Thursday, January 17, 2008

What is the deal with salt?

Please explain something to me. What is the deal with salt? Why does it have to be so overpowering? Is it the Frito or Ruffle thing that makes too much salt a good thing? Don’t get me wrong. I’ll get down with a Frito and some creamy onion dip any day, But please! Do you like the fact that none of the flavors of what you are eating come through and you spend a lot of time drinking a lot of water in order to taste your wine? It’s ridiculous. I love salt. But, I use it judiciously. It is not the main “flavor” of what I cook. The herbs and the spices are the main thing. Salt is meant to be a flavor enhancer, not a flavor itself. It’s a seasoning. It’s the most recently hired employee there to boost the boss and make the company look good. It’s not supposed to do anything else.

Mary, Step down off your soapbox and take a deep breath.

Now spices are another thing. And this recipe is the bomb when it comes to an inventive way to use them and get the max out of flavors. Country Captain is an old Southern recipe that uses curry, among other spices, to liven up a tomato based chicken recipe. Savannah, Georgia, in the early 1800’s ,was a major port for the spice trade and ships would come to deliver their spices captained by men that had been stationed in India. Country Captain is based on a breakfast dish that these men ate while in India. They come to Savannah, start hanging out with people. You know the story, they start talking about food and next thing you know this meal is all the rage in Savannah. Supposedly, it is named such for the captains of the ships. Try this when you want to taste what spices do for a piece of bland chicken that has been lightly seasoned with a bit of salt and coarsely ground black pepper and browned in olive oil before the spices burst on the scene. You will not be disappointed.

Country Captain

Couple of swirls extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces , seasoned with a bit of salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 can diced organic tomatoes and their juice
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf
1.5 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish pimenton
2 tbs ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1.5 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small handful golden raisins
1 lemon, juiced (all I had were Meyer lemons and this was fabulous in it)
4 cups chicken stock, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups couscous
small handful of Italian parsley, chopped
Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil ripples add the chicken and brown 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Add the onion, red bell peppers. Cook about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf and the spices. Stir to combine. Lower the head and add raisins, tomatoes and 2 cups of stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat back to low and simmer 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir.

Heat a small sauté pan over medium high heat. Add pine nuts and toast till golden brown. Add 2 cups of stock and bring to boil. Add the couscous and bring to boil again. Stir, remove from heat. In five minutes stir in chopped parsley and cilantro mix.

Serve with Major Grey Chutney, Greek yogurt or sour cream. If you want to be authentic, a little cooked chopped bacon, chopped green onions and toasted almonds are what you need. Be sure to leave the pine nuts out of the couscous if you are going traditional.

Serves 4.


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