Thursday, August 4, 2011

Asian-inspired grilled chicken thighs with asparagus and jasmine rice


I've been working on a soy-based chicken marinade for a long time, and I think I've finally got it. The much sought-after balance of salty, sweet, spicy, and savory. When allowed to marinate for a day or two and then grilled, the result is intensely flavorful moist dark meat on the inside with a crispy charred exterior. Glorious!

If it's five billion degrees where you are, you can certainly prepare these on a grill pan or under the broiler. The cast-iron Le Creuset grill pan actually does a pretty decent job because it gets so nice and hot, but it's incredibly difficult to clean (I can't figure out how to get the damn thing to season). If you go the broiler route, watch closely for burning as there are some sugars in the marinade. Anyway, because I am stupid, I insist on grilling these outside on the actual grill even when it is 108 degrees. I just don't think you just can truly recreate the char in any other way. There are plenty of dishes where I don't think it matters (shrimp, for example, I almost always cook inside regardless of the recipe directions because I don't really notice a difference - and who wants to bother with the grill for 1 minute of cooking per side?) but in this case, if you can stand it, use the grill.

Once you grill chicken thighs you'll never go back to breasts. They take half the time and have twice the chicken-ness and succulence. This marinade would be great with pork, too, kind of reminds me of the orange-soy braised ribs I love so much. I think next time I have people over I'm going to marinate a couple of pounds of chicken wings in it.

It's not easy to take a picture of this slop.
I particularly love that you can throw this together in 10 minutes and forget about it in the fridge for a couple of days. Then when you get home late one evening or don't feel like cooking, blam! Dinner's already almost done. I think the sweet spot is about two days of marination, but one is certainly long enough to impart a lot of flavor. As a result, I paired it with simple steamed jasmine rice and since I was grilling anyway, I just threw some asparagus on with it to round out the meal.

I don't really measure when I make this (and it seems quite forgiving), so these are all approximate. Adjust to your taste.

2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark or thick soy sauce (I used a nice dark mushroom soy - go to your neighborhood Asian market, there will be an entire lane of soy sauce varieties)
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine (try your Asian market for this too, it took me forever to find it so I bought 2 bottles when I finally did. If you can't find it, substitute mirin or sherry)
1 or 2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp chili-garlic paste (or as much as you like to add more heat)
1 tbsp honey
1 bunch scallions, whites and light green parts thinly sliced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
small knob of ginger, minced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed (you'll want about 2 thighs per person, unless one of those persons is Allan, in which case, double it)

1 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed

1/2 cup jasmine rice

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a non-reactive bowl a day or two before you want to eat these. Submerge your chicken thighs, make sure they're coated in every nook and cranny, cover tightly and stash in the fridge. Definitely do not give into temptation to season them with salt and pepper - there is pleeeeenty of salting and peppering going on already in the marinade.

On the day you are ready to cook, make sure you take them out of the fridge about half an hour before grilling to allow to come up to room temperature, otherwise they can cook unevenly. You should really do this with everything from the fridge, but definitely always with meat. And cheese. Get the grill preheating.

Cook your rice according to the package directions while the grill heats up. When I want nice fluffy rice, I cook it in an abundance of salted water as if it were pasta. When it's still just slightly too al dente, drain it into a metal sieve that fits into your pot, put it back in your pot (in the sieve, suspended from the bottom), and stick it back on the heat. Make sure your pot still has a little water in it, what drips out of the rice is usually enough. Pop the lid back on top and let it steam for 5 minutes or so, then fluff.

Toss your asparagus with a little olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

When your grill is nice and hot, slap those thighs right on there. Just get them down and all spread out, and do not attempt to move them further - in the beginning, they're gonna stick like whoa. Only once they've charred gorgeously will they let go of the grill. Don't rush them. Be patient. Close the lid and set a timer for 5 minutes. If your grill is good and hot, they'll be almost cooked through just from this 5 minutes. But you want to crisp the other side, so give them a flip, they should let go of the grill pretty easily. Now line your asparagus up (perpendicular to your grill grates, people) on the other side and roll those around for a couple of minutes, until just tender-crisp. If you wait until your spears have lovely grill marks, they will be soggy and slimy when it comes to eating. Aesthetics be damned - just roll those guys around for like 3 minutes tops, which should be enough time for the chicken to crisp on the other side. Dinner, yay!

Serves 2, takes half an hour (plus a day or two).

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