Friday, June 4, 2010

Lemon Chicken Kebabs

These kebabs pair nicely with a rice pilaf and some quickly braised greens. Remember that metal skewers stay hot for quite a while, so be sure to use oven mitts to handle them.

(serves two adults and two children)

The Kebabs
1½ lb boneless chicken thighs
2 lemons
8 cloves garlic
3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sweet onions (such as Vidalias), peeled and cut into eighths
2 red (or yellow) bell peppers, seeded and cut into chunks

The Sauce
2 c plain yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
kosher salt, to taste

1. Trim any excess fat from the thighs and cut them into golf ball–sized chunks.

2. Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters. Place them with the peeled and trimmed garlic in a covered microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high until the lemons soften, about 10–15 minutes. Let cool.

3. Strain the juice into the jar of a blender. Transfer the garlic to the blender. Then, using a sharp paring knife, scrape the pulp and as much white pith as possible off the yellow lemon peel. Add the scraped peel to the blender along with the olive oil, brown sugar, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper. Puree to make a soft paste.

4. Setting aside two tablespoons of the paste (for the sauce), scrape the rest of the marinade into a large, resealable plastic storage bag. Add the chicken pieces and massage until all are coated well. Refrigerator for at least one hour (but not overnight).

5. Meanwhile, start the grill and prep the onions and bell peppers (see tip below). When the chicken has marinated sufficiently, remove from the bag and thread onto metal skewers, alternating chicken pieces with vegetable pieces.

6. Make the sauce by adding the yogurt, diced cucumber, chopped cilantro, and salt to the reserved marinade.

7. Grill the kebabs, turning every 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with the sauce on the side.

• You can use chicken breasts, but dark meat grills better because it doesn’t dry out.

* When prepping onions for the grill, it’s useful to cut them through the root end. Keeping just a little bit of the root with each piece. Doing so helps the onion hold together as you skewer it.

• To give the onions and bell peppers a little more flavor, I sometimes roll them in the plastic bag from which I’ve removed the chicken so that they can pick up a little marinade.

• If you use a cucumber from your garden or a local farm stand, there’s no need to peel it. Cucumbers from supermarkets, however, are generally waxed and need to be peeled.

Tandoori Chicken on the Grill

To make authentic tandoori chicken, you need a tandoor (an Indian clay oven). But this is a pretty fair substitute. The marinade is so easy that you can make it on a weekday morning, add the chicken before you leave for work, and grill it when you get home.

(serves two adults and two children)

The Marinade
6 oz plain yogurt
juice of a lime
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
red food coloring (optional)

The Chicken
4 boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

The Garnishes
1 sweet onion (such as a Vidalia), peeled and sliced into rings
1-2 fresh jalapenos, trimmed and sliced into rings
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a mini–food processor or blender and process until smooth. Scrape into a glass or Pyrex dish large enough to hold the chicken breasts. (I use a loaf pan.) Make a few slits in the chicken breasts to encourage the marinade to penetrate. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4–12 hours.

2. When you’re ready to eat, start the grill, melt the butter, and prep the garnishes

3. Cook the chicken over high heat, flipping the breasts after 5 minutes. (The meat should look slightly charred.) Cook for another three minutes, then begin basting with the melted butter. Remove the breasts when they are cooked through.

4. Meanwhile, combine the garnishes on one half of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Fold the foil and crimp it to make a pouch. After turning the chicken for the first time, place the foil pouch on the warming shelf (if you have a gas grill) or in a cooler spot (if you have a charcoal grill). You want to wilt the garnishes, not cook them.

5. Transfer the cooked breasts to a platter, top with the wilted garnishes, and tent with the foil from the pouch. Allow the chicken to rests and the flavors to meld for 5-10 minutes before serving.

• I don't bother peeling the ginger, because the mini–food processor pulverizes the skin easily and the marinade is eventually discarded.

• Buy dark green limes because they have more flavor than light green ones.

Grilled Leg of Lamb with Cinnamon-Cardamom Pilaf

(serves eight)

Because you begin marinating the lamb the night before, this recipe makes an easy weeknight meal. But given the high cost of lamb, I usually reserve it for dinner parties. The ease of preparation is still an important benefit, though, because it allows me to spend more time with my guests. The pilaf—which tastes great with the lamb, picking up its Indian flavors—is another easy, make-ahead recipe.

The Lamb
small butterflied leg of lamb, about 3 pounds

The Marinade
⅓ c canola oil
juice of two limes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed
2 large shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

The Pilaf
1 medium onion
4 Tbs olive oil
2 c long-grain white rice
6-inch cinnamon stick, broken into about 6 pieces
10 whole cardamom pods
4 c chicken broth
1 tsp kosher salt

1. The night before, prep the lamb by trimming it of excess fat, connective tissue, and silverskin. Also, if any thick lobes remain, slice them as described in the tip below to create a more even thickness throughout. (Don’t worry if you end with three or four disconnected chunks of meat.) Finally, score the meat with shallow, parallel cuts about an inch apart. (These allow the marinade to penetrate.)

2. Combine the marinade ingredients in the jar of a blender and puree until smooth.

3. Place the lamb in a large glass or Pyrex dish. Rub the marinade into the meat, cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, as dinnertime approaches, begin the pilaf by chopping the onions and sweating them in the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-low heat. When the onion has softened but not yet begun to brown (about 5 minutes), add the rice, cinnamon, and cardamom. Cook, stirring often, for about a minute.

5. Add the chicken stock and salt. Turn up the heat to high and bring the stock to a boil. Let the stock reduce, uncovered, until it just covers the rice, about 5 minutes.

6. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot tightly, and simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let the pilaf rest for at least another 5 minutes without disturbing the lid. Fluff the rice4 before serving.

7. Meanwhile, prepare your grill. Sear both sides of the lamb for 2-3 minutes each on the grill’s hottest section. Then move the meat to a cooler section and let it cook until done to your taste (see tip below). You can use whatever marinade is left in the glass dish to baste the meat, if you like, but it’s not necessary.

8. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

• The process of butterflying removes the bone from the leg, producing a misshapen cut with many different thicknesses. Note, in particular, the large, thick lobes. The nice thing about the variation in thicknesses is that you end up with a good mix of rare and medium portions. But the variation can often be a little too great, with the thinner parts drying out before the thick lobes are done. To ameliorate this problem, I slice the lobes horizontally and open them up like a book, thereby reducing their thickness by half.

• I monitor doneness with an instant-read thermometer. A reading of 125 degrees Fahrenheit is quite rare. I aim for 135 degrees, which is pinkish rather than red.

• If you don't want to grill the lamb (or you want to make it during wintertime), broil the meat for about 10 minutes per side, basting with the marinade to keep it moist. Then roast it in a 375-degree oven until done to your taste, perhaps another 20 minutes.