Monday, 17 August 2015

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas

Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce often found in Indonesian cooking. The word sambal simply refers to sauce made with chili peppers which may include an array of secondary ingredients. The word oelek itself or ulek refer to the pestle and mortar traditionally used to grind this flavourful sambal. 

There are many varieties of sambal oelek but the basic recipe includes red hot chili peppers, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, sugar and rice vinegar. It packs a fiery punch but you're getting more than just heat, but also delicious savouriness and acidity which makes this sauce an ideal shortcut to add to many other dishes, like soups and stir-fries.

Today, I'm using the chili sauce to flavour some chickpeas; and topping the chickpeas, pan-roasted chicken. Let's start with the chicken... I use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs here because I prefer the dark meat; also, they are cheaper than breast meat, so what is not to like. The chicken is seared to golden crispiness on the outside and they'll continue to cook to tender perfection in the oven later with the chickpeas. 

To achieve this golden crispiness, I have a couple of notes. One, the chicken has to be pat dry by simply using a kitchen towel before seasoning with salt and pepper. This will ensure maximum crispiness. And two, do it in batches. Over-crowding the pan, and you'll end up with braised chicken.     

Now to the sambal oelek chickpeas. I use store-bought sambal that comes in a jar (my mother would not approve, but she doesn't have to know) which makes it easier. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste. I suggest you get tomato paste that comes in a tube like a toothpaste which I find more efficient; rather than getting tomato paste that comes in a tin. 

This is so quick and easy to make and it's oh-so-good. I was having lunch in front of the TV and had to pause my Netflix show to have my moment alone with the chicken and the chickpeas. 

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sambal Oelek Chickpeas
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons sambal oelek
125 ml water
2 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and black pepper. Working in two batches, cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes per side, transfer to a plate and set aside.

Pour off the excess oil, leaving a tablespoon. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. In the meantime as well, preheat the oven to 220 C. Add tomato paste to the pan along with the chickpeas, sambal oelek and water. Let the mixture comes to a boil the simmer for ten minutes or so. 

 Nestle the chicken thighs on top of the chickpeas, skin side up and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take around 20-25 minutes. Top with chopped spring onions and serve with cooked basmati rice and lime wedges for squeezing over. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Time does fly... I find it hard to believe that it's been exactly a year since I arrived to the Cayman Islands.  Looking back, the past twelve months have been a great and wonderful learning experience. I thoroughly enjoy my work as a baker. In fact, I love it. I absolutely love it.  

I still remember baking my first loaf of bread not too, too long ago and I was just fascinated by it. Now, I get to do it (almost) everyday.  The more I bake, read, experiment and learn from mistakes, I have become more confident and I look forward to learning more and expanding my skill set.

I have also surprised myself that I adjust well to this new environment and I could actually enjoy the island life. Friends who know me well, know that I am not keen on the sun and hot weather. I melt like butter. People say, no one comes to England for the weather, but perhaps that's one of the things I miss most from home. Anyway, the turning point was few weeks ago when I was walking home from work one late afternoon. It was a sunny day and I stopped for a moment, I closed my eyes, soak the warm sun and thinking "hmmm.... this is nice".  Strange, I know. 

Anyway, walking home from the gym today, I really fancy something hearty and so I make this barley risotto with sausage and peas.  It's called a risotto but it's much easier to make. There's no need for constant stirring around around the stove. All the liquid goes at once and let the barley cooks until tender. 

Here I use plain pork sausage meat and I add familiar gutsy Italian flavours of fragrant fennel seeds, garlic, red chili flakes, Marsala, lemon and parmesan. Not feeling embarrassed at all, I also use frozen peas here, a must-have in my freezer; and a rather large handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, because I want the parsley to almost become another vegetable in the risotto, not just a garnish.

This is great one-pot meal to serve when having friends around and it can easily be done ahead of time. On reheating, you might need to add a bit more liquid and add it the parmesan just before serving. 

Have a great one my friends...

Barley Risotto with Sausage and Peas

Olive oil, regular not extra virgin
200 gr sausage meat
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Celery salt
1 banana shallot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
150 ml Marsala
250 gr pearl barley
750 ml chicken stock
200 gr frozen peas
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
A big handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a lug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot that comes with a lid over a medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat to the pan, really breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Fry for a few minutes, or until the meat starts to colour.  

Add the fennel seeds, dried chili flakes and season with celery salt and cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, or until the meat becomes crisp, golden brown and begins to caramelised. 

Stir in the shallot, garlic and the dried thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Then pour in the marsala wine and really scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.

Turn up the heat and add the pearl barley, mixing everything well. Add the chicken stock and when it comes to a boil, clamp the lid on and simmer gently. After 20 minutes, throw in the frozen peas and give everything a good stir around. Continue to cook with a lid on for another 10-15 minutes. Do add a little more stock or water if the liquid is absorbed before the barley is tender enough.

Remove the lid, stir in the grated parmesan, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Do also check for seasoning and serve immediately.