Sunday, February 13, 2011

Apricots and almonds

Braised chicken with Moroccan spices
"What in the world is this?!" is not what you want to hear from your doctor. Not when she's removing a pair of clenched forceps from your eye. But after eight hours of blinking madly in reflexive attempts to dislodge some foreign invader, "What in the world is this?!" is actually quite comforting. In fact, it was almost aqueous humour-ous.

Turns out I scratched my cornea. When the doctor sent me home Thursday with a handful of prescriptions and an eyeful of yellow dye, my first thought was, "I need cookies." My second thought was, "What about the chicken?" I'd planned to make this recipe to redeem myself from Monday's Moroccan mediocrity. But my peripheral vision was not up to navigating NYC grocery aisles, so it was time for a Top Chef-style challenge: I'd cook for Shabbat using only ingredients I found at Duane Reade.

Substitute onions for shallots--much prettier, and less effort
Alas, I had a mostly full pantry at home. At the pharmacy I grabbed a tub of apricots, a portion of cocktail almonds, and a pack of Snackwells along with my scripts. I swapped the apricots for the dates and a rainbow of onions from my pantry for the shallots. The onions were just as good as the shallots, but the apricots didn't melt into the sauce as lusciously as the dates. Next time I'd add a tablespoon of brown sugar. Such is substituting: You learn more about the flavors, textures, and functions of ingredients every time you tweak. If you're missing ingredients from a recipe, I  recommend Googling the ingredient and the word "substitute" to see what you find. If it's a minor ingredient (i.e. comes in tsp or tbsp measurements), you're probably all right. If it's major, like subbing boneless chicken for regular, do your research. Ask the Internet or a savvy friend how to compensate for the change.

Despite my half-blindness, I got dinner (and dessert--more on that later) on the table Friday night. After an evening swapping plates of chicken and corny-a puns, I woke up the next morning convinced that, like my cooking, everything would turn out allreyeght.

Braised Chicken with Moroccan Spices 
(adapted from Bon Appetit)
Dessert preview. Stay tuned

1 full chicken, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 large onions, any kind, quartered
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric or curry powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
5 tbsp lemon juice, divided
12 dates, pitted, halved, or 16 apricots plus 1 tbsp sugar or honey
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Browned chicken: hey good lookin'
  • Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and flour
  • Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add half of chicken pieces to pot and cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes.
  • Transfer chicken to baking sheet or plate; repeat with remaining chicken. (Instead of doing this, I browned the second batch of chicken at the same time in a frying pan)
  • Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot and discard.
  • Reduce heat to medium. Add onions to pot; sauté until golden, about 6 minutes.
  • Add cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric/curry, and cayenne. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  • Increase heat to high; add broth, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and chicken pieces. 
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until juices run clear when thickest part of drumstick is pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. 
  • Remove chicken from pot. Bring sauce to a boil to thicken.
  • Stir in dates or apricots and sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Put chicken back in pot. Simmer covered on low until ready to serve (or turn off heat, and reheat before serving).
  • Sprinkle with almonds and cilantro and serve. 
    Notes for the naked: 
    • If you're using salted almonds, don't salt the chicken before you brown it
    • Braising is a pretty flexible cooking method because it's hard to dry meat out when it's soaked in liquid, so I cut out a lot of steps from the original recipe. If you're going to leave this on the stove for a while, make sure there's enough liquid in the pot, redistribute the chicken pieces every 10-15 minutes so the top ones don't get too dry, and keep the pot covered so the steam stays in and the chicken stays moist.
    • I was out of stock, but my package of chicken included the neck so I made a quick batch of my own. (Using store-bought chicken or veggie stock is, of course, easier.) Here's how you can do the same with a piece of chicken: Brown the chicken with the rest of the pieces. Throw it into a pot with a little more oil, a chopped carrot, some celery tops (I used the leaves), and a few pieces of onion. Cook for a few minutes until veggies are softened. Add about 3 cups of water and, if you have it, some sprigs of herbs. (I wouldn't use crushed dried herbs because I'm too lazy to strain the broth out.) Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Using a fork to keep the solids in the pot, pour the broth into the chicken as directed above.


    1. haha i like the "aqueous humor" reference. made me feel like i was studying for the test i have tomorrow and not using your culinary site as a pleasant distraction.

    2. I looked up a medical diagram to inspire another eye pun in response, and I think I'm in love with optometry. "Zinn's Zonule"?! We must trade topics.