November 11, 2015

Asianifying fall vegetables (part 2): kabocha & chicken stew

 

kabochachicken

 

Okay. This one is a bit of a cheat. In continuing my series, “Asianifying fall vegetables in the U.S.,” I should, in theory, be choosing vegetables that do not typically feature in Asian cuisines. However, this is not the case in today’s recipe, since kabocha is a type of small pumpkin that is used in a variety of East Asian culinary practices. The reason why I decided to try it was because of the interesting nature of the recipe book it came from. Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way, by Luiz Hara, is an attempt to clarify and explain the legitimacy of Japanese cooking as interpreted by members of the Japanese diaspora. Hara is one such member, having grown up in Brazil before moving to London to become an influential food blogger (while working in finance) and, eventually, a chef.

That being said, this recipe is what I would classify as restaurant-level one, given that it took what seemed like an eternity to make and contains detailed instructions such as “caramelise [the] konbu strips to garnish” and “Bevel the edges of each [pumpkin] slice” (i.e. scrape the pumpkin skin off the edges.) Still, it made for a delicious soup erring on the unexpectedly sweet side, which was nicely off-set by the savoury chicken element. I would make it again, but next time I would break up the preparation in a way that wouldn’t require me to do everything in one session, since there is quite a bit of steeping  and waiting involved. My recommendation is to prepare the dashi and ensuing kabocha soup well-ahead of time. The chicken can be done shortly before serving. For this reason, I’ve taken the liberty of separating this recipe into steps so that you can do “Step 1” in advance, and save “Step 2” for later.

From Luiz Hara: One of the simplest meat recipes in this book, this is a delicate but flavoursome dish with three main components–chicken, dashi stock, and kabocha pumpkin. For this dish to work, all three should be fresh and of the highest quality. If the budget stretches, I recommend corn-fed, preferably free-range chicken, and the dashi should be primary, crystal-clear and freshly made. This is an elegant chicken dish that is sure to impress.

Serves 4

-1 litre (4 cups) Primary dashi

-1/2 small kabocha pumpkin

-100 ml (1/2 cup) mirin

-1 1/2 tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar

-5 cm (2 in.) piece of konbu

-5 tbsp. light soy sauce

-4 corn-fed chicken thighs, skin on, bone in

-1 tsp. sansho pepper, to garnish

-1 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds, to garnish

-2 tbsp. caramelised konbu seaweed, to garnish

[Step 1.]

Prepare the primary dashi; this dish is all about the quality of the dashi and the chicken.

Start by preparing the kabocha pumpkin. First, cut the kabocha in half and remove the seeds. Then cut each half in half again: the quarters will have a thicker top part and a thinner bottom part. Then cut each quarter in half again so that you have eight pieces of roughly the same weight and size, for even cooking. Bevel the edges of each slice using a potato peeler (I do this to stop the sharp edges from breaking off into the dashi and making it cloudy, which would also spoil the presentation.) Finally, tap the heel of the knife blade into the kabocha‘s skin to cut small nicks into it, so when the kabocha cooks and the flesh expands, the harder skin will be able to expand with it and the slice will not crumble.

Put the kabocha in a medium pan, skin side down. Add the dashi, mirin, sugar, and konbu piece. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat so the kabocha gently simmers. Cook until the kabocha is just cooked through but firm, about 7 minutes; test for doneness by sticking a toothpick through it. Do not overcook at this stage, as the kabocha will be cooked again. When the kabocha is ready, turn off the heat and add the soy sauce. Let the kabocha steep in its cooking liquor for at least 1 hour (more is fine, even a few hours but don’t refrigerate.)

[Step 2.]

Carefully remove the kabocha from its liquor, setting it aside but reserving the liquid in the pan.

Next, preheat a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown for a minute or so. Turn the pieces of chicken over and brown the other side for 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the pan of cooking liquor and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, so the liquid simmers gently, and continue to cook for 12 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan and keep it warm.

Now, return the kabocha pieces to the cooking liquid, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently for a couple of minutes to heat the pumpkin through.

To plate, place one chicken thigh in a shallow serving bowl followed by two pieces of kabocha pumpkin alongside, then add a ladleful of the cooking broth. Finish off with a sprinkle of sansho pepper, the toasted sesame seeds and a few strands of caramelised konbu over the chicken. Serve immediately.

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