Monday, March 26, 2007

Heavenly chicken, two ways

I have a very special soft spot in my heart for one-pot meals. Instead of the usual two or three rounds of dishes required to spare the 3 square feet of counter space in our apartment (which is not small, really, we just have a strange kitchen), I can get away with one cutting board, a few knives, several bowls and/or ramekins and my beloved Creuset. One-pots are often heavy in preparation, which is fine by me since I can happily while away a couple of hours chopping, dicing, and slivering, and they tend to cook for the better part of an afternoon. One of my all-time favorites involves one entire day of mincing, dicing and slivering just to marinate chicken overnight, then you do the whole thing all over again to cook it the following day. That one has its merits, and bragging rights, but it's far from a frequent occurrence. For me, a good one-pot has got to be one hell of a dish if you're relying on it to suffice an entire meal. An excellent one-pot is dynamic and layered, exciting surprise from your guests that so many things can happen from ingredients that were all cooked in the same space. These are hard to come by.

During our last year in New York, I worked at the cafe across the street from our apartment, which was usually not very busy and always full of half-mangled copies of the Daily News and the New York Post, quite possibly the two worst newspapers on earth. But since they were there, I read them, and one hot summer day I came upon a recipe for Moroccan chicken. I think this was the 15 minutes that those pots with the funny anteater nose tops were popular, but it looked interesting and involved no more than one pot, so I figured it was worth a try. The first time around, I followed the recipe and it was lovely - rich and savory with a hint of fruit and the zing of red pepper, and the chicken just fell off the bone. I was surprised and elevated, this dish had much more going on than I expected yet remained straightforward and the robust flavors were unmistakable.

Flash forward two years and I come across this recipe that I had completely forgotten all about. It's cold and rainy and supposed to be spring, and I've got a Friday afternoon on my hands, what more could I ask for? This time we were short a few ingredients so I substituted; dried cranberries for dried apricots, allspice and a pinch of caraway for coriander, and I threw in a chopped sweet potato for good measure. This dish has now zoomed right up to my top ten list, it was absolutely freakin' fabulous. The addition of different spices, I suspect the allspice over the caraway, took the dish to a totally different place. Now it was remarkable that for being cooked altogether. The sweet potatoes retained their full flavor and added a nice thick consistency to the broth, and the chicken was rife with flavors reminiscent of my favorite South African hot-pots in Brooklyn. The first night we snarfed it as stew with some buttered sourdough and that was it.

Leftovers and my lower intestines commanded something green, so the rest was served over a warm bed of sauteed green chard with a little rock salt and garlic. Yu-um!

1 comment:

Zachary said...

right on. all our standard meals are one-pot dishes now. jean does a mean pasta fagiole. damn, but this makes me realize I went all winter without making chile once. very good to find this blog. you're a great food writer!