Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chicken. Custard. Together. Awesome.

Curried "custard" chicken with tomatoes and onions
Recently my friend Sarah made me, as she often does, a really exciting dinner. The main dish consisted of lamb shanks that had been slow-cooked overnight and were then baked a second time covered by yogurt that cooked to form a custard on top of the meat. (If you didn’t just experience a little frisson of excitement upon reading the phrase "a custard on top of the meat," I don't know what to do with you.)
Inspired by this dish, I decided to do a simplified version involving chicken thighs, though I was nervous about how the "custard" would turn out. While it definitely had a different flavor and mouthfeel than Sarah’s lamb dish (in part because it was a much thinner layer), it was a pretty delicious entree that would impress company and/or feed a good four people (I served it for two and ate leftovers the next two days for lunch), but doesn't cost too much to put together.
Here's what I did:

  • Put about a pint of plain lowfat yogurt in a metal strainer lined by coffee filters, topped the yogurt with another coffee filter, put the strainer, in a bowl and left it in the fridge overnight. This is to get all the liquid out of the yogurt. (To accelerate the process of draining, I took a stack of saucers and put it on the yogurt to weigh it down.)

  • Skinned and boned a 2-lb. package of chicken thighs. If you’re not familiar/comfortable with this, just get boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

    Marinating chicken, left; layered tomatoes and onions

  • Let the chicken sit in a mix of 1 TSP curry powder, 1/2 T paprika, 1/2 T garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 c. milk for a few hours (you could do as little as an hour, as long as overnight).

  • Buttered a baking dish and lined the bottom with a layer of sliced onions, then a layer of chopped parsley, then a layer of sliced tomatoes, then dots of butter, then the chicken. I poured in maybe half a cup of chicken stock (though I'm actually considering skipping this step if I try making the dish again, since it was VERY liquidy and I ended up pouring out most of the liquid into the rice I served to accompany it. If you try this, let me know how it turns out).

  • Spread the yogurt over the lamb with a plastic spatula, sprinkled the surface with paprika, and baked at 400° until the top had brown dots. (Careful taking the pan out, the liquid will be bubbling on the sides.)

    The finished dish (some liquid drained)

  • You can serve this over rice, couscous, bulghur, or some other grain; again, try draining some of the liquid from the chicken into it. I also served sautéed green beans with red pepper; spinach, kale, or some other green vegetable would be good too.

    A parting word of encouragement: Don't be afraid of recipes that call for you to do something the night before. Often, you only have to do something pretty simple and then just let it sit in the fridge overnight. At first it might seem high-maintenance to plan your meals that far in advance, but it's a great habit for the home cook to get into, and will end up saving you time in the kitchen as well as at the grocery store.
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