Friday, February 26, 2010

Chopped Liver

When making chopped liver, you have a choice. If you’re looking for a finely grained paté, you should use a food processor to purée the ingredients. But if you prefer (as I do) the traditional method that my grandmother used, then you’ll want to chop the liver by hand. The result is a nicely rustic spread.

3 eggs
1 large onion
1 small onion
1 lb chicken livers
olive oil
kosher salt

1. Hard-boil the eggs (see tip below).

2. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Chop the large onion finely and sauté it in the oil until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Meanwhile, chop the small onion finely and set aside.

3. Rinse and pat-dry the chicken livers. Using the same skillet (and adding a little more oil, if necessary), sauté the livers over medium heat until firm but still a touch pink in the center, about 4 minutes. (Overcooking the livers makes them tough.) Set aside.

4. Once the livers have cooled, chop them coarsely on a large cutting board. Add the hard-boiled eggs and continue chopping. Add the cooked onion and continue chopping, mixing the ingredients together as you go. Add some of the raw onion and continue chopping. Season with salt and taste. To adjust the flavor, add more raw onion or salt. To adjust the texture, add more olive oil. Continue chopping and mixing until the spread reaches a consistency that you like.

• Here is a foolproof way to hard-boil eggs: place them in a single layer in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the eggs cook an additional 15 minutes. Then rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process.

• In the old country (by which I mean the Bronx), chopped liver was made not with olive oil but with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Should you be roasting a chicken any time soon, save and refrigerate the fat that collects in the bottom of the roasting pan and use it instead of the olive oil.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Biscotti Rustica

What I like best about these biscotti is their sophisticated taste. Imagine a lightly, nutty, crunchy fruitcake.

(makes 36 biscotti)

1-2 oz crystallized ginger
1 c mixed dried fruit (such as currants and golden raisins)
grated zest of one lemon
2 Tbs brandy
¾ c slivered almonds
3½ c flour
¼ c cornmeal
2 c sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
turbinado sugar (see tip below)

1. Chop the crystallized ginger into pea-sized pieces. Combine in a small bowl with the dried fruit, lemon zest, and brandy. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the almonds.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla extract, reserving an egg white for the glaze.

3. With the mixer on low, pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just enough to combine. Avoid the temptation to continue mixing even though the dough seems crumbly. Add the macerated fruit and toasted almonds. Continue mixing until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat the over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

5. On a lightly floured countertop, shape the rested dough into four equal logs about eight inches long and two inches in diameter. (If the dough is sticky, you can dust it with a little flour, but try to use as little flour as possible.) Flatten each log slightly so that its cross-section is an oval rather than a circle. Place two of the logs on each of the baking sheets.

6. Beat the reserved egg white with a fork. Brush the top of each log with enough beaten white to make it sticky, then sprinkle each with turbinado sugar.

7. Bake the logs until golden brown on the outside and firm in the center, about 30 minutes. (Rotate the sheets every 10-15 minutes to ensure even baking.) Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Once the logs have cooled, gently slice them crosswise to create biscotti about ¾-inch thick. Return the biscotti to the baking sheets cut-side down and bake for another 20-25 minutes, flipping them and rotating the sheets about halfway through. The biscotti are done when they have turned a rich golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the sheets before storing in an airtight container.

• Turbinado sugar, also known as “sugar in the raw,” has large crystals that adhere nicely to the tops of the biscotti. They add a nice sweet crunch, in the same way that large sea salt crystals enhance focaccia.

• These biscotti cut easier if you use a serrated knife.

Chocolate Biscotti

I suspect that, like tomatoes grown to be shipped, commercial biscotti are baked for travel rather than for taste. Even so, the ones I’ve tried have been so brick-hard they could probably scratch glass. They’re also expensive, which is another reason to make them yourself. Depending on your mood, you can bake either these chocolate biscotti or my gingery biscotti rustica (recipe posted separately).

(makes 24 biscotti)

2 large eggs at room temperature
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted but not hot
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ c flour
¾ c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ c cocoa powder
1 Tbs instant espresso powder
¾ c semisweet chocolate chips
¾ c pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

2. Using a fork, beat together the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine at a low speed the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. With the paddle still turning, add the chocolate chips and pine nuts (if using), then drizzle in the egg mixture. Continue mixing until a dough ball forms.

4. On a lightly floured countertop, shape the dough into two eight-inch logs. Flatten each slightly so that its cross-section is an oval rather than a circle.

5. Place the logs on the baking sheet and bake until firm, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Once the logs have cooled, gently slice them crosswise to create biscotti about ¾-inch thick. Return the biscotti to the baking sheet cut-side down and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake until done, another 5-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

• The eggs should be at room temperature so that they don’t cause the melted butter to congeal. (A quick way to warm eggs is to place them in a bowl of warm water.) Similarly, the melted butter should be cool so that it doesn’t cook the eggs.

• If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients, then form a well in the center of the mixing bowl. Pour in the egg mixture and use your fingers to knead the dough as you would when making fresh pasta. Form the logs and continue as above.

• Handle the once-cooked biscotti logs delicately while slicing them because the dough will still be crumbly.

• Experiment with different nuts. Pecans also work well, but I recommend toasting them first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pork Scaloppine with Lemons

Scaloppine are pieces of meat that have been pounded very thin. You’re probably familiar with veal scaloppine, which are used to make dishes like veal marsala and veal parmesan. Veal scaloppine can be hard to find, however, and they’re usually pricey. That’s why this dish calls for pork scaloppine, which you can make yourself.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
2 large lemons
¼ c flour
3 Tbs canola oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs unsalted butter
6 Tbs sweet vermouth
½ c chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

2. Cut the tenderloin across its width into six approximately equal pieces. Cover a cutting board with a sheet of wax paper. Working with one piece at a time, place the pork cut-side up on the wax paper and cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Using a wooden mallet or the bottom of a small heavy pan, pound the pork until it forms a quarter-inch-thick scaloppine. Repeat with the remaining pork.

3. Trim the ends off both lemons, revealing the pulp. Cut one of the lemons into eight thin slices. Cut four similarly thin slices from the second lemon. Squeeze the rest of the second lemon, producing 2-3 tablespoons of juice.

4. Measure the flour into a pie plate or shallow bowl.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, salt and pepper three of the scaloppine and dredge them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Sauté the scaloppine in the oil until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking sheet, which should now be place in the preheated over. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining scaloppine.

6. Pour off any excess fat from the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the skillet. Once it has stopped foaming, add the lemon slices and cook them until well browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn the slices. Add 2 tablespoons of the vermouth and cook until the vermouth boils down to a glaze, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the caramelized lemon slices to the oven, placing two on top of each scaloppine.

7. Return the heat to medium-high and use the remaining quarter-cup of vermouth to deglaze the pan (see tip below). Add the reserved lemon juice and the chicken broth, bringing the sauce to a boil. Cook until it reduces to a quarter-cup, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and serve over the scaloppine.

• The purpose of deglazing the pan is to incorporate into the sauce all of the flavorful bits stuck to the bottom. When deglazing, you should scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to help the solvent (in this case, the alcohol in the vermouth) do its job.

• Eat the lemon slices, peel and all. Caramelizing them takes the edge off their sourness.

• This dish can easily be fancied up with some fresh sage leaves and a few slices of prosciutto. After you’ve salted and peppered the scaloppine, top each with two sage leaves. Then cover each with a slice of prosciutto, tucking any excess underneath. (The prosciutto will stick to the pork, sealing in the sage leaves.) Finally, dredge all in the flour and proceed as above.

• You can also make this dish with chicken. Simply cut a boneless breast crosswise into three or four pieces and pound them as above.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing

Last night, as I watched the telecast of a gala White House concert on PBS, my disappointment with Barack Obama and the party that he leads—my party, I’m embarrassed to say—really hit home. Not that I’ve been expecting much from this administration. I voted for President Obama in the primaries because I perceived an arrogance in Hillary Clinton that I considered dangerous. I voted for Obama again in the general election because I perceived a lack of integrity in the Republican party that I considered even more dangerous. Nevertheless, I must admit that on election night, I cried.

The reason I cried is that I have deep feelings about the civil rights movement. I remember it from my childhood (I was six years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed), and I’ve studied it carefully ever since. In 2005, I published a history of the movement entitled The Coming Free.

As an author, I’m still drawn to the civil rights movement because it’s the best kind of history to write about. More than just teaching us the ways of the world, the stories of the civil rights movement inspire us with their idealism and emotionality. They encourage us to identify with people who acted courageously and pursued commendable ideals, even if they suffered painful consequences. Speaking for myself, I know that recalling and retelling the stories always makes me feel ennobled.

When Barack Obama appeared on stage in Grant Park last November to accept John McCain’s concession, I felt as though the half-brothers who had murdered Emmett Till, the driver who had kicked Rosa Parks off the Cleveland Avenue bus, the Klansmen who had beaten the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, and the firemen who had turned their high-pressure water hoses on schoolchildren in Birmingham had finally been exorcised from the collective unconscious. And so I cried.

Which brings me to this week’s White House concert of “Songs from the Civil Rights Movement.” As you might expect, I tuned in with great eagerness. But I could tell from the president’s pedestrian opening remarks that neither he nor anyone else in the audience felt much of an emotional connection to the history of the movement.

What followed was, to my mind, a sadly inappropriate revue. The evening opened with gospel singer Yolanda Adams offering a virtuosic rendition of  Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” followed by Smokey Robinson and Jennifer Hudson singing Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” I love both these songs, and I’m always happy to hear them performed well. But they are pop songs, not  movement songs. No one sang these songs in churches or at rallies—in fact, no one sang them at all, unless you count singing along with the radio.

It wasn’t until John Mellencamp, of all people, sang “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” that I finally heard a movement song; and it wasn’t until Joan Baez launched into “We Shall Overcome” that a few people in the audience began joining in, if only by mouthing the words quietly. Didn’t anyone recall that joining in and singing along was the point and purpose of movement songs? Raising one’s voice not only showed solidarity but also boosted morale and released emotions through the catharsis of physical exhortation. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, try listening to Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, the recording of his June 1963 Carnegie Hall concert, and you’ll hear what I mean.

The highlight of the White House concert for me came when Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the original SNCC Freedom Singers, interrupted her performance of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” to admonish the audience, “I know this is a show, but you have to actually sing this song. You can never tell when you might need it.”

What a shame that the president had to be told this. What a shame that the history of the civil rights movement rests so lightly, like dandruff, on the shoulders of those in power. I often wonder, despite my cynicism, how the Washington elite can be so oblivious to the struggles of the people whom they ostensibly serve. Surely, after spending their days seeking partisan advantage, they can spare some time for the people’s most pressing business? Surely, after fattening themselves at the public trough, they can show a degree of shame and some measure of respect and compassion for those less privileged than themselves? Unfortunately, the truth is that the people in power have trained themselves to ignore such feelings, even as the weight of history presses down upon them.

Here was Joan Baez—no longer the beautiful folk princess of 1963, now grey and a little hoarse—reprising her performance at the March on Washington, singing “We are not afray-ay-aid/We are not afray-ay-aid/We are not afraid today-ay-ay-ay-ay.” I could see in her eyes that she was fighting back the tears. Not being on stage, I didn’t have to. But the audience of Washington dignitaries seemed not to notice. They just sat there placidly in the East Room of the White House, greeting the end of the song with smiles and polite applause. Didn’t they realize what was happening?

I’m sure they all consider the civil rights movement a highly laudable period in American history, but I don’t think they understand that its recollection presents a rare opportunity for humility. It isn’t every day that one gets the chance to feel genuine empathy with people who felt the lash of injustice, nor awe at the heroics of those who righted the wrongs. Such opportunities should be seized, because they are the wellspring of the emotions that inspire us to lead better lives. All else is temporizing or the pursuit of personal advantage, which is why—after a year of emotionless talk from the White House and Congress—there is still no health care reform and prisoners are still being held without trial at Guantánamo Bay.

I couldn’t help but feel that this concert, intended to celebrate the civil rights movement, cheapened its memory because its organizers and especially its audience failed to connect with what remains vital about the movement: the example that it set of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary change.

Is it still possible to believe that the party of this milquetoast president can make a similar difference in the world? I think not, and I can no longer suspend my disbelief.

You can watch excerpts from the concert yourself on YouTube. Joan Baez’s performance can be found here,  and Bernice Johnson Reagon’s performance here.

Super Bowl Ragu

My mother began hosting Super Bowl parties when I was in high school so that my stepfather could watch the game with a big crowd. The guests were mostly my friends, though, because my parents’ friends don’t like football. Typically, my mom made spaghetti with meatballs—a dish that I’ve always found a little bland. When I took over the tradition about a dozen years ago, I changed the menu. This is one of my favorite recipes to make for a house full of people when I want to spend time with my guests and not in the kitchen.

(serves twelve)

6 oz pancetta
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
¼ c olive oil
3 lb ground meat (beef, pork, or sausage removed from its casing)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 c dry white wine
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 12-oz can tomato paste

1. Finely dice the pancetta. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame. Sauté the pancetta and onion, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

3. Adding the remaining olive oil, increase the flame under the pan to medium-high, and add half of the ground meat, seasoning it with salt and pepper. As the meat cooks, turn it with a spatula so that it browns well on all sides. Don’t crumble it, however. Merely break it up into pieces about an inch long (about the size of a large gumball). When done, remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more olive oil if necessary.

4. Return the pancetta-onion mixture and the previously browned meat to the pan. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up and dissolve any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and half a cup of water. Stir to combine.

5. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the sauce for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. As the liquid in the sauce evaporates, add more water, half a cup at a time. Serve with penne.

• If you’ve never cooked with pancetta, this is a good time to start. Pancetta is an Italian form of bacon that you can buy from any decent butcher. I store large chunks of it in my freezer, but you can also buy it sliced. Because it’s so fatty, pancetta cuts easily, even when frozen. In fact, pancetta is much easier to dice when it is frozen, so don’t defrost it first.

• Don’t forget to put the pasta water on early. I cook three pounds of penne, so I use a big pot and a lot of water, which can take up to an hour to boil.

Grandma's Fruit-Nut Bread

When my grandmother died twenty years ago, my mother saved her recipe box. This was one of the recipes I was happiest to find inside. It’s a quick bread that Grandma made with dates and apricots. Like most quick breads, it benefits from sitting around, so a loaf made on Sunday tastes great all week. Try it as an afterschool snack for the kids, maybe with a little cream cheese.

6 pitted dates (about 3 oz)
12 dried apricots (about 3 oz)
1 tsp baking soda
1 c walnuts
1¾ c flour
¾ c sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Butter and lightly flour a loaf pan.

3. Chop the dates and apricots into pea-sized pieces. Place in a small bowl. Coat with the baking soda. Add 1 cup boiling water. Stir to separate, then let hydrate while you prepare the dry ingredients.

4. Chop the walnuts. Combine in a mixing bowl with the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Beat the egg with a fork and add it to the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract.

5. Add the fruit-and-water mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

6. Bake until done, testing as you go, about 45 minutes. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.

• You can use any dried fruit or nuts for this recipe. I usually keep the dates and walnuts, but I've successfully substituted dried cherries and dried cranberries for the apricots.

• I test for doneness using a knife. I insert the blade into the center of the loaf, and if it comes out clean (no gooey batter attached), then I know the bread is done.

Monday, February 8, 2010


If you’ve got only one waffle iron, buy another. Although this recipe allows you to stockpile waffles in the oven, you really need to have two irons going at the same time if you want to feed a family.

(makes about 10 waffles)

1½ c flour
½ c cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1½ c milk
½ c plain yogurt
¼ c canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the waffle irons. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, yogurt, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix gently with a spatula until all the dry ingredients have been moistened and no pockets of flour remain. Do not overmix.

5. Bake the batter in waffle irons. When the waffles are done, transfer them to the preheated oven and let them crisp, unstacked, for a few minutes before serving.

• Most waffle recipes (as most pancake recipes) call for buttermilk, but I don’t generally keep buttermilk around, and I’m not going out for some early on a Sunday morning. That’s why this recipe uses yogurt, which I do keep on hand. If you want to use buttermilk, the proper amounts are 1½ cups buttermilk and ½ cup milk.

• The use of cornstarch makes these waffles nicely crispy. If you don’t have enough, substitute flour.

• Don’t be afraid to add chopped nuts to your waffles. Both walnuts and pecans work well. You can add them to the batter, but my son prefers his waffles nutless. So what I do is put a ladleful of batter into the waffle iron, sprinkle some nuts on top, and cover the nuts with some more batter. This way, those who want nuts can have, and those who don’t need not.

Oatmeal Cookies

We hosted a skating party for our kids and some of their friends this weekend. About four-thirty, we realized that we’d forgotten about dessert. By five, these cookies were ready. They’re always a big hit—with grownups, too.

(makes 24-30 cookies)

1 c nuts (such as pecans or walnuts)
1 c dried fruit (such as raisins or sour cherries)
1½ c old-fashioned oats
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1 c flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
12 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1½ c dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

2. Toast the nuts. Let them cool, then chop coarsely. Chop the fruit coarsely.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the nuts and fruit with the oats and chocolate chips. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, add the egg and vanilla. Beat until fully combined, about another 30 seconds.

5. With the mixer still running, gradually add the flour mixture and then the oats mixture. Mix until just combined. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl, incorporating any leftover dry ingredients into the batter.

6. Pinch off a golf ball-sized piece of batter and roll it in the palms of your hands to form a tight ball. Flatten slightly and place on a baking sheet. Continue until there is no batter left.

7. Bake until the edge of the cookies have set but the centers are still soft, about 12-15 minutes. Let the cookies cool a little on the baking sheets before transferring them to a rack.

• If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer and large mixing bowl will do.

• Be careful not to overbake these cookies, which should be a little chewy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chicken with Cashew Nuts

No doubt because of the high price of cashews, most Chinese restaurants drown this dish in celery. The only fix I could find was to learn how to make it myself.

(serves two parents and two children)

The Chicken
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
1 egg white
1 Tbs cornstarch
kosher salt

The Sauce
3 Tbs hoisin sauce
3 Tbs rice wine (or dry sherry)

The Rest
3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper
3 scallions
6 oz cashews
3 Tbs peanut oil
2 tsp sesame oil

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and add the egg white, cornstarch, and a large pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly so that the chicken becomes well coated. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the hoisin sauce and rice wine. Set aside.

3. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic. Julienne the red pepper. Trim the scallions and cut into one-inch lengths (both white and green parts).

4. Heat a wok (or a heavy skillet) over a high flame. Dry-fry the cashews until toasted, about 1 minute. Stir often to avoid scorching. Remove and set aside.

5. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil to the wok. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and red pepper, stir-frying until the chicken is nearly cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6. Add the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok. Wait for the oil to heat, then drop the sauce into it. Stir. After the sauce has thickened a little (about 30 seconds), return the chicken and red pepper to the wok. Stir to combine.

7. Add the cashews, scallions, and sesame oil. Continue to cook until the scallions wilt slightly, about another minute. Serve over rice.

• In Chinese cooking, the technique of coating meat with cornstarch (usually as a prelude to stir-frying) is called velveting. I find that the easiest way to do this is to mix the ingredients with my fingers. It’s a gooey delight.

• When I first began making this dish, I simply added the sauce at the end. Then my friend Michael Chesloff, an expert on Chinese regional cooking, told me that the proper way to "build" the sauce was to use a method called gong bao, which I have since adopted. The term refers to the way the hoisin sauce “explodes” when added to the hot oil.

• If you like your food a little spicy, this dish benefits from the addition of a few dried red chile peppers. Add them before the garlic to flavor the oil. Remove after they blacken, about 1 minute.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thai Green Chicken Curry

The hardest thing about cooking Thai food at home is getting the right ingredients. Although I can usually find lemongrass at a local specialty store, there’s no grocery within an hour of my home that carries galangal (Asian ginger) or kaffir lime leaves. Fortunately, many supermarkets do carry Thai Kitchen green curry paste, a handy product that blends all of the hard-to-get ingredients together so you don’t have to. It even keeps well in the refrigerator.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
2 c snap peas
1 large red bell pepper
2 large shallots
1 bunch basil
1 Tbs peanut oil
3 Tbs green curry paste
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 Tbs brown sugar
juice of a lime
2 Tbs fish sauce

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces about an inch or so long.

2. Trim the peas, removing the strings (if necessary) and cutting the larger ones in half on the diagonal. Slice the red pepper into thin two-inch strips. Peel and slice the shallots thinly. Strip the basil leaves and slice into strips or tear into pieces.

3. In a wok (or a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan), heat the peanut oil over a medium-high flame until very hot. Add the curry pate and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

4. Remove the wok from the heat. Add the chicken, red pepper, shallots, coconut milk, brown sugar, and one cup of water. Stir to combine.

5. Return the wok to the heat. Bring the curry to a simmer, Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the chicken is done, about 8-10 minutes. After 4-5 minutes of simmering, add the peas.

6. When the chicken is done, stir in the basil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Let the curry rest off the heat for 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

• The only difference between green chicken curry and red chicken curry is the curry paste. Red curry paste is a little spicier, however, so you might want to use a little less.