December 14, 2005

Five out of Ten (and Chicken Yassa)

My last post, the You Are What You Eat list, was both easier and more difficult to come up with than I thought it would be. Sure, the items just tumbled out of my head and onto the page, but I agonized about whether they were truly representative.

As I was eating lunch today, I noticed with some bemusement that my little container of leftovers contained five of those top ten items: Rice, lemon, chicken, onions, and chiles. Chicken Yassa, to be precise (please see recipe in the comments below).

On the weekend, I made a stop at the South China Seas Trading Co. on Granville Island, which is my go-to destination for a number of hard-to-find ingredients including hominy, epazote, dried chiles, and all manner of interesting Asian and Central/South American ingredients. As always, just standing in the store caused me to revise my weekly menu substantially as I stared at piles of fresh poblano peppers, long garlic chives, jarred mole sauces, and fresh young ginger and turmeric roots. A brightly coloured pile of habaneros by the cashier mocked me until I slid a couple into a brown bag and added them to my basket - and my menu. Fresh habaneros don't have a long shelf-life, so I immediately shouldered Yassa into my menu plan. One must take advantage when one can, and Yassa is a little lighter on preparation than Jerk, which is another favourite use for the habanero.

Traditional Yassa recipes start with marinating the chicken and proceed through an on-the-bone grilling stage before the dish is completed. My adaptation is really more of a quick stew, starting off-the-bone and simmering the marinated meat in the lemony, mustardy matrix that makes up the sauce.

Whoa. I can't believe I left mustard off my list. That would have made it six out of ten!


sailu said...

Dawna,your being hard on get more than 5 on that recipe..:)if not 10/10.I'd like to try this recipe but without the olives though.Would it not then be Chicken Yassa?..without the olives,I mean.

Dawna said...

Hi Sailu - I didn't notice how that sounded! The recipe itself is absolutely a solid 10/10. I was still amazed to find a dish that contained so many of my top ten picks.

You can make yassa without the olives - the olives and carrots are the "fancy" version of yassa, and by no means obligatory.

LisaSD said...

Phew! From the title, I thought you were giving the dish a score of "five out of ten,", but now I see it contains five of your faves! I'd say that's a keeper dish!

Dawna said...

Hi Lisa, We love this dish - probably have it at least once per month when habaneros are available (with enough leftovers for some lunches).

Lera said...

Mmmmm ---looks appetising!I agree with lisa,it's akeepers dish.

Dawna said...

Chicken Yassa

Serves 4
Total prep and cooking time: 60 minutes plus 4 hours or up-to-overnight marinating.

2 lemons
1 jumbo onion, thinly sliced
2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 6 thighs
2 habanero peppers*
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives, sliced Yes, really!
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 to 1 cup water, as needed
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

First, slice up your onions by cutting in half (pole to pole) and then cutting into thin, half-moon slices. Place in a non-reactive bowl with chicken, the juice of both lemons and the zest of one of the lemons, and one minced habanero pepper. Stir well, cover, and marinate in the fridge for four hours or overnight. From time to time, if convenient, stir or shake.

Separate onions, chicken, and drain the marinade, reserving it for later . Don't worry about the specks of pepper - let them cling to the chicken or onions or marinade as they wish. In a large pan, over high heat, heat up the oil and add the onions. Sautee until they give up most of their liquid, and start to stick slightly to the pan, turning a translucent yellow-white. Add a sprinkle of salt. Add carrot slices and cook for a few minutes more, adding a little water if necessary to keep them from sticking to the pan. Dice the marinated chicken meat into large bite-sized pieces.

Add the chicken, olives, and reserved marinade and the half-cup of water all at once. Reduce heat to a simmer, and add the Dijon, stirring well. Add the remaining whole habanero pepper, pricking it carefully with a fork first. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender and chicken is cooked through - stir periodically to keep it from sticking if necessary. Taste the lemony sauce and adjust the salt. Add black pepper to taste. Stir the cornstarch/water mixture into the bubbling pan, and stir throughout until the mixture comes back to a boil and thickens slightly - anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two. If your stew is looking a little dry, add a little more water.

Remove and discard the whole habanero, unless you're accustomed to blast-furnace heat or have something macho to prove.

Serve over steamed rice or couscous.

*Habanero burn is even less fun than it sounds. Use gloves when mincing the pepper or handling the pieces. Otherwise, even after you wash your hands, the merest touch to your eyes or other sensitive areas will be seriously painful.