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Versatile, tasty and always in season, chicken shines in signature dishes around the world

  • Yakitori skewer ready for grilling, with basting sauce GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Midsummer Green Goddess Chicken Salad is perfect for a summery supper. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Yakitori skewer ready for grilling, with basting sauce GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Midsummer Green Goddess Chicken Salad GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



For the Gazette
Friday, June 08, 2018

Chicken occupies yards of shelf space in every supermarket. It’s on most restaurant menus, and reigns supreme in some fast-food outlets. Kids like it. Non-vegetarians eat it often. It’s inexpensive. For all this — perhaps because of all this — it’s taken for granted, yet it has a long history and a remarkable culinary repertoire.

Today’s chickens descend from Indian jungle fowl domesticated 6,000 years ago. From India, they spread east to China and west to Europe. The ancient Greeks and Romans ignored them except for cockfighting and for their eggs, until about 150 BCE, when returning soldiers from the outer reaches of the Roman Empire brought new recipes. When the Romans reached Britain in the first century CE, they were surprised to find the natives already eating chickens that had arrived via an overland route from the east. Descendants of these Britons brought them to Massachusetts in the early 17th century. Christopher Columbus had already introduced them further south in 1493. Indeed, it’s conjectured that chickens arrived in South America even earlier via Polynesia.

All of this ancient history affects us today because the chicken’s adaptability enables it to live in all except the most frigid zones. Recipes for cooking chickens therefore abound, and because cooks add local ingredients, the foods teamed with them are extraordinarily varied. The resulting cornucopia of recipes highlight chicken as a team player that works with numerous herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits, and adapts to both slow cooking methods such as stewing and roasting and quick methods such as stir-frying and grilling on skewers. In the Canary Islands chicken is even cooked on a volcano.

Not surprisingly, most countries have classic chicken dishes. India has tandoori chicken, chicken biryani, and chicken curry; Scotland has cock-a-leekie; Japan has yakitori; Spain has chicken livers with sherry. Chicken Marengo was supposedly created by Napoleon’s chef on the battlefield of Marengo in Italy. Chicken Rossini, a French dish of roast chicken with tartlets of truffles and foie gras, was named after the composer, while Chicken Tetrazzini — chicken in a cream sauce on spaghetti — was invented in San Francisco to honor the Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini.

The wealth of elaborate chicken dishes shows that chicken was once expensive and highly regarded so chefs used it to show off their skills. In India, it remains a luxury for weddings, and plenty of older people can remember when a roast chicken was special-occasion fare.

Today chicken is cheap and fewer are sold whole for roasting. One advantage of chicken pieces is that they cook faster than whole birds. Another is that you can choose the pieces that work best for your recipe. Boneless skinless breasts or thighs cut into strips are good in stir-fries or salads. Skin-on bone-in thighs or drumsticks are good grilled because the skin protects the tender meat from the heat and the bone makes for easy handling.

The skin includes fat, which makes any chicken dish tastier. Bones also add flavor, so drumsticks make excellent chicken stock. Giblets are good stock, too, while chicken livers become tasty cocktail munchies served Italian-style atop crostini or French-style as paté.

When buying chicken check the packaging to discover how it was raised. Packaging that is silent on this matter suggests the birds have been excessively confined, fed a diet designed merely to make them grow fast, or exposed to antibiotics. Chickens raised cage free organically or on a vegetarian diet without unwanted and dangerous chemicals are both safest and tastiest.

Though chicken is always in season its happy partnerships with herbs, vegetables and fruit, as illustrated in the following recipes, makes it especially good in the warm months — not least for outdoor grilling.

YAKITORI

Called pinchos in Spain, souvlaki in Greece, kebabs in the Middle East, chicken skewers have many homelands. In Japan they are a favorite fast food called yakitori. Typically, pieces of Asian leek or scallions and green pepper intersperse the chicken chunks. Shiitake, asparagus bits and chicken liver may also appear.

For the yakitori sauce:

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup mirin or rice cooking wine

⅓ cup sugar

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1-inch piece fresh ginger grated

For the skewers:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

4-6 scallions

1 small green pepper

A few pieces of chicken liver (optional)

Sesame seeds (optional)

Moisten bamboo skewers in cold water for 20-30 minutes. For outdoor grilling, prepare a hot charcoal fire, or use a high setting on a gas grill. Oil the grate just before cooking. For indoor grilling, use a ridged grill pan thoroughly greased with oil.

For the sauce, put the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and ginger in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until thickened and glossy. Strain into a bowl.

Trim any sinews and fat from the chicken and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cut the scallions and pepper into similarly sized pieces. Thread 4 pieces of meat onto bamboo skewers, separating them with a leek or scallion piece, and occasionally a pepper or liver piece. If using a charcoal grill, place the skewers to the edge of the coals rather than on top. If using a ridged pan indoors, preheat it on a hot burner before putting the skewers on it. Once on the heating surface, brush the skewers with the sauce. Turn them over after a minute and brush with sauce again. Cook and turn, brushing with the sauce for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve immediately scattered with sesame seeds if you like. In Japan yakitori are eaten as is, but you can also serve with a salad or bread.

MIDSUMMER GREEN GODDESS CHICKEN SALAD

With in-season salad leaves and edible flowers, surrounding chicken dressed in a pretty colored green goddess dressing, this salad is perfect for a summery supper.

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped

¾ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup sour cream

1 garlic clove crushed

⅓ cup snipped parsley

⅓ cup snipped tarragon

¼ cup snipped chives

2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar or rice vinegar or cider vinegar

Salt to taste

2 cups cooked chicken without bones or skin

Spinach, lettuce or arugula leaves plus more herbs to garnish

Edible flowers such as pansies, calendula, roses, daisies for garnish

In a small mixing bowl mash the anchovies with the back of a fork. Stir in the mayonnaise, sour cream and garlic crushed with a pinch of salt so it breaks down. Now mix in the parsley, tarragon, chives and vinegar. Taste and add salt (or more vinegar) as needed. (Alternately you can mix all the ingredients in a food processor if you have one.)

To make the salad stir the chicken pieces into the dressing, using as much as you would like. (You may have some left over, but you can use it on another salad or as a sauce with fish.) Mound the salad on a serving platter. Surround with spinach or other seasonal salad leaves and garnish with additional herbs and flowers. (Be sure to use only flowers that you know have not been sprayed with garden chemicals.)

MANGO CHICKEN

Two forms of mango team with chicken: mango chutney makes a piquant glaze, while fresh and juicy mango headline the flavorful companions accompanying the chicken in this one-pot meal. You can make this ahead and reheat it if necessary.

About ½ cup mango chutney

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

6 chicken thighs, or 8 drumsticks or 3 chicken breasts, halved

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 medium (6-ounce) sweet potato, cut in 1-inch chunks

2 cups defrosted frozen or fresh mango in 1-inch chunks

2 teaspoons dried thyme

3-4 mint leaves, chopped

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

If the mango chutney has large bits of mango in it, process it in a food processor chop the mango pieces coarsely then return them to the more liquid part. Mix the chutney with the Worcestershire sauce to make the glaze.

This dish is best with skin-on chicken because the glaze attaches to it but trim off excess fat and skin — especially if using thighs. Brush the chicken pieces with the mango chutney glaze, lifting the skin where possible to add some underneath. Let rest for 20 minutes (or prepare this far ahead and hold the glazed pieces in the fridge for up to 4 hours.)

Heat the oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold the chicken pieces in a single layer. Add them to the pan skin side down, seasoning the uppermost side with salt. Cook over moderate high heat for 4-5 minutes or until the skin is a rich golden brown. Turn, season the top side, and cook for 3 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, garlic, and celery to the pan, and cook over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes or until they have softened. Stir in the sweet potato chunks, and then the mango chunks, followed by the thyme, mint and a little salt. Add half a cup of water, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer on top and cook partly covered for 15 minutes or until the chicken is done, Serve immediately with a pilaf of orzo, rice, or quinoa.

LEMON CHICKEN

All the countries circling the Mediterranean make some form of lemon chicken.

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs or 6 chicken breast halves, skin on

3 large lemons

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or mix 1½ teaspoons dried thyme with 1 teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon dried rosemary and, if you like it, ½ teaspoon culinary lavender)

2 bay leaves,

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons melted chicken fat or olive oil

About 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

If using chicken thighs cut off excess fat and trim the skin so it covers just the top surface. Similarly, trim any excess fat or skin from breasts. if using them. Make 2-3 cuts on the non-skin side of each thigh or breast so the marinade will penetrate.

With a zester or grater remove the zest from 2 of the lemons. Put it in a large bowl along with the juice from these lemons plus the garlic, the herbs, bay leaves each torn in 2-3 piece, and half the chopped parsley. Mix then add the pieces of chicken. Put in the fridge for 2-3 hours (or longer if more convenient), turning the chicken a couple of times.

To cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and grease a lasagna pan or baking dish of similar size with olive oil or melted chicken fat. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer, skin side up, Sprinkle the skin with salt. Bake for 20-25-minutes, basting with the marinade after about 10 minutes. The chicken is ready when the skin is golden, and the juice runs clear when a skewer is poked in the thickest part of the meat. (Typically, breasts cook faster). Arrange on a warm platter. Cover while you strain the marinade and the juices from the baking dish into a small saucepan. Bring them quickly to the boil, then pour into a pitcher for serving. Garnish the chicken with the remaining parsley and the third lemon cut in wedges.

CHICKEN CURRY

The number of spices lengthen the ingredient list for this recipe, but don’t think it’s difficult. It’s easy — a good do-ahead dish as it benefits from reheating and it’s popular with children. You can add more (or omit) to taste of any of the spices or flavorings.

8 bone-in chicken thighs or 4 breasts

2 teaspoons powdered coriander

2 teaspoons powdered cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee

1 large onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1-inch chunk fresh ginger, minced

28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

Pinch red pepper flakes or to taste

Salt to taste

If using thighs, trim off excess fat and skin, though ideally leave enough skin to cover the top surface. If using breasts, cut each in half. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and curry powder. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan or frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the onion in it for 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. In the oil remaining in the pan (or add a teaspoon more if necessary), fry the spice mixture for 30-60 seconds. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden and spiced. Turn them over. Return the onion mixture to the pan, then add the tomatoes, celery, bay leaf, pepper flakes and salt. Cover the pan and simmer for 25-30 minutes. During cooking taste and adjust the flavor by adding more of any of the spices or salt as needed.