Thai Chicken with Hot-Sour-Salty-Sweet Sauce
Rating: 4.5/5 - Tastes much better than it smells!
This month's recipe test is a bit of a mixed bag, but with good results.
My first impression was awe-filled, as usual, taking in the beautiful food photography gracing the cover of the magazine. My second thought was that it felt as though this had been done before, and while not exactly the same, last September we had tested the Thai Chicken & Watermelon Salad, which had many similar ingredients. But those charred, roasted chicken legs on this month's cover looked too gorgeous to pass up, so Jasmine - owner of Cook That Book and founder of these Food & Wine cover recipe tests - graciously agreed to wait until the end of the month for us to post, to allow more time for me to emerge from under this pile of Frog Boxes and to relocate my kitchen appliances!
Our first official meal in the new place was actually made by F. on Monday night, who - after months of me hint-dropping and (let's be honest) outright begging - broke in the smoker I bought him for his birthday last December. The wonderful Cindy from Boneheads BBQ was kind enough to spend a wet, chilly afternoon with us back then giving the birthday boy a smoking lesson, so she would have been proud to see her pupil in action all these months later! His first try was a major - if spicy - success: "What do you mean you can't substitute cayenne for paprika?" Ha! He shared his yield with a few of our new (fantastic!) neighbours who, in the few short days of living here, have already made us feel part of their community.
In any case, this Food & Wine recipe test was the first, official meal that I cooked in the new place, and as a result, I already felt some sort of attachment to it. There was a lot of scurrying around, trying to remember where I put things, hunting through boxes in the basement, opening the same three cupboards at least 5 times, but in the end, I managed to produce this Thai Chicken with Hot-Sour-Salty-Sweet Sauce.
There were a few moments along the way where I had my doubts. Truly. The marinade smelled awful, and based on all the wacky and unpleasant things I've consumed over the years, it takes a lot to make me feel that way.
Second, F. hates cilantro, and with over 3/4 a cup of the stuff in this recipe, I had visions of the boy going to bed hungry or needing a snack to compensate for his unfinished dinner. While I quite enjoy the flavour of cilantro, I've started using cilantro paste in recipes, rather than fresh, as somehow it softens the flavour and disguises it a little more for the haters. Still, with so much of it being used, any attempt to disguise the flavour started to seem a bit ridiculous.
Third, with 1/4 cup of fish sauce in the dipping sauce, I really wondered if that classic, Southeast Asian balance of spicy-sour-salty-sweet would be achieved. It seemed overpowering. But in chefs I trust, so I went for it.
Given that we sold the BBQ to the people who bought the house, I was a bit out of luck when the recipe called for grilling the chicken prior to roasting it in the oven. I opted instead to sear it in a pan for about 3 minutes on each side and, because I was using chicken breast and not whole legs, I then roasted them for only 20 minutes. They turned out perfectly moist, with tasty charred bits on the edges.
And there I was, snapping some photos of my finished plate, when from the living room (because yes, we're still eating in one for lack of a clear table to sit at!) I hear: "Oh man, that's good stuff!" F. liked it - a lot! Maybe my attempts to lure him into my cilantro-loving ways are working, or the paste was blended in well enough, or the other flavours balanced and softened it... or? I really have no idea why, but he loved it. For that reason alone I wanted to give this recipes a million stars.
I served it with some steamed rice mixed with about a tablespoon of ground lemongrass powder, which offered a delicately flavoured bed on which to sit all those bold flavours in the chicken. After doing some research, and taking stock of what we had in the house, I also paired it with our favourite Nova Scotian white wine: Gaspereau Muscat. I'm no sommelier, but I thought this dry, slightly sweet Muscat with its hints of tropical fruit balanced out the meal quite well!
I really enjoyed the dish too, and that potent-smelling marinade really did something magical to the chicken. I did find the dipping sauce to be a bit too salty, but it had extraordinary flavour and added an extra punch. Next time I would probably just use a little less of the fish sauce, but otherwise, this recipe goes down as another Food & Wine success!
Now over to see how Jasmine fared with this dish...
Now over to see how Jasmine fared with this dish...
Thai Chicken with Hot-Sour-Salty Sweet Sauce by Naomi Duguid
NOTE: If any of you would like to follow along with Jasmine and I and join in on the fun, we'd love to compare notes! So pick-up a copy of the latest issue of Food & Wine and get cooking. Be sure to send your comments and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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