Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fifty Shades of Schmaltz - Coconut Curry Chicken

This arrived in my email yesterday:

"Come join us for a unique walking tour through beautiful Downtown Kissimmee featuring the Sculpture Experience and 12 local restaurants, shops and galleries all while sippin' on ice cold beers or glasses of wine! Experience and 12 local restaurants, shops and galleries all while sippin' on ice cold beers or glasses of wine!"

So it seems I am going to miss the 2015 Kissimmee Main Street's Sculpture Pub Crawl, because it takes place the same day as the start of my cruise.  You know that I love those street sculptures, and have always wanted to do the walking tour.  I'm not so sure about me and walking and sippin' wine at the same time, being a natural born klutz, and therefore somewhat unsteady on my feet under the best of circumstances.  But I am a trifle disappointed, just not so much as to cancel my cruise.

Like most words in Yiddish, "schmaltz" has different shades of meaning. This thought occurred to me while consulting this book, which was written by a shaygetz, no less, for the best way to prepare a decent amount of chicken schmaltz. (Like a good barbecue, low and slow). Besides referring to the Fowl Fat from Heaven, schmaltz can mean "excessive sentimentality", exaggerated, maudlin, corny, overblown ... feh.  What nonsense, and what a disservice to a great and descriptive word.  To me, schmaltz means rich and unctuous.  Schmaltz means whatever you are cooking in it is gonna taste like a million clucks - I mean, bucks. Schmaltz is gorgeous stuff, my friends.  Use it well.

Michael Ruhlman is one of those celebrity chef types who used to show up as a judge on Iron Chef America, and who pals around with one of my least favorite people, the pathetically self-important superannuated frat boy, Anthony Bourdain.  Despite his questionable choice of friends, Mr. Ruhlman has written a very fine book, in large part because of his collaboration with Lois Baron, Joan Nathan, and Arthur Schwartz, and in other part because he states, unequivocally: "Schmaltz is Good, and Schmaltz is Great."  He may be a goy, but when it comes to cooking, he's got a Yiddische kopf.

Unfortunately, while he gives excellent direction and photos, he cannot help me resolve my obsession with determining the exact, perfect moment at which to add the chopped onions to the rendered chicken fat.  He says to add the onion "when the chicken skin is golden brown", but in my cooking experience golden brown is a slippery term indeed.  I think I've got it this time, after the skin cooked for an hour and forty minutes, and I've added the onion and said a heartfelt silent prayer to the Great Schmaltz God In The Sky.  I'm sure that neither my maternal Grandma Gussie nor my paternal Grandma Yetta ever agonized over her schmaltz. When you're cooking for seven or eight children, you don't have time to run over to Home Depot to pick up color samples for comparison with your griebenes. I have discovered, incidentally, that for the purposes of achieving the perfect golden brown-ness for this dish, all you need to do is compare your griebenes to the contents of a can of French's French Fried Onions. I bet even Michael Ruhlman doesn't know that.

Oh hell, did I add too many onions??

In order to have enough chicken skin and fat to go through this cooking ritual, I purchased a package of nine chicken thighs.  Now that they've been thoroughly skinned and trimmed, I want to use them to create a dish for my son, the Vacuum Cleaner With Teeth, to eat while Rob and I are eating sushi on Sunshine.  I know I said I didn't need to prepare a chicken dish, but like everything else, I misjudged - this time, the current state of Cory's appetite, which is extraordinarily healthy.  But it all works out - the schmaltz, the chicken, the cruise - everything in its place and a place for everything.  The final result, which was generously inspired by the recipe from this blog, "Can You Stay For Dinner", exceeded my expectations, the coconut milk is my new favorite ingredient, and there will be rice to accompany this poultry marvel.  But that's another blog post ...

 Coconut Curry Chicken

8-9 chicken thighs, on the bone, all skin removed and fat trimmed (the skin and fat will be used to make schmaltz and griebenes)
Kosher salt
Garlic pepper
3-4 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped fine
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
2 serrano peppers, seeds and veins removed, chopped fine
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups chicken stock
1 - 13.5 oz. can Badia coconut milk
3 tablespoons mild chutney
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Season the chicken generously on both sides with the salt and garlic pepper.  In a large deep skillet heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken, top side down, and cook without moving the chicken for at least five minutes, until the chicken takes on some color.  Using tongs, carefully turn the chicken and repeat on the other side.  When you are done, the chicken should be almost completely cooked, so don't rush this step.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.  

Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet, and then add the sliced onions. Cook the onion for five minutes until it begins to soften, then add the garlic, the ginger, and the serrano pepper.  Cook and stir until the fragrance makes you swoon.  Add the curry powder and the turmeric, and stir to distribute well.  Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and let simmer a few minutes, then lower the heat.  Add the coconut milk, the chutney, and about 2/3 of the cilantro.  Do not boil the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Return the chicken to the skillet and simmer together for 10 to 15 minutes, spooning sauce over the chicken.  Serve from the skillet or move the chicken and sauce to a serving dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the dish.  Serve with Coconut Jasmine Rice and Schmaltzy English Peas.

We're on the road to ... somewhere.

Damn, forgot the itinerary again.  At least I know what ship we're sailing on.

I've got that sitzfleisch thing going on again.  I can't sit still more than a moment or two.  My mind is all over the place.  I thought I would calm down once I got the good news about the fibroadenoma, but it's just gotten worse.  I can't stop cooking.  I can't start knitting.  I can't read new books - only books I've read over and over again.  My head hurts. I'm depressed.  I was just told I do not have breast cancer, and I'm leaving on a cruise tomorrow, and I'm depressed?  Oh of course, I'm in the middle of switching medication. Timing is everything.  Have a good week.

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