Chicken. The mere word conjures images of beige and boredom to the home cook. Overly processed, industrial gray matter masquerading as protein at the local Large Corporate Supermarket, there are only so many things that you can do with it to make it into a somewhat appealing meal. We've tried roasting, frying, slathering in cheese and tomato sauce, broiling, baking, and many other preps, all with varying degrees of culinary success. I am always on the lookout for new chicken recipes to try and I came across one the other day in my Tyler Florence "Ultimate" cookbook. This particular prep is called Chicken and Coconut "Paella" ("paella" being in quotes since it's not really a true paella like one might find in Spain, but more so inspired by the concept) and it's accompanied by a nice pea and watercress salad (Messr. Florence apparently really likes watercress since both times I've ever used it in a recipe, they've been his). In order to assemble this dish, I had to run out and find some whole coriander seeds (which provide a nice, citrusy note and crunchy texture to the chicken and rice), which luckily proved not to be too difficult, although at this rate I'll soon need an annex built onto the Commissary to accommodate my ever-growing collection of spices. The recipe was pretty easy to make and full of flavor, garnering thumbs up from both Mrs. Hackknife and Hackknife Jr. for a change (Hackknifette abstained as usual). It's not the healthiest of plates as a whole can of coconut milk goes into it (i.e., lots of fat and cholesterol), but at least it's got lean meat, even if it's just your standard gray chicken.
Chicken and Coconut "Paella"
1/4 c. coriander seeds
8 chicken thighs (I found boneless, but you can use bone-in, too)
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
1" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 c. basmati rice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c. chicken broth (I used low-sodium)
1 1/2 c. coconut milk
Preheat the oven to 400F. Coarsely crack the coriander (use a spice grinder or crush with a rolling pin in a towel or under wax paper). Season the chicken well with salt and pepper and sprinkle all over with the cracked coriander. Heat a 3-count of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Lay the chicken thighs in a pan (skin side down) and sear for 3-4 minutes until a nice crust develops. Turn and cook for 3-4 minutes more until the other side is browned. Remove chicken from the pan.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, ginger, and bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until the onion is soft, but not colored. Add rice and season well with salt and pepper. Stir for a minute or two until the rice is well-coated with oil. Stir in lemon zest. Add chicken broth and coconut milk and bring pot to a simmer. Tuck the chicken thighs into the liquid, place pot in the oven, and bake uncovered until the rice is tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
1 c. frozen peas, thawed in a colander under cool water
Small handful of mint leaves
1 bunch watercress
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
Mint and lemon (for garnish)
Put peas, mint, and watercress into a large bowl. Add lemon juice, oil, and salt/pepper and give the contents a good toss. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve with chicken and rice.