Grilled Lemon Cumin Chicken with Favas and Feta

The weather pattern this week almost has me believing we’re living in California wine country or something. Here we are moving straight on to summer, and yet we’ve had a series of clear, warm, dry days followed by cool, breezy evenings that make me just want to live outside. I’m savoring it, because I’m counting on the return of our normal St. Louis days of heat and booty-spanking humidity. Well, dreading them, really. 

I’d love to live outside. I’ve been sitting out in the backyard, watching the grass grow (for real) and browsing through the pages of the various catalogs that pile up around here – Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Smith and Hawken – that now have whole publications devoted to decorating the yard. I find the stylish photos very inviting, in a movie-set kind of way. And while I can easily imagine lounging on an oversized espresso-colored cushion and serving dinner on a 7-foot long dining table nestled under a big old olive tree with a chandelier hanging from it, I have to laugh.

When I insist on eating dinner in the backyard, we line up for a few thick coats of Deep Woods repellent and shovel dinner in real fast before hightailing it back inside.

In the spirit of the season, however, I made this Mediterranean-inspired chicken the other night. We ate it outside, pretty much unscathed.

I always buy fresh fava beans in the spring, because I love them. Although they require a tiny bit of extra work (double-peeling), they’re nothing like dried ones, which tend to need a lifetime of soaking and have a dry, starchy texture when cooked. Fresh favas are tender, sweet and greener than Kentucky Bluegrass. They’re also fun for kids to peel – the pods are thick and fleshy, and the beans inside rest on a fuzzy white lining like flannel pillowcases.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food



Chicken Tagliata with Fennel-White Bean Salad

Chicken Tagliata

I’ve mentioned that I have a competitive cooking streak. You wouldn’t guess that if you met me though; I’m well behaved and you can take me places. I promise I won’t jump on the table at your favorite restaurant and demand an Iron Chef match with the staff.

The National Chicken Cooking Contest, with a grand prize of $100,000, is taking place Friday, May 4 in Birmingham, with 51 contestants – one from each state. I’ll be there, wearing my red satin sash, representing the state of Missouri.

We’re packing up the Odyssey with my pans and potholders. And the two kids. They’ve never seen me compete at a cook-off, but I don’t have any doubt about what they’re most looking forward to: swimming in the hotel pool.

Tune in next week for the full report!

Chicken Tagliata with Warm Fennel and White Bean Salad
Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 1/2 teaspooons kosher salt, divided
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
1 fennel bulb, stems trimmed, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
1/3 cup quartered grape tomatoes
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup baby arugula
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese curls

Butterfly each breast: cut 3/4 through center of thicker, long side of each chicken breast and open flat. Pound to an even thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap; place chicken in a large shallow baking dish.

Puree 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, buttermilk, fennel seeds and basil in a blender or mini food processor. Pour over chicken, turning to coat. Cover and marinate at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.

In medium saucepan, mix together remaining lemon juice and olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, garlic, beans, and sliced fennel. Place over medium heat and simmer about 2 minutes, or until fennel is crisp-tender. Remove from heat and gently stir in tomatoes, lemon zest and parsley.

Sprinkle chicken on both sides with the remaining teaspoon salt and pepper. Spray a large non-stick grill pan with cooking spray and place over medium high heat. Cook chicken 3 minutes per side.

Slice chicken into 1/2-inch thick slices. To serve, spread 1/4 cup arugula over each sliced chicken breast. Spoon fennel salad over arugula and top with cheese.

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Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

General Tso, To Go at Home

General Tso’s Chicken (with peanut garnish)

The new “It” cookbook in the Foodist world seems to be the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. A few weeks ago, the NYT magazine ran Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe for General Tso’s chicken from the book, and today that same paper’s food section published a favorable review by Anne Mendelson.

In addition, one of my favorite new sites, Serious Eats, has a great video clip of the author cooking General Tso’s chicken that made me want to run into the kitchen to cook. And writer Michael Ruhlman’s blog has a nice step-by-step post about it.

I gave in and bought the book. There are lots of appealing recipes in here that I’m very interested to try, like Bowl-Steamed Eggplant with Winter-Sacrifice Beans and Salted Greens (page 223), Chicken with Ginger (page 130) and the intriguing Smacked Cucumbers (page 62) but I felt I had to give the recipe for General Tso’s Chicken a go. Dunlop offers two versions; the more authentically Hunan recipe that I made differs in that it lacks the sugar of the Americanized version.

Maybe it’s because I don’t live in Manhattan or anywhere near the East coast; I don’t have a tendency to order Chinese take-out, and don’t really have a benchmark to measure this by. I know, I know, where have I been?

I have to tell you, I probably won’t make this recipe again unless I change it a tiny bit, and by that I mean eliminating the deep-frying part. That will make this some other kind of recipe – more along the lines of General Mom’s Chicken. Granted, I doubled the recipe to accommodate eight boneless chicken thighs instead of four because we are greedy chicken eaters. But still, it didn’t seem worth the effort.

Maybe I should have done this in two separate batches, because when I added the doubled amount of potato starch to the marinade mixture, things “seized up” a bit, and it became less of a batter and more of a dough.

And, if you haven’t deep-fried anything for a while, I’ll remind you that while it isn’t really difficult, it is rather time consuming and messy.

By the time we sat down to eat this, I was a little cranky. And after mixing that preciously deep fried chicken with the sauce, you couldn’t even tell how it had been cooked. Why not just stir-fry it?

Meantime, I’ll be making further investigations into this cookbook, and I’ll keep you posted.

General Tso’s Chicken

Adapted from “The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook,” by Fuchsia Dunlop; as published in the New York Times Magazine, February 4, 2007

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste, mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1?2 teaspoon potato flour
1?2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
11?2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons chicken stock or water
For the chicken:
12 ounces (about 4 to 5) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1?2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 quart peanut oil, more as needed
6 to 10 dried red chilies
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish.

1. Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. To prepare the chicken, unfold the chicken thighs and lay them on a cutting board. Remove as much of the sinew as possible. (If some parts are very thick, cut them in half horizontally.) Slice a few shallow crosshatches into the meat. Cut each thigh into roughly 1?4 -inch slices and place in a large bowl. Add the soy sauces and egg yolk and mix well. Stir in the potato flour and 2 teaspoons peanut oil and set aside. Using scissors, snip the chilies into 3?4 -inch pieces, discarding the seeds. Set aside.

3. Pour 3 1?2 cups peanut oil into a large wok, or enough oil to rise 1 1?2 inches from the bottom. Set over high heat until the oil reaches 350 to 400 degrees. Add half the chicken and fry until crisp and deep gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the second batch. Pour the oil into a heatproof container and wipe the wok clean.

4. Place the wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When hot, add the chilies and stir-fry for a few seconds, until they just start to change color. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds longer, until fragrant. Add the sauce, stirring as it thickens. Return the chicken to the wok and stir vigorously to coat. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and top with scallions. Serve with rice. Serves 2 to 3.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food