Thursday, March 15, 2012

Braised Moroccan Chicken

low fat chicken breast recipe
The yellow is the turmeric, not just my camera.

I've been really enjoying Daring Bakers. I don't remember quite what made me join Daring Cooks, but it was probably precisely that--I'm enjoying Daring Bakers. The thing is, I dare to bake normally. I like baking. I'm really not a very courageous cook.
There are a handful of dishes that I do well. I like soups and sauces. I don't usually murder vegetables (but I cook them all precisely the same way). If I'm on my own, I'll do the most basic one-pan meals that I can, like poaching an egg and some asparagus in the same water and then eating a poached egg over asparagus. I'll sometimes branch out courageously into cooking new things, but those things are things like Beef Wellington or Tourtière. They are things with pastry. Things that are just baking in disguise as dinner. So I don't know why I thought joining Daring Cooks would be a fun idea for me. Maybe I thought it would be good for my growth.

Secondly, I'm a crap photographer. My general method is to take gajillions of photos and hope that some of them come out sort of okay. A lot of baked goods are just naturally beautiful and appetizing, but . . . stew? In my house, that's a bowl of tasty brown-ness. Yummy brown on rice. I haven't a hint of a clue how to make that look delicious without inventing smell-o-vision-net. I mean, look at these chicken photos. These were the best of dozens.

So, joining Daring Cooks was maybe a bad idea from the start, and then I TOTALLY DROPPED THE BALL on this first challenge. Mostly, I thought I just wouldn't do it this month and instead hoped that next month's challenge would involve pastry or soufflé. I'd braised things in the past (some really swell short ribs, actually, and I'd do it again if I had a bigger dish), but going out of my way to braise things when I'm trying to limit my food-spending just made me feel a bit timid. And then today, in a fit of crazy, I decided to just go ahead with whatever meat I had in my house. Which was skinless chicken breasts. That's funny, because a few weeks ago I planned out a blog post in my head all about how skinless chicken breasts were my most hated cut of meat because of their bland uselessness, but I'd ended up buying them at the grocery store because of a wild sale. And here I was again with a bunch of sale chicken breasts sitting in the fridge. 

delicious bacon

Along with all the other problems-of-deliciousness inherent in cooking with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, they are a very poor braising meat. Braising is a method generally used with tough/fatty/cheap cuts of meat to break down collagen and make the meat tender through slow cooking. Careful, short braising can be okay with whole, darker chicken cuts, but skinless breasts are likely to just get tough. Mine certainly did.

That all being said, I picked out this recipe from Bon Appétit because the flavours looked interesting. And they are. It's a good recipe, just not for skinless chicken breasts. The spices are interesting together, and the addition of the dates and the lemon are really lovely. I had home made chicken stock waiting to be used. I also had, coincidentally, real Sri Lankan cinnamon sticks in my cupboard which taste completely different from the Chinese cinnamon sticks that are commonly sold around here. The sauce was delicious and I'd definitely make it again, just not with skinless chicken breasts. In the future, I think I'd alter it to be put into the oven after the initial sear and either make it with other cuts of chicken, or with lamb or beef.

Dates are nice, even though they look like cockroaches.
Delicious cockroaches.

Braised Moroccan Chicken Recipe

You'll need:
  • about 3.5 lbs chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
  • salt and pepper to season the chicken (the original recipe calls for flour, but I'd do without or swap in cornstarch)
  • 1 glug of olive oil for the pot
  • about 8 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • about 3 cups home made chicken stock
  • 5ish tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 10ish (I used Medjool) dates, pitted and halved
  • cashews and fresh cilantro for garnishing (the original recipe calls for poison almonds)

Heat the oil on medium-high in a large large pot and sear your seasoned chicken bits until nicely browned on all sides. Don't crowd the meat in the pot--you may have to brown it in batches. Set chicken aside on a dish and pour off some of the fat if there looks to be too much (there clearly wasn't too much with my stupid skinless chicken breasts). Turn the heat down to medium and toss in the peeled, whole shallots to sauté until golden. Add the cinnamon, ginger, cumin and turmeric and stir until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and about half of the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer, covering for 10 minutes until the shallots have begun to soften. Add the chicken, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes until cooked through. Remove chicken and shallots to a dish, and cover with foil. Boil the left over liquid vigorously until it thickens a bit then turn down the heat and add the dates, simmering until warmed through. Pour the sauce and dates over the chicken, garnish with nuts and cilantro.

I had broccoli in the fridge that needed to be eaten, but this would be lovely on rice, couscous or what have you.

moroccan braised chicken recipe
How do you style non-desserts for photos? Beats me.

This March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”. 

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