Food & Wine (January 2014)
It's the beginning of the year, and it's a safe assumption that at least some of you are starting the year on a healthy note (whatever "healthy" means to you).
We're not resolutions people (only Clay has made one: to listen to more music this year). In past years we've set Culinary Resolutions -- things we want to eat, drink and try -- and we highly recommend that you do the same. It's nice to think about what you will do, versus what you won't. How about we all just be good to ourselves this year?
Anyhow: this Chinese-Style Poached Chicken with Pear and Orange. We didn't pick it out of January's Food & Wine because of its relative healthfulness (though this dish is on the light side); instead, we chose it out because we've somehow never poached chicken. How is it possible that we've been cooking like fiends for more than six years and still have poached chicken to share with you?
We grabbed some chicken, boiled some water, and got started.
This dish is actually three components: the chicken, the sauce and the salad. And we think all three should be considered on their own merits.
Let's start with the poached chicken. WOW, is it easy to poach chicken. This recipe has you add ginger and scallions to boiling water, drop in the chicken, remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit for 35 minutes. That's it! Chicken poached. The recipe calls for bone-in split chicken breasts, so once the poaching is done, you remove it from the liquid, remove the bones, and slice the meat.
Also: WOW, is poached chicken really bland. Despite the aromatics in the water, the chicken tastes like, well, plain chicken breast. And nothing else. So it's a total blank canvas in terms of the other flavors you add. But on the plus side, the meat was moist and perfectly cooked. We plan to poach some more chicken soon to see if we can get more flavor in the mix.
Next, the sauce: this is prepared separately, and if you've spent any significant time cooking or eating Chinese food (or shopping at an Asian market), you can probably guess the main components: garlic, red pepper, black-bean garlic sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar. It's quite spicy and savory and we would make it again in a heartbeat.
The third component is a salad, which we didn't realize from the title of the recipe, or the photo in the magazine. We had thrown together our grocery list fairly quickly and dashed off to the store, not bothering to read the recipe first. (Hey, there's a good resolution for all of us: Read a recipe in full before going shopping, and definitely read it all before beginning to cook.)
We loved the salad -- it's simple (just pears, mandarin oranges, basil and cashews with some oil and vinegar) and it's bright. It's just the sort of thing to make January seem less bleak.
So once you have the three components, they all come together on the plate: sauce on chicken, salad on the side. And that's where the dish as a whole falls apart for us. Perhaps our initial expectations were out of sync, but we found it all a little lacking. That chicken is just so bland that it fully relies on the sauce for any flavor whatsoever. It seems to drag down the whole dish.
Here's what we suggest: Make the sauce. Make the salad. But roast some chicken.
Sure, it won't be as virtuous, but you'll be in heaven.
Total Time: 1 hour
1/4 pound fresh ginger, thinly sliced and crushed, plus 1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger
8 scallions, halved, plus 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only
Four 12-ounce bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons Chinese black-bean-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 firm, ripe Bartlett pear, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
4 mandarins, separated into sections
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup roasted cashews, chopped
1. In a large pot, bring 16 cups of water and 1/2 cup of salt to a boil with the crushed ginger and halved scallions. Add the chicken and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand until cooked through, 35 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 2 minutes. Add the red pepper, five-spice powder and sliced scallions and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes. Add the stock, black-bean and soy sauces and bring just to a boil. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce is thickened, 2 minutes. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger with the sesame oil and the 1 teaspoon of vinegar; keep warm.
3. In a bowl, toss the pear, mandarins, basil and cashews with the remaining 1 tablespoon each of oil and vinegar and season with salt.
4. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and discard the skin and bones. Slice the breasts crosswise, transfer to plates and drizzle with some of the sauce. Serve with the salad, passing additional sauce at the table.
Make ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated overnight; reheat gently, adding water if it is too thick.