Tuesday, May 02, 2006
CHICKEN WITH COCONUT CURRY SAUCE with a ridiculously long introduction and revealing portrait of a young gay boy
I believe my Mom is the one who nurtured my culinary passions. She did it on several fronts. First, she always encouraged me to do what I was good at and supported my choices wholeheartedly. She knew I was happy in the kitchen and was always eager to taste my latest concoction. Second, my mom is a great cook. She kept my father's belly content as well as my brother's and my own. Third, she was a working mom.
The third statement doesn't clearly appear to be directly related to my burgeoring love of cooking. But it may actually have been the most important factor. My mother and father divorced when I was five. Suddenly we were a household of three: my mother, older brother, and myself (lower right in pict). We were not a family lucky enough to have a surname of Kennedy, Rockefeller, or Hilton. Simply put, money was extremely tight. My mom, while holding a degree from UCLA, had no actual working experience. Insert swan song of the stay-at-home mom here.
My mother's new job was located on the west end of the San Fernando Valley. Our home was in Burbank, the opposite end of this suburban string of concrete mini-malls in suburban Los Angeles. A rush-hour commute across the Valley on the best of days takes some time and endurance. My mother, being blind, had to rely on public transportation (the DMV frowned upon giving her a license of her own). Now for anybody not familiar with the topography and traffic of Los Angeles that may not sound so awful. The reality is that public transportation in the area, at the time, was painfully lacking. My mother would not arrive home from work until at least 7 pm to find two hungry boys awaiting a meal. Don't get bored yet because this is where I come in.
She began preparing ready-to-cook containers of food. A meatloaf would be mixed, formed, placed in a cast iron skillet, and hidden away in the refrigerator at night. The following afternoon, I was carefully instructed to remove the skillet at a designated time, and place in the oven so that the finished product could be removed at roughly the time my exhausted mother would return from work. Perfect! Dinner was served at an appropriate time.
This routine continued to serve our family unit well. My mother was happy to assemble a meal and leave the final preparation and cooking to me. I was only too eager to tear myself away from Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Warner Bro's gang after school and throw pots around in the kitchen. My brother was...well...he appreciated the results of our tandem efforts.
Picture taken from an educational brochure about blindness
I discovered I was fascinated with sharp knives, boxed macaroni and cheese, canned goods and conveniently packaged and formed ground meat products. I watched some of those cooks on PBS. Julia Child always appeared to be having GREAT fun in the kitchen. I loved to imitate her with a very warbled, "A little brandy for the sauce, and a little for me!" I waited eagerly each week to watch "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island"on Saturday nights. I watched these shows not for the tawdry love stories and campy Charo guest appearances. I tuned in to pretend I was on-board, making drinks with Bartender Isaac Washington and spearing chilled, exotic fruits with a brightly colored paper umbrella. I envied Vicki Stubing as being the luckiest girl in the world. I'm sure that my mother can reflect back on this time in my early youth and recognize these early first signs of my deeply embedded sexual orientation. My brother never ventured anywhere near the kitchen, PBS, or colorful paper umbrellas to my knowledge.
I continued to be the family cook, even long after the need to expedite dinner preparations had passed. I loved it. When I moved into my first apartment, I would come home each night and prepare a full dinner for myself. One of my first proud purchases was a series of "Bon Appetit" cookbooks. There were twenty-five in the set; one book delivered every four weeks. I still have them.
Tonight I pulled my clay tagine down and made some delicious chicken in a coconut curry sauce. It was the result of reading about three different recipes for curry chicken and making some modifications including the addition of yams. This recipe is going to be a definite keeper!
CHICKEN WITH COCONUT CURRY SAUCE
1 Tbs canola oil
1 medium yam, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 Tbs finely minced ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs curry powder (a pinch more if you are tough)
*optional* 1 tsp of green curry paste
16 oz can crushed tomatoes with liquid
14 oz can coconut milk (I use light)
1 tsp sugar
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 - 3 lbs of cut up chicken pieces, skinned, washed well and dried (I use thighs and drumsticks)
Heat oven to 400 F. Heat 1 Tbs oil in large skillet and add chicken pieces, working in batches to avoid over-crowding pan. Lightly brown chicken on all sides over high heat. Remove chicken and place in tagine, or large oven-proof dish with cover. Drain excess fat from skillet but reserve about 1 or 2 Tbs of the oil and set skillet aside. Place covered chicken in oven while preparing next steps.
Heat reserved oil in skillet and add yam and onion. Stir over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Lower heat and add ginger, curry, nutmeg, pepper, tomatoes and liquid, coconut milk and sugar. Simmer for 15 to minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and add cilantro.
Remove chicken from oven and lower temperature to 350 F. Pour sauce mixture over chicken--coating well. Cover chicken and return to oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with rice or toasted pita bread slices (excellent for dipping up the yummy sauce).