Archive for November, 2010

Paprikas csirke: “Paprika Chicken”

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Chicken is invariably the cheapest meat in my neighborhood supermarket. This means the bird in some form often ends up on our dinner table: roast chicken, fried chicken, chicken soup, white stew chicken, to name a few.

To avoid a “Not chicken again, Pop!” remark from one of my sons, I’ve taken to using spices as camouflage—thus homemade chicken curry, Moroccan chicken tagine, and most recently when I cracked open a 25-year-old Hungarian cookbook, Paprikas csirke “paprika chicken.”

This Hungarian recipe calls for lard, chicken fat, and the labor intensive practice of cutting up a 3-pound chicken. After looking at half a dozen recipes in other cookbooks and on the Internet, I put together a recipe that is easy, quick, inexpensive, relatively low fat, and adapted for ingredients found readily in Japanese supermarkets.

Testing out my new recipe , I used Spanish paprika, and the meal was very good. However, I wanted to try the real deal. So, I spent a long afternoon on subways and JR lines traversing the city in search of the elusive Hungarian spice, inquiring at seven supermarkets and three gourmet food shops, including a famous New York City-based delicatessen where one young female clerk told me, “We don’t stock many spices anymore. Japanese don’t cook with spices.”

You could have knocked me over with a saffron stamen.

Spice racks abound in every Tokyo supermarket. Paprika is always between freeze-dried parsley and pepper. But all that red powder comes from Spain.

In desperation, I called the Hungarian embassy in Tokyo and was told that Hungarian paprika is no longer imported into Japan. Serendipitously, however, Japan was celebrating Hungarian Weeks, a new Hungarian restaurant had opened in Ginza, and food and wine events were taking place in Tokyo and Osaka. And the chef at the embassy generously blessed me with a small packet of the delicate, noble sweet édesnemes quality paprika.

Seek out this wonderful spice. It is available via the Internet. Hungarian paprika has a deeper, more floral fragrance than its Spanish cousin, and a richer, more complex taste. Spanish paprika though, especially the sweet, pimenton dulce, is a very good substitute.

Ingredients:

• 900 grams rough-cut boneless chicken thigh

• 400 grams rough-cut chicken breast

• 2 medium onions

• two large ripe tomatoes or one 14-oz. can diced tomatoes

• one large sweet red pepper, 2-3 green peppers (or more depending on size)

• two tablespoons vegetable oil

• two tablespoons best paprika (preferably Hungarian)

• pinch of ground clove

• one teaspoon salt

• 100ml water

• two tablespoons heavy cream

To thicken the sauce:

• two tablespoons sour cream

• one tablespoon all-purpose flour

• one teaspoon water

The noodles:

• 250 grams fettucini egg noodles prepared as per package instructions

• a little sweet butter to finish the noodles

Use the heaviest lidded casserole or pot you have. You’ll be simmering the chicken in its juices at the lowest possible heat, and you don’t want it to burn.

First, get the chicken ready. Using the “mizutaki” chicken is a cinch because it’s already cut into boneless chunks. To make this a more “low fat” dish, I remove the skin remaining on the meat. A five minute task. Sometimes you’ll have to resort to a knife, but usually all it takes is a firm tug to remove the skin. The “sasami,” breast meat, chicken pieces should be cut roughly into 3-centimeter long pieces too. This takes about a minute.

When in season, use two large ripe tomatoes, the best you can find. Skin and dice them. However, when those sad supermarket objects labeled tomatoes are barely pink and about as edible as tennis balls, a can of diced tomatoes is the ticket.

Dice two medium onions. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in the casserole, add the diced onions and let them sweat on low heat for 5-10 minutes covered until the onions become soft and translucent, but not browned. Stir occasionally.

Now add the chicken chunks and the diced tomatoes. Stir to coat everything with the softened onions. Cover and let simmer again for ten minutes.

Stir in two heaping tablespoons of paprika, one teaspoon of salt, one pinch of ground clove (optional), and 100ml of water. The earliest published recipe for Paprika Chicken appeared in 1829 and included a pinch of clove. Modern cookbooks neglect this spice, so I’ve added it back in for old time’s sake. Cover again and let everything simmer for 30 minutes on the lowest possible heat. Stir occasionally.

Now cut up the peppers. The green peppers sold in supermarkets in Japan are fairly puny—usually four or five to the package. I use all of them. Cut, remove the seeds, the white membrane, and the stems. Chop the flesh roughly into chunks. Repeat with the sweet red pepper. I’ve added this vegetable for its color, and to complement the powdered red pepper of the paprika.

Combine two tablespoons of sour cream with one tablespoon of all-purpose flour and one teaspoon of water. Mix thoroughly until smooth and creamy.

Once the chicken, tomato, and onions have simmered for 20 minutes, stir in the chopped green and red peppers. Cover and simmer for another ten minutes until the peppers have softened.

With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces and peppers from the casserole to a large bowl. You’ll have about two cups of rich sauce remaining in the pot. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce for a few minutes until it thickens. It shouldn’t be watery.

Turn down the heat to low and stir the sour cream/flour/water mixture into the sauce. Whisk the sauce until very smooth. Return the chicken and peppers to the pot, stir to coat evenly. Cover and let everything simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes.

Turn off the heat, pour in two tablespoons of heavy cream. Stir thoroughly. Serve with buttered fettuccine egg noodles.

What did my sons think of another meal of chicken? They asked for seconds. And at the end of the meal, the table was noisy with spoons scraping against plates, gathering up every last bit of sauce.

“Can’t waste a drop,” said Nick. I’ll chalk that remark up to the authentic Hungarian  édesnemes paprika.

Bistro Petit Salé: backstreet Aoyama outpost of cuisine a la campagne

Friday, November 12th, 2010

If you’ve ever been to France you’ll recognize the red façade and the white lace curtains in the windows of Petit Salé. Unpretentious bistros like this with a tiny counter bar, a curlicue coat rack, hanging globe lights, and mirrors plus oil paintings on the walls, can be found in any village, town, or city in France.

Such standard décor belies, though, what’s on the plate. Chef Inaba doesn’t try to knock your socks off with unusual combinations or exotic ingredients. He’s a sure-handed craftsman who turns out exemplary cuisine à la campagne in generous portions.

His very reasonably-priced menu offers a full set of well-known appetizers (cold and hot) and familiar main dishes. A small selection of seasonal dishes are also chalked up daily on a menu board.

On a recent visit, almost every table seemed to order the “spicy grass” marinade of salmon (1200 yen). Not a euphemism for the smokable herb, this blend of tarragon, parsley, and olive oil anoints and blesses thin slices of pale pink house-cured fish. Another noteworthy starter is the “fourme d’aubert and walnut salad” (1200 yen). If you’ve not tried fourme d’aubert, it is a softer, subtler blue cheese than its brasher cousin Roquefort. Wedges of the cheese nestle under vinaigrette-dressed leafy greens studded with walnut chunks and grains of rose pepper.

Inaba’s take on escargot is interesting and delicious. He foregoes garlic, but adds bits of eringi and abalone mushrooms to the snails, richly flavored with fresh parsley and olive oil (1200 yen).

His main dishes are stalwart. The fish-of-the-day was houbou, the curiously-named blue fin sea robin (1800 yen). Inaba deftly grilled the firm, white filet—crisp skin yet still tender flesh—then framed it in a olive oil-based tomato sauce with slices of new potatoes, fava beans, semi-dried tomatoes, broccoli and capers.

The “chicken confit with hot vegetables” was fabulous (1600 yen). The jidori leg and thigh, roasted until falling-from-the-bone tender, was served with a nicely spiced mustard sauce, watercress, new potatoes, eggplant, bacon lardons, and abalone mushrooms. Precisely prepared and carefully presented, this is picture-postcard-perfect bistro fare.

The only disappointment is the house bread which is bought frozen then baked. Soft centered with no muscle to its crumb, it lacks character, but is okay for mopping up sauce—which you’ll want to do.

When the place is crowded (as it almost always is), the long narrow room can put you elbow to elbow with your neighboring diners. Yet no one minds, for Bistro Petit Salé is the kind of establishment the Paris Michelin Guide would honor with a “Bib Gourmand” mark: a spot for good food at moderate prices.

For the complete Petit Salé review, and more of my reviews, follow this link to Metropolis Magazine: www.metropolis.co.jp/dining/restaurant-reviews/petit-sale/

Bistro Petit Salé: 2-8-3 Shibuya, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3797-3821. Lunch 11:30am to 2pm. Dinner 5:30pm to 10:30pm. Closed Sunday.