Week 8 - Thoroughly Modern Chickens
by Lynley Jones
THE CHICKEN HAS LANDED
We have arrived at the end of our journey across the globe, landing squarely in the middle of modern America.
I am thrilled this week to share three thoroughly modern recipes from three different cooks here in my town. Each one of them takes a quintessentially American approach: you take some chicken, cook it this way, add these flavors to it, and voila. A new dish. No canon to master, no tradition to learn from. Just an instinct about flavors that could be delicious together, and the all-American gumption to think you can just make up your own new thing.
This sophisticated, delicious and totally grownup dish is the brainchild of an 11-year old boy named Nicholas Maurizi who, I am thrilled and proud to say, has been a cooking class student of mine for the last few years. (For the curious, here's more information on that.)
What's even more amazing is that he actually created this dish when he was a 5-year old.
The story goes like this:
Nicholas was in Kindergarten or first grade, riding in the back of the family car on the homeward-bound leg of a road trip. His mind wandering around as a child's mind will do, he came upon an idea. "Hey Dad," he said. "I made up a recipe!"
"Okay," his dad Rob replied from the front seat. "What is it?"
"It's called 'Chicken Sabate'," Nicholas said, pronouncing it "suh-BAH-tay." "It's chicken in white wine and rosemary, with garlic, cherry tomatoes and cinnamon."
In the following weeks, Rob worked with Nicholas to turn his creative idea into an actual, very delicious, recipe. And when I put the call out for chicken dishes a few months ago, Rob provided this one.
There are so many things to love about this story: that a 5-year old could imagine a dish that involved white wine; that he would think to combine cinnamon with the other flavors in this dish; that he conceived of a beautifully exotic name at the same time he imagined the dish. As I know from having Nicholas in cooking class, he is a funny, creative, intelligent, confident kid who loves food and loves to try new things. As jaw-dropping as this story is, it frankly doesn't surprise me a bit about Nicholas.
The thing I love the most about this story is what it tells us about his dad, Rob. Rob could have responded in a thousand different ways that day. Exhausted at the end of a trip, he could have relied on the old "that's nice, son" answer many of us find ourselves uttering at the end of a long day, and never even heard Nicholas' idea. He could have critiqued the idea, questioning whether cinnamon - an unusual choice - belongs in a dish like this. He could have pointed out to Nicholas that "sabate" is not a real word, or that 5-year olds don't generally create recipes.
A very nervous and adorable 7-year old Nicholas appears here at about 01:03 on "Cooking With Kids" with Alma Schneider of Take Back the Kitchen. Visit her site at:http://takebackthekitchen.com/
Not only did Rob not squelch this beautiful kernel of an idea by doing any of those things, but he also honored Nicholas and his creative instinct by being genuinely interested enough to remember the ingredients, shop for them and cook through a couple of iterations to create an actual recipe.
And long before that car ride, he and his wife Katie provided a home where experimentation is fun, where people cook and enjoy food together, and where everyone is loved and respected.
Every child should be so lucky.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
This dish is the brainchild of Carissa Olivi, a Kindergarten teacher at my daughter's school. The shredded chicken is warmed with a splash of Sriracha, and combined with rice noodles, veggies and a mouth-watering peanut sauce to make a little chicken-veggie treat in a leaf. (Or as we call it in my Mexican-food loving house, Asian tacos).
You can make it with whatever lettuce greens you have on hand. I tried it with some baby bok choy I had just received from my CSA (more on that in the coming weeks), and it was perfect.
You will love this dish.
Friday Night Apricot Chicken
This dish was created by the mother of Rebecca Schneider, who is a fellow mom at my daughter's school. When Rebecca was a girl, her mom created this dish as an easy and delicious solution on Friday nights. The kids loved it (as my kids do today).
I like to imagine 1970s-era parents sipping cocktails in the next room, while kids in cutoff jeans and Farah Fawcett hairstyles devour the chicken and sauce in the kitchen. (I have no idea if this image resembles the actual Friday nights of Rebecca's childhood, but I like it. And I'm going to try to re-create it at my house this summer. Minus the Farah Fawcett hairstyles, alas.)
Rebecca's mom kept things super simple: just apricot nectar and Worcestershire sauce poured over chicken parts. I've gussied the recipe up just a tad, by adding smashed garlic cloves, sliced onions, bay leaves and peppercorns to the dish. Any way you go, this is a simple dish that combines the sweet nectar of apricots with a little umami zing.
You'll love it. And if your kids are anything like mine, they'll love it too.