Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring Chicken

Like so many good things, this dish was discovered as a result of throwing together whatever I had in the fridge into one pot and putting it into the oven. Since then, I've been cooking it on repeat.

It was a Sunday, I had two large leeks leftover from another meal sitting hopefully in the fridge. I had a pile of good sweet potatoes (yams) sitting in a bowl on my counter. I had a whole chicken waiting to be roasted. When everything came together and ended up on the table, we ate the first few perfect bites in total happy silence.

I can and have cooked chicken dozens of ways, but among my favorite preparations is putting the entire bird into a Dutch oven. You can make this recipe in a deep casserole dish or even in a roasting pan, but I can't guarantee the same success. There's just something that ceramic cast iron does to the bird: the meat stays tender, the skin gets perfectly browned, the flavors are somehow more pronounced. Yes, these pots are generally expensive. I have been lucky enough to have been gifted a few that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, but I also have a pot that I got years ago for $50 dollars at World Market and it's the one that I made this chicken in, and I continue to use this cheaper less sexy Dutch oven for countless other dishes. The point is, any cast iron pot will do. Even a plain lodge cast iron pot would be great. If you don't have one, this one time investment will last forever and will be a welcome addition to your kitchen.

This recipe can be modified endlessly. I like to use Japanese sweet potato alongside the beautiful orange variety. I like to throw in a shallot or two for a contrasting onion note. I would happily swap out sweet potatoes for carrots and parsnips, or plain good quality potatoes if I didn't have yams on hand. I sometimes use fresh rosemary, and sometimes I use fresh thyme. Sometimes I use both. I could get away with neither. You get the picture...

But in its best form, this dish is about leeks and sweet potatoes, leeks and sweet potatoes, and leeks and sweet potatoes. Cooked down with the chicken, the aromatic sweetness of the leeks marries with the floral sweetness of the potatoes in rich chicken drippings. The vegetables get very soft, the leeks become unrecognizable, and it all goes so well with perfectly cooked, deeply savory, crisped roast chicken.

All this glory comes together quickly and easily. Everything is thrown into one pot, everything is cooked at the same time, no extra sides are necessary (unless desired). This is a very happy Sunday night meal.

One Pot Roast Chicken with Leek and Sweet Potato
Serves 4-5

1 whole 5 lb. chicken, or you can use the same weight of just white or dark meat pieces (but you will want skin on bone in pieces)
3-4 medium sweet potatoes (1 lb./450g) (any variety or mix of varieties)
2 large whole weeks (1 lb./ 450g)
1 large shallot (3-4 oz / 90g)
4-5  large cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Hungarian paprika, to taste (optional)
Olive oil, to drizzle
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup water (or white wine or chicken stock if you have it)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks that are no more than 1" in thickness. If the chunks are too thick they might not cook through. Trim the green tops off of of the leek. Use the white/light green part of the leeks by cutting them in half lengthwise, and then washing them well to remove all of the grit. Roughly chop or slice the leeks into half moons, their thickness is totally up to you. Halve the shallot lengthwise and cut it into half moons.

To a pot add the chopped sweet potato, leeks, shallot, smashed garlic, and whole springs of fresh Rosemary (the leaves will come off the stems as everything cooks. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Generously season the whole chicken with salt and pepper, inside and out. Top with paprika if using Drizzle the chicken generously with olive oil, and rub the oil all over the outside of the chicken.

Place the seasoned chicken into the pot on top of the sweet potato mixture.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the chicken. Add 1/2 a cup of liquid to the pot, drizzled all over the veg. The liquid will help cook the vegetables and keep everything from getting too dry.

Put the lid on the pot (if using a deep casserole dish or roasting pan, cover the dish/pan tightly with foil). Cook with the lid on for 45 minutes. Cook with the lid off for the rest of the cooking time, about 30 minutes - depending on the size of your chicken. You know the chicken is done when it is golden brown, the juices run clear when pierced, or when the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Carve, and serve the chicken with the cooked sweet potatoes and leeks.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mexican Inspired Matzo Brei

Photo by Eric Slatkin

Matzo Brei is easily one of my favorite types of Passover food tied only with matzo pizza (because pizza anything is the best). 

There are endless variations on matzo soaked in egg and cooked in fat (ideally butter). This is my favorite version: it's reminiscent of Huevos Rancheros or even a good Chilaquiles. The crispy buttery matzo combines perfectly with a little heat from the sauce, creamy avocado, and fresh cilantro. 

Ranchero sauce is made of chilis, peppers, and aromatics that are cooked and blended together, but you can also find many good pre-made Ranchero salsas at the market. It can also be substitutes with almost any another kind of chili based sauce that you prefer. 

Whether you make the matzo brei savory, sweet, or spicy, I've learned that one thing that is critical for good brei is a generous amount of butter or oil. Without a good amount of fat, the matzo can become dry and brittle. With fat the matzo is creamer and gets crisped and golden on its edges.

This recipe is featured in our Passover Assembly Line series! Video below.

Chag Sameach!

Mexican Matzo Brei
Serves 2-4

for the matzo brei-
4 matzos
4 large eggs
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon ranchero salsa (homemade or store bought)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon chili powder
4 tablespoons butter

for the toppings-
1 avocado, cut into thin slices
2 scallions, sliced thin
½ cup cilantro leaves
sour cream, to taste
hot sauce, to taste

Start by breaking up your matzo into large chunks into a sieve or colander. It’s ok if the matzo pieces are uneven. Rinse the matzo under cold water until dampened and just softened, about 10-15 seconds.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, ranchero salsa, spices, and salt together. Add the soaked matzo to the bowl, and stir until the matzo is coated in the egg mixture. Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan. Once the butter has fully melted, add the matzo mixture to the pan in an even layer. Allow the matzo to cook and brown on one side for  2-3 minutes. Flip the matzo pieces over and cook them on the other side until they are nicely browned as well, another 2-3 minutes.

Transfer to a large serving platter or individual plates. Top with sliced avocado, fresh scallion, cilantro, and sour cream and hot sauce if desired. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Deep Fried Matzo Balls

Photo by Eric Slatkin

Why do matzo balls need to be confined to soup? In the spirit of freedom, these matzo balls are let go from their usual broth home, and instead,they're dunked into hot oil, fried until golden, and served with a spicy herbaceous schug dip.

These matzo balls are more hush puppy than airy donut. You have to expect denseness with matzo meal. Once you get over the absence of soup, and the slightly unexpected texture, you find yourself halfway through a second matzo ball... they are delicious and addictive.

Schug is a spicy cilantro and chili sauce, that is commonly found throughout the Middle East. I love the recipe from Zahav, by Michael Solomonov (brought to my attention by friend and collaborator Ellie Bowman), but there are many other recipes out there. You can often even pick up this stuff pre-made at your favorite Israeli restaurant or Middle Eastern market. 

And we've been putting these recipes into motion over at the Assembly Line.

More Passover recipes are on their way... 

Deep Fried Matzo Balls with Yogurt Schug Dip

for the matzo balls-
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
4 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup oil schmaltz or oil (vegetable or safflower)
vegetable oil, as needed for frying

for the dip-
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tablespoons Schug (spicy herb sauce*)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the matzo meal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl. To the matzo meal mixture add 4 beaten eggs, ¼ cup of oil, and spices. Stir until just combined. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour. Once chilled, formed the dough into even-sized balls.

Fill a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot with 3 inches of oil. Heat until hot, about 350°-375°F when tested with a candy thermometer.

Drop the matzo balls into the oil in batches. Be careful not to crowd the pot, add 6-8 matzo balls at a time. Fry until golden brown on all sides.

Once cooked transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and fry the next batch. You can can keep them warm in a warm oven if necessary. The fried matzo balls are best served hot and fresh.

for the dip-
In a bowl, combine the yogurt and schug. Mix until incorporated.

*Schug (also spelled Zhug or Skhug)
Schug is a spicy green sauce that originated in Yemen and is commonly eaten across the Middle East. It can be purchased in some Middle Eastern markets, or from Israeli restaurants. This recipe is from Michael Solomonov's Zahav cookbook:

20 serrano chiles, stems removed
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup canola oil

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the oil. Once processed into a coarse paste, transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the oil. The sauce will appear chunky, not smooth. Store in a container in the fridge for up to 1 month.