Monday, March 22, 2010

Simple but good

When people are first getting to know me, they discover pretty quickly that I'm obsessed with really into food, and they invariably ask me this question: "So what's your favorite thing to cook?" I never know quite how to respond to this, because I really, truly, don't play favorites with my food. What I enjoy about cooking is the creativity and invention at work in it; the sense of freedom that I feel in choosing ingredients that I think might go well together and then attempting to unify them, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with the flavors and cooking techniques that I surmise will do the most justice to those ingredients. What I'm trying to say is that 99% of the time when I'm cooking, I'm just winging it: not following recipes and rarely making the same dish on a regular basis, because what I love most about the process of cooking is how it's new every time.

Since that's a pretty long answer, what I usually say goes something like this: "Well, I like to cook lots of different things, but what I like best is simple food." And it's true. Though there are exceptions to the rule, you'll notice that most of the recipes I share on this blog are very intuitive, with few steps: the kind of food that even people with little cooking experience could make easily. For me, it's a kind of bang-for-your-buck thing: with the type of food I make, a relatively small amount of planning and labor can often yield an extremely satisfying result. I try not to get too touchy-feely about the process of cooking when writing on this blog, but the truth is that sometimes it seems almost magical, like some sort of alchemy: putting in but salt and heat and time, and then sitting down to something that is truly complex, with layers of flavor and shades of richness.

The following recipe definitely fits that description. The ingredients are as follows: chicken, soy sauce, brown sugar, star anise and lime. Count 'em: 5. I just made it up one night when I had some chicken thighs to use up (as I often do), and a craving for Asian flavors (as I often do). It won't deplete your pantry, and it'll take about 15 minutes from start to finish: it's simple, but it's good.



















Soy-Braised Chicken Thighs with Star Anise and Brown Sugar
Serves 1

Ingredients:

2 chicken thighs
Salt
Pepper
Vegetable oil
Dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 star anise pods
Water
Half a lime

Preparation:

1. Generously salt and pepper both sides of the chicken thighs and sear them in a wide, heavy pan set over high heat until well browned on both sides, about 6 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
2. Drop the heat under the pan to medium. Add about 1/2 a cup of water to the pan and stir to deglaze. Add about 2 tbsp. soy sauce, the brown sugar and the star anise; stir to dissolve the brown sugar, then drop the heat so that the mixture bubbles slowly. Add the chicken, cover, and cook until chicken is tender, about 12 minutes.
3. Remove the lid and allow sauce to evaporate until it is quite thick and coats the chicken in a sort of glaze. Taste for seasoning. Eat the chicken over noodles or rice, squeezing the juice of the lime over it before you do.

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