May 19, 2007

Surf & Turf

I've never been a big fan of the surf 'n turf platters in restaurants. When I have occasionally had them, they've been disappointingly cooked steaks with even more disappointingly dry, tough, overcooked, often tiny shrimp. I stopped trying them a long time ago.

While it seems strange to think of pairing seafood with beef, really, I think I understand the intent: both are luxurious items, so the combination must be even better, right? In the words of Homer Simpson, "I'll have your finest food, stuffed with your second finest food." Which, as you may know, turned out to be lobster stuffed with tacos.

I wanted a nice dinner for our anniversary. It's our tenth, so something a little special or unusual seemed the thing to do, but as we are saving money right now (and moving across town very shortly), we decided to stay in for dinner rather than go to one of our favourite special occasion haunts. Since I had a lovely bottle of Saintsbury Garnet Pinot Noir on hand, thanks to my sister, all I needed were a few items from the market to make a festive meal.

There aren't really recipes attached to this dinner - the tenderloin steaks started at room temperature, were seasoned with salt and pepper, quickly seared on both sides and placed in the oven for about four minutes to come up to temperature. As soon as they went into the oven, I melted some butter, added the freshly shelled, raw prawns, tossed once, added kosher salt and coarsely pounded black and white peppercorns, tossed again for a couple of minutes until they all started to pinken, then turned the flame off and added a couple of cloves of fresh garlic. The garlic softened and mellowed while the steaks rested on the cutting board. We ate a whole pound of prawns (well, that was their shell-on weight) between the two of us, since the theme was indulgent luxury. The asparagus were simply roasted on a piece of foil on a sheet in the oven for about seven minutes, so they still had a bit of a crisp bite. Ten minutes gets you silky, tender stalks.

Simple, and good. A fitting meal, we thought, for the ten years that we've spent together so far.

We had no room for dessert. The vanilla ice cream and limoncello drizzle would have to wait for another day.

May 10, 2007

Chicken & Rice

Arroz con pollo. Oyakodon. Murgh Biryani. Hainanese Chicken Rice. Risotto con Pollo. Chicken and rice seem to go naturally together, and just about every culture that eats both chicken and rice has some special dish that proves it. My mother's dish, expositorily called "Chicken and rice" was baked a roasting pan in the oven, and involved an entire dis-jointed chicken, and brown rice. We only ever had brown rice, that I recall. My sister remembers white rice when she was very young, but she is six years older than I, and our household diet definitely took a turn for the hippy-healthy by the time I was born.

The only vegetables I remember there being were onion, celery and carrots, but it was a flavourful, chickeny dish, and it was a big favourite with all of us.

Oh, how I loved that chicken and rice! Sometimes, in the summer, my mother would wrap up the roasting pan in old towels, once it was ready, and we would drive down to the picnic tables at the Provincial Park beach a few minutes down the road. We would pack up our bottle of soya sauce, the only approved condiment, inexplicably, and our dishes and head down to the rocky beach and watch the seagulls swoop and swirl, and run around on the big grassy area. We didn't usually swim, because the dinner was ready to eat now, and afterwards, of course, we had to wait for an hour (or so), and it was usually too cool, by then.

Since I am not cooking for a family of five, I don't make mine the same way. In fact, I don't use brown rice, either, but opt for parboiled rice to ensure that it doesn't turn mushy with stirring. I usually use the leftover, de-boned chicken from a roasted chicken, and I cook the rice in good, homemade chicken stock. But, I still use onion, carrot, and celery, and I still season it with soya sauce.

Chicken & Rice

Serves 2 - 3

Cold roast chicken meat - 1/2 chicken's worth, chopped
1 cup / 200 g. parboiled (converted, not instant!) rice
1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 bayleaves
1 large sprig fresh thyme, or a pinch of powdered thyme
1 small onion, diced somewhat finely
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 stalks of celery, washed, strung and sliced or diced, as you like
2 medium carrots, cut into quarter slices
pinch of oregano, optional
freshly chopped parsley, optional

In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, sautee the bayleaves, onion, garlic, celery and carrots in the canola oil until the onion turns translucent, taking care not to burn the garlic. Season with a little salt and pepper, the thyme (stems and all), plus dried oregano (if using). I you want to get wild and throw a chile in here, that would probably be really nice.

Add the rice and stir around until the grains are all coated with the canola oil, and then add the stock, all at once. Add the chopped chicken meat (make sure any skin is removed).
Bring the stock to a simmer, place the lid on firmly, and reduce heat to absolute minimum.

Cook on very, very low temperature for about 20 minutes, or until the rice has fully cooked and absorbed the stock. Remove from heat, fluff, remove the bayleaves and thyme stems, and serve. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley if you like, and a sprinkle of soy sauce.

This heats up beautifully the next day for lunch, if you have leftovers or are thinking ahead enough to make extra. Since the proportions are at-will, you can play with the ratio of vegetables and chicken to rice based on your budget and still have a terrific-tasting dish. Remember to save the bones of the leftover roast chicken to make some stock to have on hand in the freezer, for next time...