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A Little Kick

Ginger chicken chases winter doldrums


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It's not spring. I wish it was, food-wise, but it isn't. My diet is suffocated by a robotic procession of root vegetables. British cookbooks extol the pleasures of cozy winter cooking, but I live in California, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and I can't eat any more cottage pie. Plus, your name is ridiculous. No more mashed Swedes, sir!

I attempt tomatoes, knowing I'm a fool, only to be met with mealy, wet fluff. As I stagger on through squash #247, I thank my lucky stars that ginger still tastes fresh and sharp, with that sparkling bite that cuts through the doldrums of winter flavors.

The thing I like about this first recipe from my father is that it's not Asian inspired. As the cold gathers, I find myself getting lazy and reaching too often for the soy sauce and black bean paste, but neither man nor woman is meant to live on stir-fry alone, unless he or she lives in Szechwan.

Chicken Braised with Ginger, from Darius Brotman

The recipe has no garlic and plenty of sherry and cream, so it highlights ginger's sweet notes. I prefer to serve it with polenta or wild rice.

Serves 3

Ingredients and method:

3 half chicken breasts (with skin and bones)

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1-inch cube of ginger, minced

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup Amontillado sherry

1/2 cup cream

Remove excess fat from chicken breasts, leaving the skin. Chop each breast half into three pieces. Rinse and dry pieces with a dish towel. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a broad pan over medium heat. Add the chicken, skin side down. (They should cover the pan in an even layer.) Leave undisturbed for 8 minutes. If you wish, tilt the pan and spoon out and discard some of the fat.

Loosen the pieces with a spatula without turning them over. Sprinkle the ginger and shallots over the top. Leave for another 5 minutes.

Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium low. Cook for another 5 minutes. The meat will finish cooking and release some liquid.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and place it on a hot serving dish; leave all the liquid behind. Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chives and stir around briefly. Add the sherry and cream. Cook it down, scraping and stirring, until the sauce has a creamy consistency, about 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over chicken and serve.

Steamed Chicken with Ginger Sauce

This recipe, a San Francisco Chinatown dish, is all flavor — hold on to your hats, folks. The incredibly strong sauce is a revelation when dabbed on the plainest of chicken. It's also good on poached fish or tofu.

Serves 2

Ingredients and method:

2 half breasts of chicken (with skin and bones)

4 scallions

1 teaspoon salt

1-inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled

4-5 cloves garlic

Place the chicken on a steaming rack in a wok. Trim the darker green parts of the scallions and scatter them on top of the chicken. Pour a cup of water in the wok, then cover and steam the chicken. (You can add green or black tea leaves to the steaming water for a subtle aroma.)

Chop the trimmed scallions and the ginger. In a mortar, pound the garlic and salt to a paste. Add the ginger and scallions and again pound to a paste.

When the chicken is only just cooked through, take it out and remove the skin and bones as soon as possible. Slice the meat into neat pieces and serve with the sauce and plenty of rice. A little sauce goes a long way.



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