Moroccan Braised Chicken

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While I was working as a full-time personal chef here in NYC, I had a number of clients whose homes I visited once a week to cook. I prepared a work week’s worth of meals, ranging from soups to salads, protein dishes and grains. Each morning, I trekked to Whole Foods with my uber-stylish granny cart, equipped with a list and a plan: in under 5 hours, I needed to shop, set up, cook, package and label 8 different dishes in my client’s kitchen. It was a bit like a Quickfire Challenge, plus the added pressure of making sure everything would be delicious after a few days in the fridge. Oh, and I usually had 2 client’s in one day, so I would turn around do the same thing in the afternoon.

I loved it.

I know a lot of people take issue with reheating food. How long does it really last? Won’t it go bad? What’s the best way to reheat? Now, hear me out. With a few exceptions (like soups and braises), I admit a lot of meals taste best right after they’re made (think fish, pasta, a perfectly seared steak). But that just upped the ante for me. It became my mission to make the best reheatable meals this side of the Hudson. The key? Take a cue from those delicious 3rd day soups and stews, which are scientifically proven to taste better after a night in the fridge.

This braised Moroccan-inspired chicken became one of my client’s favorites. They loved the exotic flavor, but with the familiarity of chicken, carrots and chickpeas. What they didn’t know was it could be made in one pot, took about 30 minutes and was a largely hands-off process, allowing me time to make the 7 other dishes. The best part? It reheats beautifully on the stove top with a bit of it’s cooking liquid. What? You thought I would say zap it in the microwave? I am a chef, afterall.

 

Moroccan Braised Chicken (Quick Chicken Tagine)

Serves 3-4 (2 thighs/person)

  • 6-8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic*
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • About 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or golden raisins
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 can, drained)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Blot the chicken with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. You aren’t looking to cook the chicken all the way through, just get it nice and brown. Transfer to a large plate or rimmed sheet tray.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot with a big pinch of salt, adding a bit more oil if there is a lot of sticky residue in the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout and stir to coat the vegetables, allowing the spices to toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking some of the water out of the tomatoes, for about 2 minutes. Add back the chicken to the pot and cover with the chicken stock (just enough to barely cover most of the chicken). Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a serving platter.  To reduce the sauce, increase to high heat and bring to a rapid boil. This will allow the flavors to concentrate and the sauce to thicken. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the dried fruit and chickpeas. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a little honey or a few more pinches of ras el hanout if it needs it.

Serve the sauce and chickpeas over the chicken with a big handful of chopped parsley, and more lemon if you want. Serve with couscous, quinoa or millet.

To reheat: Heat over low in a high-sided skillet or small saucepan with cooking liquid. Do not microwave, chicken will toughen.

*General PSA: please buy happy chickens (happy = organic). Aside from the fact that they more humanely raised than commercial brands, they taste better and are altogether more chicken-y. A bang for your buck if you ask me. Trader Joe’s carries organic chicken, along with Whole Foods and most likely someone at your local farmer’s market. They probably have eggs, too.

Chinois Salad

It’s time to break out the snap bracelets and dig up your Clueless video. The ’90’s are back…on the menu. Since reading American Appetite by Leslie Brenner, I’ve been in a bit of a culinary time warp, revisiting old favorites and reworking them with a vegetarian twist. This is my take on the Chinese “chinois” salad made popular in the ’90’s by Wolfgang Puck. Oh, and did I mention it’s vegan? In the words of Michelle Tanner “cool, dude!”

 

Ingredients

1 head bok choy, washed, cored, dried and cut into bit size pieces

1 bunch green onions (scallions) chopped

2 3 oz. packages Ramen noodles (no need for seasoning packets)

2 oz. sliced almonds

2 T. olive oil

Garlic powder and salt to taste

2 T. soy sauce

1/4 cup light-colored vinegar (cider or rice works)

2 T. honey (for vegan option, use sugar or agave)

1 package Morningstar Farms Chick’n strips, prepared as directed on package

1 large can mandarin oranges, drained

 

Directions

Combine chopped boy choy and onions in a bowl. Bread up uncooked ramen noodles into small pieces. Saute noodles, sesame seeds and almonds in oil, about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add garlic powder and salt. Cool and store in covered container. In a small saucepan, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar and honey until heated through. Combine all parts of the salat and toss with chick’n. Garnish with mandarin oranges.

Where do you recommend…?

Red Horse Cafe, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Living here in New York, we have our pick of top-notch restaurants when we feel like taking a break from the kitchen. Instead of settling for a ho-hum meal that I could make at home, I gravitate towards places that allow me to try new preparations. I often find myself with Friday-afternoon text messages and emails from friends asking for city recommendations.  Here is where I would take them… 

Coffee/Cafe 

Red Horse Cafe, Park Slope 

Joe, the Art of Coffee, locations throughout the city 

Bakery 

Billy’s Bakery, locations in Chelsea and Tribeca 

Lunch 

Press 195, Park Slope & Bayside, Queens 

S’nice, locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan 

Italian 

Il Passatore, Williamsburg 

Graziellas, Fort Greene, Brooklyn 

Tapas 

Yuca Bar, Lower East Side 

Cuban 

Cafe Habana, Soho 

Thai 

Song, Park Slope 

Ethiopian 

Meskerem, West Village 

Afghani 

Khyber Pass, Lower East Side 

Venezuelan 

Caracas Arepa Bar, Lower East Side 

Seafood 

Blue Water Grill, Union Square 

Bagels 

Terrace Bagels, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn 

Cheap! 

Crocodile Lounge, East Village/Gramercy 

Prosperity Dumpling, Chinatown 

And drumroll please, my go-to spot for breakie, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks and dessert is… 

Westville, 2 locations in the West Village and Lower East side

Caracas Arepa Bar

 

 

The Place: Caracas Arepa Bar, 93 1/2 7th Street near the corner of 1st Avenue, East Village, NYC. Open everyday 12 noon to 11 PM. Take the L to 1st Ave, F/V to 2nd Ave, 6 to Astor Place, N, R to 8th Street.

The Plate: Dinner for 3, including an appetizer, sandwiches and drinks.

The Damage: Under $50 for 3 people

My love for arepas, the flat Venezuelan corn bread often served as a sandwich, goes back to my days at Coyote Grill. While their version is akin to an American pancake, “real” arepas are more savory than sweet and earn their flavor from the accompanied fillings. Enter: Caracas Arepa Bar. This East Village joint is small, but packs big flavor. After I learned Bobby Flay challenged the owner to a throwdown (the verdict: Caracas > Flay), I knew I had to see for myself.

Last night, I met a few friends (one old, one new – what can I say, I’m a Girl Scout at heart) at their East Village location. Our “30-40 minute wait” was more like 15 (it helps to befriend the host.) We sandwiched ourselves at the tiny table and dove into the menu. The selection consisted of small and larger plates with 14 arepas, 4 types of empanadas, salads, appetizers (“sidekicks”) and desserts.

We started off with drinks, skipping over their wine and beer  in favor of some house cocktails ($5-7), that coincidently, included wine and beer (no liquor to be found.) I choose the tinto de verano, a fizzy Venezuelan sangria. Fruity and refreshing, it was not as sweet as traditional Spanish sangria. My friend Dan went straight for an unusual spicy beer and lemonade concoction, served in a salt-rimmed Mason jar.  To round out the mix, my friend Claudia ordered a mimosa spiked with passion fruit, presumably served during their brunch hours.

For an appetizer, we shared a plate of yoyos ($5.50), fried sweet plantains balls stuffed with white cheese and served with a syrupy mollasas dipping sauce. At first bite, I was getting a distinctively french toast vibe from these yoyos, crispy and sweet with a salty kick from the cheese. After a good dose of hot sauce,  these yoyos were no child’s play.

Arepa time. Served grilled and stuffed with a number of fillings, there was something for everyone. Dan’s pick: the Reina Pepiada ($6.75)  brimming with chicken and avocado salad; a clear winner for this newbie to the arepa arena. Claudia chose La Surena ($7.50), complete with grilled chicken, chorizo sausage, avocado and chimi-churri sauce. No stranger to spice, this arepa brought the heat. To my delight, there were 5 vegetarian arepas. My choice? La del Gato ($6.25),a combination of Venezuelan guyanés cheese, fried sweet plantains and avocado. The cheese was soft and salty, the perfect complement to the mellow avocado and sweet plantains. With a splash of their tangy homemade hot sauce, La del Gato reached a whole new level of delicious. 

Aside from a small altercation in our dinner bill, the service was friendly and quick. With another location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a slammin’ weekday lunch special (arepa+soup or salad for $7.95) and a nifty to-go operation, there will definitely be more arepas in my future.