Saturday, March 5, 2011
Paprika Chicken, Rice Pilaf, and the Zucchini That Should’ve Been
Dinner: March 4
After missing cooking over the past few weeks, I decided to jump in with both feet, though perhaps that wasn’t the best plan I ever hatched. I planned a rather large solo meal, which left me with a kitchen full of mess, but most of it resulted in a successful dinner with leftovers that will keep me eating well for several days.
There hasn’t been much time for leisure activity lately, but cooking shows on television about French and Italian foods combine nicely with my thoughts of running far away from my current life; and those half-hour dreams have been calming. Laura Calder, who comes to me courtesy of the Cooking Channel but may be working on something with the Food Network, is a soothing chef with her show “French Food at Home.” One of her recent shows caught my eye and prompted me to prepare last night’s dinner: Poulet au Paprika (Paprika Chicken), This is not Rice Pilaf, and Zucchini Rosti (Zucchini Fritters).
The chicken and rice dishes looked like ones that I could handle from watching her on the show, though I know it’s never as easy as they make it look through editing, and the zucchini dish was something I added through an internet search that looked like a nice extra side vegetable idea.
First up was Poulet au Paprika, which included more steps than I’m comfortable with, but it didn’t look overly complicated on the whole. The only changes I made to her recipe was to eliminate the optional fennel because of the expense, to use grape tomatoes instead of larger tomatoes, and to use sour cream because my grocery store had never heard of crème fraiche. Sigh to American chain stores.
Basics: Seasoned chicken legs and thighs with salt and pepper, browned on all sides in oiled pan, set aside. Used portion of that pan oil to cook sliced red pepper, sliced onion, and paprika. Deglazed pan with white wine after adding minced garlic at the last minute, added sliced tomatoes and bay leaf, seasoned with salt and pepper. Added chicken, covered pan, cooked for 30 minutes on medium heat. Removed chicken again, boiled down sauce, added sour cream and more paprika, reincorporated with chicken.
It was quite good. I was nervous because all of the handling of the chicken was causing them to fall apart in some spots, but that mattered little in the end. The fennel would have also been a nice addition to the plate but it was very flavorful without it. It took nearly an hour to prepare the entire dish, so it’s not set up for quick dinner plans, but it’s relatively simple to prepare with the sole exception of the constant movement of the chicken from plate to pan. And the dish had a very smooth flavor, not spicy or overwhelming like the paprika would indicate. I will be doing this one again.
Next up was Calder’s rice dish. This is not Rice Pilaf looked simple enough, though I had never cooked rice in a pot without burning it, but I was inspired to attempt it. My rice cooker beckoned from the pantry, but I tried to cook it per her instructions: Treat it like pasta. I did cut the recipe in half, though, and I used dried thyme instead of fresh thyme for budgetary reasons.
Basics: Cook sliced onion in pan with melted butter. Added garlic and thyme, seasoned with salt and pepper, and removed from heat. Boiled water, added salt, then added rice. Cooked until tender, drained, and added onion mixture.
For some reason, the rice was dry. There wasn’t enough juice in the onion mixture to put a coating on the rice, so the end result was a dry dish. However, the onions and thyme gave it enough flavor to make it a tasty side to the chicken, and a little extra chicken sauce helped it along nicely.
Lastly, I wanted another vegetable dish to go with this big meal, so I searched Calder’s online recipes for something with zucchini. I found her Zucchini Rosti, but oddly enough, I couldn’t find it on a U.S. website, so I did the conversions myself. *ding* That was the first problem, and the second was my inability to figure out how to dry grated zucchini. I’ll get to that.
Basics: Grated zucchini, dried in colander for 30 minutes, squeezed out excess water. Combined with egg, salt, pepper, sliced scallions, dried breadcrumbs, parsley, chopped garlic, chili powder, paprika, and Cayenne pepper. Shaped into small fritters and fried in oil.
Hahahaha. Ha. It was a mess. First, the zucchini never dried, and without allowing it to sit under a hair dryer for an hour, I don’t know how I could’ve done it better. But it was slimy, so combining with the other ingredients just made a bigger slime of zucchini. I added more and more breadcrumbs to try to hold it together, but nothing worked. (Something definitely went wrong with the online conversions.) I finally just plopped some spoonfuls of the mixture into the olive oil and shaped them with the spatula. It also didn’t help that the oil wasn’t hot enough, which was entirely my fault for not checking the temperature, and the patties just bathed in the oil for awhile. Finally, they browned enough to move them to a plate and drain off some oil with a paper towel, but I refused to cook more than the few little ones I put together. The taste of the fritters was good, but overall, it was a sad failure of a dish.
I consider the evening a success because I ended up with two tasty dishes. The failure of the fritters was disappointing but didn’t take away from the relative success of the other two parts of the meal.