Printed word rituals + sandwich contemplation

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Little by little, shelf by shelf, my house is filling up with magazines. Piles of dogeared, coffee-stained New Yorkers and Atlantics, whole shelves crammed with food and fashion magazines of varying age and condition, and the prized bookbound Kinfolk issues neatly stacked under the coffee table.

There are plenty of books, too, though their numbers have leveled off considerably since I caved and got a Kindle.

My true printed love has always been magazines. Less fleeting than daily news with feature stories that can live far beyond the day or week of their release, though most are easily enough consumed in several minutes. Some stay with you–reflections from the survivor of a strange or cruel trial imbue a weird funk that you can’t shake. A powerful descriptor thrusts an everyday city street, meal or facial feature into the spotlight of an otherwise mundane routine.

Words can of course be as powerful on a screen, but print comes with a mini ritual that forces the reader to engage in a way that dragging a finger over a screen can’t replicate. Turning a page or creasing a newspaper, slipping an old train stub in between pages to serve as a makeshift bookmark. Such printed word rituals were on my mind this week after I watched an older man methodically read his newspaper on the crowded subway. Deft folds between spreads to keep the paper’s real estate to a minimum. A quick, clean rrrrip to remove the stock numbers page of the business section, which he then folded and tucked in his jacket pocket for later. Surpassing the entire “life” section with a “flip” after pinching the snubbed portion between his fingers and thumb.

As everyone else on the train stared down at their smartphones, it was impossible to tell who was reading something aside from that man with his paper.

All this print nostalgia has very little to do with this chicken sandwich, which I made for Sean one evening before meeting a friend for dinner. But like a New Yorker review I just read of Tina Fey’s new Netflix sitcom, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” I contemplated each layer of this sandwich probably way longer than I should have.

To be fair, it is pretty damn complex for a chicken sandwich. The chicken is laced with citrus and warming Indian spices; blistered shishito peppers lend a grassy, smoky flavor brightened by a squirt of fresh lemon juice; the feta adds sharp saltiness; and fresh cilantro heightens the grassy, citrus flavors that permeate this dinner-worthy sandwich.

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Blistered shishito and chicken sandwich
serves 1

Ingredients

    1 chicken breast
    1 lemon, divided
    Extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper
    3 or 4 whole shishito peppers
    1 small shallot
    8-inch piece of crusty bread (ciabatta or a bolillo roll works well)
    Mayonnaise
    2 ounces feta cheese
    1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
    1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Method: Put the chicken breast in a quart-size freezer bag with the juice of half the lemon, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the garam masala, cayenne, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Close the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken until evenly coated. Marinate for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the shishitos, shallot and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until the peppers are blistered on all sides and the shallots are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lemon over the vegetables, remove them from the heat and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.

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Remove the chicken from the marinade bag, and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss it with a bit more salt and pepper. (As you can see, I marinaded three chicken breasts at once–so tripled the marinade amount–because this chicken is effing good in/on everything.)

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Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the chicken when the oil slides easily around the pan. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes until just done. Remove, and set aside.

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To build the sandwich, slice the bread in half, and tear out a little of the inside if it seems too bready. Spread each side with a bit of mayo.

Slice the shishitos in half and remove the stems if you prefer. Layer on the chicken, feta, shishitos, shallots, spinach and cilantro leaves.

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Close and shovel in mouth immediately.

Holiday food

IMG_7354I think we have a tendency to get overly fussy with holiday meals. Everything has to be shiny, tall and fancy–we opt for the several-course dinners culminating in hulking, centerpiece-worthy roasts that are prone to overcooking under pressure. We bravely tackle temperamental cakes or souffles–compulsively checking on them as they bake–their fragile centers threatening to collapse and take our self-confidence with ’em.

That’s why I like serving things like spaghetti and meatballs, croque monsieur or hash when I host holiday gatherings. Casual food can still be gorgeous–a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven brimming with meat and vegetables makes for a most festive edible centerpiece. Plus, it satisfies what I consider to be the most important characteristic of holiday food: that it can be easily shared.

Case in point: chicken hash.

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This makes for a beautiful, casual dinner, but you could also throw a couple fried eggs on top and serve it for brunch. 

As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of chicken breast. But I think the lean white meat works better in this dish than rich thigh meat would. I stole a technique from Ina Garten (AKA the Barefoot Contessa) by roasting the chicken breast on the bone with basil leaves tucked under the skin. This is a lovely way to cook chicken breast–the end result is moist and delicately anise-flavored. I recommend roasting a whole bunch at once and using the leftovers for chicken salad sandwiches, cobb salad, pasta, chilaquiles … you get the idear.

You may also notice that there’s no garnish on my chicken hash. That’s because I packed it up after snapping these photos and brought it to two dear friends for dinner. (It majorly improved the aroma on the bus.)

Happy Holidays, everyone. Remember to enjoy them. ❤

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Chicken hash
serves 4

Ingredients

    4 split chicken breasts
    10 large basil leaves
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Butter
    Salt and pepper, as needed
    2 bell peppers, large diced
    1 large onion, large diced
    3 large garlic cloves, smashed
    2 tablespoons sweet paprika, divided
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    2 pounds boiling (red) potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
    2 scallions, finely chopped
    1/4 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped

Method: Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place the chicken on a sheet pan. With your fingers, separate the skin from the breast meat, leaving one side attached. Tuck a few basil leaves underneath the skin, and pull it over the meat to cover as much surface area as possible (to prevent it from overcooking). Repeat with the other 3.

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Rub the chicken all over with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken on a sheet pan for 40 to 45 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads 160F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast (it will continue cooking to 165 once you pull it out).

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When it’s cool enough to handle, remove the bones and skin and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium high, heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, half the paprika, the red pepper flakes, thyme and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook until softened and slightly brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, scrape the veggies into a bowl and set them aside.

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Wipe out the skillet. Add another tablespoon each of oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes in a single layer, the rest of the paprika and a large sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, untouched for 5 to 6 minutes to totally brown one side. Turn the heat down to medium, flip the potatoes, and repeat, until they are are well browned on all sides and cooked through. This will take about 20 minutes (You may have to do this in two batches depending on the size of the skillet, so allow extra time.)

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When the potatoes are cooked, add the veggies and chicken back to the skillet. Toss and cook for a few minutes to warm everything through. Just before serving, stir in most of the scallions and parsley, reserving a few tablespoons to garnish each plate.