Saturday, November 15, 2014

All you happy children, we wish the same to you - Butter Chicken

Ear worms are running my life.  They are my Muse.  If that's not the definition of crazy, I don't know what is.  My younger brother has been on my mind lately, and I associate this children's rhyme with him.  One day he came home from elementary school singing this (I can only guess the class was learning the days of the week) and it's been in my head ever since.  Since my brother is a 60-year old pediatrician with two grown daughters, that's a hell of a long time to have an ear worm.

Do any of you remember this one?
Today is Monday, today is Monday
Monday -- string beans

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Tuesday, today is Tuesday
Tuesday -- spaghetti
Monday -- string beans

All you hungry children, come and eat it up! 

From there it just continued, adding all the fabulous foods coming down the pike as the week progressed:

Wednesday -- soup
Thursday -- roast beef
Friday -- fresh fish
Saturday -- chicken
Sunday -- ice cream

Apparently there are a number of different versions; my memories change the line "all you hungry children, come and eat it up" to "all you happy children, we wish the same to you."  Also, I don't remember a single word about spaghetti, and fish wasn't necessarily fresh in the version my brother was singing. (Still. fish on Friday was de rigueur in those pre-Vatican II days, so at least that was consistent.)  And I distinctly remember on one of the days, all the happy children were getting bread and butter, and to be honest, I'd rather have that instead of string beans.  Which is yet another upcoming blog post.

Today is Saturday and I would like to talk to you about chicken.  Incredible, edible, affordable chicken.

Chicken is God's gift to the human race.  Like the rainbow in Noah's Ark story, it represents a promise to the people of the Earth.  By giving us chicken, God has promised that humans will never be forced to eat fish eyeballs or lamb fries (or any other sort of gonad), or pig brains, or any offal, or insects, or beating snake hearts, nay, any bizarre food unless they choose to do so (and hopefully get paid for such insanity, like Andrew Zimmern).   And especially for God's Chosen People, the chicken is a promise that we will never run short of Jewish penicillin.

I am an unabashed carnivore, and I love all the standard cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal, as well as most forms of fin fish and shellfish, but if for some reason I had to choose a single source of protein for the rest of my life, it would be chicken.

Chicken can be prepared for eating in every way known to humans, except raw.  Boil, bake, roast, pan fry, deep fry, grill, sauté, poach, simmer, braise, stir fry.  You can smoke it, buffalo it, throw it in a crockpot, pressure cook it, seal it in a plastic bag and sous vide it, or even shove a beer can up its rear.   And chicken can be breaded, barbecued, tempura'ed, and stuffed.  There are almost as many recipes for stuffing for chicken as there are for chicken itself. 

Contrary to general belief, chicken is not bland in taste, although it is mild, and therefore plays well with all kinds of seasoning.  I would hazard a guess that there are so many recipes for chicken that they constitute a statistical universe.  And then there are chicken eggs, schmaltz, chicken liver, gizzard, and hearts, but that's definitely another couple of blog posts.

I grew up eating chicken that had been simply prepared.  Boiled soup chicken, broiled chicken quarters, chicken quarters dipped in butter, pressed into cornflake crumbs and then baked, chicken quarters drizzled with maple barbecue sauce and baked, whole chicken rubbed with a paste made of spices and a little corn oil, roasted and then cut into quarters.  Except for the skin on the boiled chicken, I loved it all.

I am a self-taught cook, but that doesn't mean I haven't learned a lot of good cooking stuff from others.  While I may have read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover when I was a newly married bride in 1974 (theoretically, I can skin a squirrel), my knowledge of the best recipes and cooking techniques came from watching my friends and relatives cook.  And so on chicken days, I thank my college (and lifelong) friend, Vicki Schumacher Granek, for introducing me to another way of preparing the ubiquitous quartered chicken.  Once I tasted her Hawaiian chicken, and watched her prepare it, there was NOTHING I could not do with quartered chicken.  Complex flavors, ease of preparation, all this from only 4 ingredients.  From that day forward, my chicken world expanded exponentially.  Once you see the recipe, you will understand exactly what I mean.

But not today.  Today I am going to give you the recipe for another super-easy chicken recipe which requires very few ingredients.  This relies on a really good bottled simmer sauce from Patak's Taste of India product line, Butter Chicken. Butter is not the overriding ingredient, so I have no idea where the recipe got its name, but it does have smoked paprika and other lovely spices in a tomato base.  Reading the ingredients reminded me of a very non-Indian dish, csirke paprikas (Hungarian chicken paprikash, which I do prepare from scratch) so I just had to try it.  I've also used Patak's Tikaa Masala sauce in the past, with great success.   

1 -15 oz. jar Patak's Butter Chicken simmer sauce
1/2 of a small onion
1/2 of a small green bell pepper
2 tablespoons butter
8 skinless chicken thighs

On medium heat, melt butter in a large deep skillet.  Add the onion and green pepper, and cook until the vegetables are nice and soft.  Push the vegetables aside to make room for the chicken, and then four at a time, place the chicken into the pan and brown it in the butter on both sides.  Take your time with this, as it will take longer to develop color without the skin.  Remove to a baking dish, and repeat with the last four pieces of chicken.  Return all of the chicken to the skillet and pour in the butter chicken sauce.  Add about a half cup of water to the sauce jar, cover and shake to get all of the sauce off the sides of the jar, and pour that into the skillet as well.  Bring the sauce to a boil, then immediately cover the skillet and reduce the heat to simmer.  Cook the chicken for an hour, stirring occasionally.  Cool, and transfer to a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Refrigerate overnight.  About an hour before serving, remove the fat from the sauce.  Add a little water to the pan, cover it with aluminum foil, and place it in a 275 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the chicken is as soft as butter.  Serve with rice or couscous.  Really tasty.

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