Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chicken and squash chicharrones

Yes, I know those words don't make any sense together; bear with me a little while and I'll explain.

What I was actually making for dinner were just chicken chicharrones which aren't actually chicharrones either (although I have made the chicken equivalent of pork rinds just incidentally while rendering down chicken fat for schmaltz. They're called gribenes in Yiddish and they're not half bad.) These are deep-fried chicken nuggets common all through South America and the Philippines too (at least according to the commentary on the recipes I found. I really ought to go on a culinary tour of someplace someday and see these things for myself). They kind of look like pork rinds, at least the good sort you can get some places here in Miami, not the puffed up industrial ones in the supermarket.

Unsurprisingly, there's a good bit of variation in the recipes; I went with something on the Filipino end of things.

You can cut up a whole chicken, bones and all, but I just used two chicken thighs and saved the bones for stock. The marinade is made of equal parts soy sauce, rum and lime juice--one ounce each for that much chicken--a little sugar and, optionally, garlic, a couple dashes of hot sauce and/or cilantro. Marinate for an hour on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator (so long as you bring it back up to room temperature before cooking).

For the breading, mix 1/2 cup finely ground flour--corn flour (which is something distinct from corn starch I just learned) in South America typically or rice flour for the Filipino version. Into that half cup mix a half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of whatever flavorings you want that didn't use in the marinade. I used garlic in the marinade so I added cayenne pepper and finely chopped cilantro to the flour.

Fish the chicken out of the marinade, shake and/or pat it dry, dredge it in the flour and fry it in the hot oil until golden brown. Some recipes call for shallow frying, some deep frying. There's also a pretty big range in cooking times--from six to twelve minutes. It all depends on how small you cut your pieces of chicken. I did mine no more than a couple inches across so I couldn't get them out of the oil fast enough. I slightly burnt most of them, but the last batch with the heat on low and only cooked for three minutes total came out OK.

As for the squash, I had both the marinade and the plenty of leftover flour mix and I wanted some vegetation with my dinner. I had chopped and frozen the squash a few weeks ago and I decided, given my problems controlling my oil temperature, it would be best to cook it without defrosting. I took a handful of squash pieces from the freezer, gave them a couple minutes in the marinade and then into the bag of flour for tossing without drying them off since I wanted a bit more of a batter than I was getting for the chicken. They got three minutes in the oil too and they came out looking pretty nice.

Both the chicken and the squash taste pretty good too, particularly finished with a squeeze of lime. The central ingredient and the breading are fairly equal partners with the seasonings present but not overbearing. There's a nice crunch when they're hot, but the flavors better when they've cooled off a bit. Cooking the squash from frozen was a good idea; it would have been mush if I had defrosted it first. As is, it's still got a little bite to it and a nice burst of flavor captured inside the breading. These aren't giant flavors that wow you with bite, but they're good bar food and I think that's all chicharrones of any sort are meant to be.

That said, there's a similar recipe for Bancock street fried chicken that looks like it might step things up a bit, but I need to get ahold of some coriander root to do it right. Have any of you seen that for sale?


LaDivaCucina said...

Darling coriander root is simply the root of a cilantro plant. Coriander = Cilantro. It was no problem to get them in Australia attached still but here in the land of ultra-clean and processed, no roots ever come with herbs.

I'm not sure how how your recipe says to use them but mostly they have the same intense flavor of the plant itself.

I think you can grow your own rather quickly as they go to seed fast and don't like a lot of heat. I wouldn't put it in a spot that gets a full day of sun, maybe the morning sun.

I wonder if Margie knows where you can get some with roots still intact?

kat said...

Looks like you really got it right with the squash because they look gorgeous!

billjac said...

Kat, I'm pretty sure the chicken is supposed to look like that, too-- kind of like chicharrones. The difference there was that I didn't dry off the squash so the clinging moisture mixed with the rice flour to make a proper breading; the original recipes explicitly said not to let that happen for the chicken.

Diva, I know what coriander root is, I just haven't ever encountered it so I didn't know if it tasted more like coriander leaves or coriander seeds or something else. I was imagining that it was a ginger-like rhyzome, but it's just the straggly bits? If there's nothing textural to worry about and you can attest that it tastes like cilantro, I guess I can just substitute in more stems. It's the secret ingredient of the street vendor this recipe was coaxed from so I thought there might be more to it.