Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

My mom sent me an email from for lemon chicken. It looked pretty good.

I basically see cooking as a circus (those of you who have seen the mess I can make in a kitchen will see the sense in this), so I see components of a dish in rings. This dish was a three ring circus. First, I had to get the chicken together, then the dipping sauce, and then the email (which came to my mom via mentioned at the bottom that I could throw some cauliflower in a food processor and then toast it up to serve with the chicken.

So, I start with the first ring. It was a dipping sauce that involved chili garlic paste. I was way too lazy to go find a store that sold that, so I found a recipe for it. I didn't write down what kind of chillies I needed for the recipe, I just wrote on the back of a piece of paper that some asshole had left on the floor (by the trash can) of the computer room at the hotel, "2-3 oz. chillies" and left it at that.

Well I got to the store, and there were all kinds of chillies. I usually shop at a tiny little grocery store across the street, but I needed some stuff that they don't carry so I was at a great big grocery store, and I had basically forgotten how big that place was. There were all kinds of dried chillies to choose from. After getting opposing information from around the country from the people I trust to know about chillies, I was about to give up.

Then a guy and his wife walked up to the chili display and started talking in rapid-fire Spanish. I decided to ask him which chillies are the mildest. I retained enough of my two semesters of Spanish to get out, "Pardone me, necissito chillies pero no me gusta caliente. Por favor?" This was the wrong thing to say. He started in with me in Spanish like we were old amigos from Ecuador with shared fond memories of being weened on pablanos and fried rice. Oh hell no. I stopped him with, "That's all the Spanish I know."

He said, "okay. Okay!" and smiled and handed me a bag of little chillies. "Caliente!" he declared proudly. I said, "Um...gracias. Pero, no me gusta caliente." And I held my stomach and tried to convey to him with pantomime what would happen with caliente. His wife giggled. He took the bag back and handed me a bag of great big chillies. He said something that I told myself was along the lines of, "Ok, nice lady, here are some nice, mild chillies. Have a great day!" but was probably more like "Alright, you bland, unimaginative, gringo, here are your bland-ass chillies. I hope you choke on 'em." Given his wife's ensuing guffaws, I'm sure it was the latter. I digress. Here are the chillies:

I finally did find a jar of the chili garlic paste, over by the soy sauce. Here is what I found:

It was only $1.50 and I figured I could definitely use a back-up.

So I got home and started in making the dip, an ingredient of which was the chili garlic paste. First, I soaked the chillies in boiling water for half an hour:

While that was going on, I went to pummel the chicken. I don't have one of know, the mallet things, so I improvised:

Just trust me, that's a half an inch. Boy, that was fun!

The chillies still had some time left for soaking, so I went on with the second ring of the circus: the caul-rice. This sounded kind of gross to me, because a caul is actually a...well, it's not pleasant, and there's no need to bring it up. Here, it's short for cauliflower-rice, which is basically chopping up some cauliflower in the food processor and then toasting in a wok. And so:


The chillies were done soaking, so I drained the water into a separate bowl and cleaned the chillies. This basically meant taking off the stems, cleaning out the seeds, and rinsing off the chillies. This was boring and seemed to take forever. I'll cut to the chase:

I went from this:

to this:

to this chili/oil/garlic concoction:

So the paste was done. Now I needed to make the rest of the dipping sauce. That was easy, just throw some stuff in a bowl. Don't even have to cook it, just stir it up with a fork.

So, one ring down, one ring nearly finished, and one ring to go.

Instead of dipping the chicken into the bowl of marinade, I poured the marinade into the Ziploc baggie and shook it up. Then I heard a commotion outside and went to go see some drama! It was a false alarm. That extra time with the marinade probably did the chicken good, though. Right?

So I threw the first chicken breast in the pan, set the timer for five minutes, and went to start cleaning up the horrendous mess this meal had created. After a minute or two I went over and started messing with the chicken. I didn't want it to burn, so instead of letting it cook for five minutes on one side and then flipping it like the recipe said, I started flipping it and kept doing that for the next ten minutes, in between washing dishes.

That one seemed done, so I put in the next piece of chicken. As that was cooking, I started to toast the caul-rice. That was pretty boring. So I made a second dipping sauce with the pre-made chili garlic paste. That was a shitload easier, since it was just opening a jar instead of all that soaking and cleaning.

Anyway, the second piece of chicken was starting to look pretty well burnt, so I put it on a plate with some caul-rice.

I took both dipping sauces and tried each of 'em. The one with the home made chili paste was pretty damn bland. I didn't put any of the seeds in there, though, so that explains it. The dipping sauce with the pre-made paste had a lot more kick but the vinegar was way too strong.

The chicken was okay. I guess I don't understand chicken. I can't get it to cook right. My friend Ed said I should poke holes in it with a fork since I'm too cheap to buy one of those things that injects the flavor into the chicken. Maybe I'll try that next time. Or maybe I'll start making the kind of friends who go out and buy that shit for me.

In all, it took an hour and a half to prepare, half an hour to clean up, and it wasn't worth it. It had real potential, but only part of the chicken - the outer part, naturally - tasted like anything. It was good, but it wasn't worth the trouble.

The caul-rice was fucking awful. Maybe I didn't let it toast long enough, because every bite became a mouthful of caul-water. Nasty.
Next time I'll poke holes in the chicken, let it marinate overnight, and use cous-cous instead of caul-rice. Also, the email I got said to serve the dipping sauce on the side, but I think it would have been better on the chicken. I honestly think that in this instant glory world that we've created, there is probably a pre-made marinade for this. I'll keep an eye out for that for the next time. I mean, this didn't even taste like it involved lemons, and the whole point was that it was lemon chicken.

Whatevs. The kitchen is clean now and I'm heading to bed with a heart full of disappointment and a belly full of cous-juice. Whatever horrid dreams may come, I know I've brought them on myself.

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