Monday, July 16, 2012

Cilantro and coriander chicken (Thai inspired)

A few weeks ago I took a bite of what might be one of the most delicious things I've ever made. And then, I had an epiphany. 

Cooking is a lot like dating

Cilantro and coriander chicken with Thai-inspired lime dressing: both were beyond amazing

Now I'm not saying they're the exact same thing. I realize that in cooking you can "mix-and-match" flavors to create your idea of perfection. (If only this was possible in men!) But if you think about it, there are some striking parallels between cooking and dating...

1. The older you get, the more you know about yourself, and exactly what you like.

When I first started really cooking, at the ripe age of 18, I messed up a lot. Dry, overcooked chicken. Heavy-handed salting. Mushy eggs. Herb overload. Burnt steak. Bland soup. I was not only learning basic cooking techniques, I was also experimenting and understanding my palate. It took unending hours, tears, and sweat to figure these things out. But that's what cooking is all about. It's about throwing yourself into the craft, creating something absolutely delicious or horrifically miserable, and learning about yourself in the process. Sounds a lot like dating, doesn't it?

Cumin, rosemary, sesame: these flavors are very potent to me and ones I can only handle in small quantities. Citrus and cilantro: there's really no way you can overdo them in my book. Today, after over a dozen years of cooking, I can pretty much look at a recipe and know if I'm going to like it. Similarly, after over a dozen years of crushes and dating and boyfriends, I can look at the qualities in a man and know whether or not I'm going to like him. (A dash of confidence with a liberal pour of down-to-earth friendliness please.) But it's an incredibly personal thing: what works for me may not necessarily work for you. And that's exactly the way it should be.

Grilled chicken marinated in citrus and cilantro? I'm in heaven!

2. Love at first bite/sight?

I'm not a strong proponent for love at first sight, but everyone can agree that there are certain men/foods that you have a very strong initial taste for, compared to ones that take a bit of time to acquire a taste for (or ones that never develop no matter what, see #3).

This cilantro and coriander chicken is one of those instant attractions. We locked eyes, I dug in (twice!), and I enjoyed every... single... bite with unending pleasure. You know you've got a keeper when your last taste is just as, if not more so, pleasurable than your first!


Cooked to the ultimate (juicy) perfection

What's interesting to me is I can't tell you exactly why I like this chicken so much. At first glance I was definitely drawn to the recipe, but I didn't necessarily think I'd like it as much as I did. It's super simple to make (I tend to like very involved recipes). The flavor profile is fairly basic (only a handful of ingredients). And the ingredients are very well-known to me (the dish doesn't seem like it would be a show-stopping center of attention).

But the same reasons that make it sound like just a regular 'ole chicken dish are the exact same reasons why I enjoy it as much as I do. Some of the ingredients are very homey to me (coriander and cilantro are used in many traditional Assyrian dishes), but in combination with the lime and fish sauce, the flavor becomes instantly unique and soars to new heights. The light, clean flavors in this dish harmonize so perfectly together, there's absolutely no need for me to tweak the recipe.

Its flavorful, yet not overpowering. It's familiar, yet novel. It's comforting, yet exciting. It's something that I could enjoy over and over again and yet (surprisingly) crave constantly. It's what I look for in my favorite foods, and what I look for in a man.

3. No matter how much your mind may want to love something, ultimately your body decides (and wins)

Everyone has that person (or ingredient) in their life that on paper they should love. (Oh look, he has all the qualities I want! Perfect!) But for some reason, its off. Something, and you don't know exactly what, just doesn't work, no matter how hard you try. When you're young, you try to make it fit. But as you get older, you give up on sticking a circle into a square peg, and you're happier for it. Rosewater, I hate it. Lavender, it's one of my favorite flavors for desserts. Can I explain the freak nature that are my taste buds (and my taste in men)? No! But I've learned in time to just go with it. And I've been much happier for that.

4. Don't be afraid to take chances, even if you end up falling flat on your face 

I'm a planner by nature. Typically, I don't like to dive into something without spending hours reading about it, researching it, asking people for their opinions, weighing my options, etc. But I've also learned that caution can hold you back from learning something fascinating or experiencing something amazing. It can keep you closeted; by only exposing yourself to things that are familiar to you, you are never able to enjoy an unexpected and unpredicted pleasure. Over time I've learned to let myself go more, in both cooking and dating. I'll push myself to try something new, something challenging, something unfamiliar. Because there's something to be said about throwing caution to the wind...

Always look for the beauty within

... even if it leads to (semi) failure.

I probably should have read this first... But hey, you live and learn!

I'm sure there are a dozen other ways in which cooking is like dating, but I'm also (fairly) certain you're not interested in my rambling anymore. Just remember, although there is no such thing as the perfect dish (or the perfect relationship), that doesn't mean we cannot savor each wholeheartedly. Just take in a deep breath, close your eyes, clear your mind, and let your senses take over the experience.

Yours in convincing others that your crazy metaphors just might be not-so-crazy,
Jacqueline


Cilantro and Coriander Chicken, slightly adapted from The Cilantropist

I highly recommend you check out The Cilantropist's blog- she has some gorgeous photos and there is also a neat idea of grilling an entire bunch of green onions along with the chicken to add to the flavor. Didn't try it, but it looks pretty neat.

Ingredients

2 lbs chicken pieces, bone-in and skin still on, most of the fat removed (I used thighs)
1/4 cup whole coriander seeds, dry toasted until fragrant (~5 minutes)
1 clove garlic
3 TBSP ground white pepper (I used maybe ~2 TBSP black pepper)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (~1 bunch); I used a combination of stems and leaves
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup rice wine or white wine

Directions

1. To make the marinade, first toast coriander seeds in a dry, heavy bottomed pan (without oil) until fragrant. Grind in a large mortar and pestle, food processor, or spice grinder into a rough powder. (I have a coffee grinder I use exclusively for spices.)

2. Using small food processor or mortar and pestle, mix together coriander seeds, garlic, white pepper, sugar, and cumin. Continue to grind ingredients together into a paste or until garlic cloves are well macerated. Add minced cilantro to the marinade paste and mix or macerate until stems are incorporated into the paste. 

3. Move paste into a large bowl or ziplock bag, and add the fish sauce and the rice wine and mix well. Add chicken, massaging the meat with the marinade. (If you like, you can pierce the chicken with a fork to allow the marinade to seep into the meat.) Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 hours, remixing the chicken halfway during the marinating period. 

4. When you are ready to cook, preheat your grill and remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. To grill the chicken, first grill for at least five minutes over high heat to sear both sides of the meat, then reduce heat and close the lid to continue cooking. (Or, if using charcoal move to a less hot part of the grill, and close the lid.) Cook over medium heat until chicken is firm and the juices run clear. Depending on the heat of your grill, and the thickness of your chicken, this might be another 15-25 minutes. The chicken should be blackened but not burned. Remove chicken from the grill, and serve immediately.

Green Salad with Thai-inspired Lime Dressing, from The Cilantropist   

Note: typically a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar/citrus. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup lime juice with 2 TBSP oil, clearly very light on the oil. Technically you could go up to 3/4 cup oil for this amount of lime juice, but I kept it at around half that for a dressing that would come together but would remain quite tart. Play around with the oil until it's to your liking.

Ingredients

1/2 clove garlic
1/4 cup lime juice
1 TBSP fish sauce, or more to taste
1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp sugar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste

Mixed salad greens (extra cilantro leaves, seasonal vegetables including: baby tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, or others)

Directions

1. To make the salad dressing, crush the clove of garlic in the lime juice until it becomes milky. Then add the rest of the ingredients, whisking in the olive oil. (Or place them all in a jar and shake vigorously until it comes together).  

2. Mix your salad greens together with the cilantro leaves and other vegetables, and top with the dressing.

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