Another friend confessed to me this week that she doesn’t think she can cook. Although she can read a recipe, she finds most don’t have enough detail to instill the confidence needed to venture beyond a casserole.
How many of you are nodding now? I’m guessing lots. It can be intimidating reading a recipe that contains unusual ingredients or techniques that you’ve never tried before.
So, today I have for you a meal to satisfy both beginners and pros.
This isn’t the sickly sweet bottled sauce from the grocery store. This version is grownup and ready to wow. It isn’t difficult and you can even make the sauce days ahead of time if bringing everything together at the last minute is your particular challenge.
This recipe serves four, but doubles easily for a crowd. Oh, and one last secret … this sauce is fantastic on pork chops, too, not to mention shrimp and salmon.
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. grated fresh gingerroot
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup cold water
1 tbsp. cornstarch
4 bone-in chicken breasts or legs with thighs attached
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Let’s start with the sauce. Most recipes call for “packed” brown sugar. It has more moisture than white and to get a true measure you have to push it into the measuring cup to get rid of the air pockets.
Dried ginger cannot be used in place of fresh — it’s well worth a trip to the store. It’s a brown, hand-shaped root and you can freeze what you don’t use. To prepare it, scrape off the papery skin — I find a teaspoon the best tool — and either chop or grate it, as the recipe suggests.
Dry sherry is classic in Asian fare but you can substitute any white wine you like.
Cornstarch is a common thickener and it must always be mixed with a small amount of cold liquid before boiling to activate it. When a sauce thickened with cornstarch is cooled it becomes almost gluey, but rewarm it gently and all is well.
So, here we go. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, honey and sherry in a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer together for 10 minutes. Stir water and cornstarch together until smooth and whisk into the simmering sauce. Boil one minute then remove from heat and cool until ready to use.
Dry chicken with a paper towel then sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over each piece. Place on a baking sheet, skin side down, and spoon a small amount of the sauce over each piece. Rub it on evenly with your fingers. Don’t double dip a spoon into the sauce after it has touched raw chicken — use a clean spoon each time or take out some sauce first for this purpose.
Roast at 375 F for 20 minutes. Turn over the chicken and spread some sauce on the other side. Roast for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the juices run clear. If you want to be absolutely sure about doneness, use a thermometer. It should register 165 F, and the legs between 165 and 175. If you don’t have a thermometer, pull the meat away from the bone and you should feel no resistance.
Meat near the bone can appear dark red or pink, but that doesn’t mean it’s undercooked — it might just be the colour. A thermometer is the best way to avoid the worry altogether.
Serve chicken with remaining sauce on the side.
Toasted Quinoa and Rice with Vegetables and Almonds
Once you decide on chicken, rice is a natural pairing. Plain boiled would be great, but this recipe really raises the bar. Not only is it packed with flavour it’s every side dish you would like to serve all in one.
If you’re trying to eat healthier, then you already know about the magical seed called quinoa. What you might not know is toasting magnifies the flavour.
Toasting the almonds also adds lots of flavour and texture and can be done well in advance. Just put them in a dry frying pan and move them around over medium heat until they turn golden brown.
This amount serves eight but pour a little oil-and-vinegar dressing on leftovers for a fantastic salad the next day.
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 small onion, minced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1 cup long-grain white rice
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 green onions, chopped, both green and white parts
Fry carrot and celery in about half the oil in a large pot for five minutes. Add onion and continue to fry until golden brown. Add green pepper and garlic and cook another minute. Remove and set aside.
Heat remaining oil in pot. Rinse quinoa and rice in cold water and drain thoroughly; add to hot oil. Cook over medium-high until moisture has evaporated and it starts to crackle. When the quinoa changes colour and begins to unfurl its little tails add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so mixture is barely simmering. Cover and cook 13 minutes. Add pepper, fluff with a fork and partially cover for another three or four minutes. Stir in vegetable mixture and serve topped with almonds and onions.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,
NL, A1E 4N1.