Friday, February 5, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road? Would you believe he was in a curry?

The chicken is a versatile, humble creature, able to be both the best and the worst of culinaria. Let's skip the worst, and just admit: There is something about a roast chicken that not only welcomes you home but pulls up a chair and says 'Bon Appetit.' It is unremarkable on the highway to divine.

There are many ways to roast a chicken. I happen to like Mark Bittman's quick method most: put a metal roasting pan in the oven, turn it to 450 degrees. When the oven is hot, put the chicken in the pan. This sears it and cuts the roasting time, though I have never met his record of 45 minutes. I also like the versions (Ina Garten has one) that stuff it fuller than a skinny man at a hot dog eating contest with garlic.

These are Sunday, lazy afternoon roast chickens, that slowly fill the house with smells of comfort and joy, that, when pricked, ooze pure gold juices to mix with heavy cream into a heavenly gravy. But I often do not have time for these roast chickens, however much I might idolize them. That is why, for me, the advent of rotisserie ovens in many local groceries is up there with the great events of the 21st century. (The 20th century, I am pretty sure, was the ATM card.)

There they are, right when you walk in the store, with their rich, lazy Sunday afternoon attitudes, even on a Tuesday at 7 p.m. when you haven't an idea about dinner. Their smell assails you as you enter the supermarket, changing dinner from a scary prospect to a delightful one in a whiff. I have been known to drive 15 miles out of my way for a rotisserie chicken. Once, when I got there and none were left, I was so bereft that the frightened manager gave me 'I owe you's' for three chickens.

But what really rocks about a rotisserie chicken is the day after. Because you have all this plump, moist chicken waiting patiently for something special to happen to it. You can chop it, grind it, puree it, sautee it, stir fry it -- it cares not. It's date night for this chicken, and it's ready to go. Especially somewhere exotic, somewhere it can put on rouge and a silk scarf. That, you'll agree, means curry.

Now, there are even more recipes for curry than there are for roast chicken, and like the chicken, I have tried my fair share. But what really puts the ease in easy for me has two ingredients. Making this a three ingredient dinner. See, I told you it could be simple.

Three Ingredient Chicken Curry

1 1/2 cups coconut milk (You can use lite, if you are concerned about fat, or even coconut milk beverage, which is deceivingly creamy -- So Delicious makes one that posts only 50 calories a cup.)
1/4 cup curry paste (Patak's Mild Curry Paste is a good choice, I have another I like as well, or better, it's more subtle, but harder to come by.)
Diced rotisserie chicken, about 4 cups

Heat the coconut milk, add the curry paste and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and add the chicken. Let simmer 20 minutes or so more to really saturate the chicken. Or eat it immediately.
I crumbled some curry leaves in it last time which I had in the freezer from the Indian shop in Chantilly. Or you can use chopped fresh cilantro. That totally makes it necessary to change the name.

I think it's worth it if you do.

PS -- To kick this up a notch 'real food' wise, I like to get the chicken from one of two shops in our town that roast organic chickens (Home Farm, and Market Salamander, both on Main Street in Middleburg, Virginia, see links), rubbed with spices or just sea salt. Because I really do think that organic can make a difference in how healthy the chicken is. With real food, what it's been fed is a barometer of how well it, in turn, can feed you. (It's also important where it lived, for chickens that rove around are tastier than caged birds. No one I've read can explain this well. Most agree that they just taste more chicken-y. They are right. Try it.) And the other bonus is, I have an organic carcass for making broth. (More, much more on making broth later.)

I served this with a sweet potato puree, (boil two sweet potatos, a cup of baby carrots until tender. Drain, reserving small amount of liquid. Process until smooth, using either reserved liquid or cider, season with salt and pepper) which was a good counterpoint. But the spinach, now that was a joy, kicked out of being comfortable by studs of coriander.

Sauteed Spinach with Coriander

1 T olive oil
1 T coriander seeds (hint: buying spices in bulk in the Hispanic section of our supermarket makes them completely cheap -- you get a whole boatload for just a couple of bucks.)
1 t coarse sea salt
3 T slivered and peeled garlic
1 clamshell fresh baby spinach

Heat oil, add salt and coriander seeds. Add the garlic and turn until just browning. Add spinach and cover, letting it wilt. Off the heat and stir together.

I have found that roasting salt like this with spices heightens and emulsifies it, so it coats the food with a subtle picante, as a jewel tone scarf intensifies ocean blue eyes.


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