Thank you all, you big sweethearts, for your congratulations and good wishes and love. I'm basking in it all - we are, I should say - and I don't want this feeling to ever end. I knew people liked romance, but I didn't know how much! It feels a little anti-climactic to write this next post about food again: "I just got engaged! Now let me tell you about this toast." But we keep eating and I keep writing and so it goes, just with a bigger grin these days.
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I am, in a word, a sucker for Chinese food. It's become a full-blown obsession of mine, in fact. Perhaps it's fed by the fact that Ben dislikes it and we've moved to a neighborhood where there's no good Chinese food in walking distance (O, Manhattan, this is what I miss!), I don't know, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways I can eat more of it.
(A few times after the New York Times published this map, I'd get in the car and drive to Flushing, where I'd scurry into the subterranean warren of food stands where no one speaks any English and the food seems as cheap and authentic as I imagine it to be in China itself. Five minutes later, with hot, porky, chili-oil-slicked noodles packed into a plastic take-away box and wrapped in a plastic bag dangling from my wrist, I'd dash out, hop in the car and speed home to eat noodles in blissful, mouth-tingling silence. The fly-by-night nature of the operation almost made it seem like I was conducting an illicit affair. My darling had plans after work and I dallied with translucent-skinned dumplings and fragrant soups. My sweetheart had to go into the city on a Saturday and I schemed to eat hand-pulled noodles and let Sichuan peppercorns numb my lips. Hoo, I get sweaty just thinking about it.)
But for some reason, I'm still a little scared of making Chinese food at home. Yes, I'm daunted by the long ingredient lists. Also, I don't own a wok or have the pleasure of a dining companion willing to ingest copious amounts of ground pork at every meal. Is that enough reason to keep myself from making the food I currently love the most? Absolutely not. Do I jump with glee every time one of the newspapers publishes a Chinese recipe, just because then it feels like a challenge that I have to complete? Yes, indeed.
Mark Bittman's Hainanese chicken has quite a bit going for it. First of all, it makes A Lot of Food. Enough to feed a family of four or six, I'd say, or two with leftovers for lunch for at least a couple of days. Second of all, you'll get a few quarts of chicken stock - lovely, ginger-and-garlic scented chicken stock - out of it, perfect for freezing and drinking in times of sickness or for cooking rice. I'm trying my hardest right now to economize and find meals where I didn't before (but spending a few extra dollars on an organic, free-ranging chicken seems worth it, nevertheless). Third of all, in the annals of Chinese recipes, it is so easy you could almost do it with your eyes closed, which is what I find most appealing, of course.
You boil a chicken with ginger and garlic for 10 minutes, then turn off the flame and let the chicken sit in hot broth for almost an hour. Then you use the hot broth to cook the rice. It's a one-dish meal, with cucumbers and tomatoes and chopped scallions all arranged right on top of the chicken and rice and served at the table with a dipping sauce.
The dipping sauce is the one problem with this whole recipe. It's basically just oil mixed with ginger and chopped scallions and it feels a little odd, to be dipping chunks of chicken into oil (I halved the amount of oil called for, but still). The next time I make this, I'll simply toss the chicken with the ginger, scallions and sesame oil and then pile the whole lot on top of the rice.
For someone who professes to dislike Chinese food, Ben had an awful lot of this at dinner. It's not takeout from Flushing, no, and it's not nearly hot and funky enough for my tastes, but I'm counting it as a minor success. Besides, now I've got the goods for homemade fried rice - my first ever - and that's cause for celebration!
Hainanese Chicken with Rice
Serves 4 to 6
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken, trimmed of excess fat
Several cloves smashed garlic, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Several slices fresh ginger, plus 1 tablespoon minced ginger
4 tablespoons peanut oil, or neutral oil, like corn or canola
3 shallots, roughly chopped, or a small onion
2 cups long-grain rice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup minced scallions
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add chicken to pot along with smashed garlic and sliced ginger. Bird should be completely submerged, but only just. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let bird remain in water for 45 minutes to an hour, covered, or until it is cooked through.
2. Remove chicken from pot, reserve stock, and let bird cool to room temperature. Put 4 tablespoons peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat; you may add trimmed chicken fat to this also. When oil is hot, add remaining garlic, along with shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until glossy. Add 4 cups reserved chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover; cook for about 20 minutes, until rice has absorbed all liquid. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
3. Combine the sesame oil, ginger, half the scallions and a large pinch of salt.
4. Shred or chop chicken, discarding skin. Toss the chicken with the sesame oil mixture. Put rice on a large platter and mound chicken on top of it; decorate platter with cucumbers, tomatoes and cilantro, and serve.