But then I realized it wasn't totally my fault. More on this later. Anyway, the sauce was so good--sticky, sweet and sour, with a little bit of heat and a great depth of flavor--that I vowed despite my humiliation, to make it again.

Months later, this past week, I finally got back to it. Seriously, what is wrong with me? How can a recipe that is SO good take me SO long to make and then even longer to try again? Am I some kind of self-hating home cook? Or was the shame of having served my poor friend raw chicken just too much revisit? Either way, I'm glad I got over it. Because this dish is here to stay.

I served this with some jasmine rice, roasted broccoli with a little lime zest, salt and pepper, and a salad of thinly sliced seedless cucumber, avocado, and black sesame seeds, tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, and a bit of rice vinegar. Easy on the eyes, tastebuds, and Her Majesty the Chef.

Here's the recipe, with my notes:

Two-Way Chicken, Courtesy of Mark Bittman

1 Chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into serving pieces, or 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts, trimmed of excess fat
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
Lime wedges for serving, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1/4 Cup sugar (optional if you want to stop at step 2)
2 tablespoons nam pla (fish sauce, also optional if you don't want to make the vietnamese version/are dumb)

1. Place the chicken in a large bowl with the soy sauce and half the garlic, ginger, and hot pepper flakes. Toss well to coat and either proceed or refrigerate for up to a day.

2. Put the oil in a large deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, when the oil is hot, remove the chicken from its marinade and add it, skin side down, to the skillet. Brown it well on both sides, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary, about 10 minutes. Then lower the heat and continue to cook, turning as necessary, until the chicken is cooked through , about 15 minutes longer, removing the pieces as they finish cooking.
NOTE: Unless you are using boneless chicken breast, your chicken will NOT be cooked through. I honestly don't understand how this is supposed to work, since cooking chicken in a pan like this is a slow process for getting it cooked all the way through, especially without overdoing the outside. So here's my suggestion, and pay attention Mark Bittman, either lower the heat quite a bit and cook for longer, covering the pan for a good chunk of that time to contain the heat, OR use smaller chicken pieces (this definitely helped me the second time around), OR use boneless pieces, which is a little boring, OR after browning the chicken, transfer it to a 350 degree oven until it's cooked through. This should save you the embarrassment of nearly killing off your friends. Thanks a LOT, Bitty. You can make it up to me by taking me to Spain with you.

3. At this point you can serve the chicken with the lime wedges if you like, hot, warm, or at room temperature, garnished with cilantro. Or proceed to the next step.
NOTE: Proceed. I'm sure the thai version is good, but why choose "good" over the "best" "you've ever tasted"? Live a little--you deserve more than just "good"!

4. Turn the heat to low and add the sugar and remaining garlic, ginger, and hot pepper flakes to the skillet, along with 2 Tablespoons water. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and the sauce thickens and becomes foamy (you'll know it when you see it), about 5 minutes. Add the nam pla and any juices that have accumulated around the chicken and cook for another minute, then return the chicken to the pan and cook, turning the pieces in the sauce a few times until they are nicely glazed and the chicken is hot. Remove it from the skillet, spoon the sauce over it, garnish with cilantro,
(and lime) and serve.

For dessert, because the dinner tasted like I had slaved over it, our friend Kurtzie ushered me out of the kitchen and in an uncharacteristically culinary move, prepared us the above: Pear Ginger Sorbet topped with pomegranate seeds, a touch of cinnamon, with bittersweet chocolate and clementine garnish. A Mouse Bouche has recruited another one!


The Mouse

*The joke of course being not that Mark Bittman and I are in a relationship, but that I made his TWO-way chicken TWO times and much like a love affair, my experience involved some shame, a fair amount of blame, strong feelings of love and desire, and the willingness to try again. Also the chicken itself is sweet and sour, like a tumultuous affair. An affair that I am NOT having with Mark Bittman. ahem.


Richard said...

Almost tempts me to abandon 25 years of vegetarianism. And, maybe, in a sly and gentle way, reminds me to gin up a little Hot and Sour in my ongoing love affair!!!

The Mouse said...

Oh by all means, yes! What is life without some hot and sour! And I should have mentioned that this dish would go really well with scallops or any kind of meaty white fish, or shrimp. Alternately if you're not into seafood, you could make it with tofu or some meaty mushrooms. I bet it would still be good :)

irs said...

we must try this in the heights.

M. said...

1 -- I would totally eat this!!! Without the cilantro though, which I think tastes exactly like soap. Maybe I will get ambitious after the move and actually cook something that isn't a broiled chicken breast.

2 -- The asterisk'd note is the best part.

luis18 said...

this was so delicious!

annie mac said...

i get so excited when chef mouse cooks for me, that honestly i wasn't even weirded about the chicken. i think i ate around it. or we kept cooking it. or both. i prolly drank the sauce, as is my wont. want. i wish you were on that show with bittman and mario. i really have turned a corner on goopy gwynnie. you nuture your own inner aspect. leave mine alone. hugs!