№ 85 - Crispy Steamed Chicken with Summer Vegetables and Ponzu Sauce
If you've ever deboned a chicken leg and pan-fried the boneless meat, you will have learned two things: First, chicken leg meat is incredibly juicy and flavorful, far superior to breast meat once that pesky bone is out, and second, deboning a chicken leg without puncturing the chicken skin underneath is a royal pain for everyone but the most experienced butchers and cooks wielding the sharpest of knives. Chef Yorinobu Yamasaki of NYC's excellent Donguri restaurant showed me a way around this dilemma. Deboning cooked chicken is easy, so steam it first and then crisp the skin in a frying pan after taking the bones out. Tada! You can have your leg and crisp it too.
Yamasaki-san also casually opened my eyes to the gentlest way of cooking the summer vegetables that accompany this dish and I'm possibly even more excited about it than chicken nirvana. The colorful vegetables are cut into chopstick-able cubes, tossed with some salt and cooked, or rather steamed, for just a couple of minutes in the few drops of moisture drawn by the salt. Add a splash of dashi and drizzle some citrusy ponzu sauce and you're done.
Serves 4 as a light dinner
2 chicken legs
A ½-inch cube of peeled mature fresh ginger or a ¾-inch cube of young fresh ginger
3 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 ½ lbs various summer vegetables, such as
2 Tbsp dashi. If I don't have any fresh dashi, I melt one of the dashi ice cubes I keep in my freezer.
1 ½ cups white sushi rice or brown short grain rice
Freshly ground pepper and kosher salt
Equipment: Steamer (steamer oven, bamboo steamer or rice cooker with steam tray)
Use your sharpest knife to prepare the chicken. Place the legs on your cutting board skin-side down and cut off any back parts still attached to the legs. (Freeze trimmings to make chicken broth.) Expose the leg bones by running the tip of the knife along the length of the bones and then cutting the meat off each side of the bone (but not the underside). Take care not to puncture the skin on the cutting board. The idea is to make it easy to remove the bones after steaming while still having the bone prevent the meat from contracting in the steamer. Season each side with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finely mince the ginger and rub it into the open side of the legs.
Cook the rice according to the package instructions. Do not use your rice cooker if you also need it to steam the chicken. Meanwhile, fill the steamer with a bit of water and 3 Tbsp of sake and bring to a boil. Place the chicken legs skin side down in the steamer tray and steam for 10-13 mins, until the thickest parts feel firm to the touch. While the chicken legs are steaming, wash and trim the vegetables and slice into even ¾-inch pieces. The smallest grape tomatoes can be left whole, cherry tomatoes should be cut in half. Dry any okra with a towel before slicing with a dry knife on a dry cutting board to minimize the slime factor. Place all the vegetables in a mixing bowl.
Once the chicken legs are cooked, remove them from the steamer. Next comes a bit of multitasking: you'll be cooking the vegetables and crisping the chicken side by side.
Vegetables: Toss gently with ¾ tsp kosher salt in the mixing bowl and let the salt draw some moisture for 2 minutes. Place in a medium pot and heat uncovered for 2 minutes over high heat, gently tossing once or twice. The vegetables should be steaming in their own juices and not browning on the bottom of the pot. If the pot is too dry, add the dashi. Remove the pot from the heat and cover to continue cooking the vegetables gently away from the heat for a couple of minutes. Add the dashi if you haven't already.
Chicken: Heat a small heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully cut the bones from the still hot legs as soon as you can bear to handle them and remove the little piece of cartilage that sticks to the meat by the knee. Pour a Tbsp of canola oil into the hot pan and fry the legs, skin-side down, for about 2 minutes, until the skin has turned crispy and golden brown. Meanwhile, pour any chicken juices left behind on the cutting board into your rice pot. Turn the legs over and fry for another minute or so until the meat is starting to brown just a bit. Remove the chicken from the pan and rest, skin side up.
Pour the vegetables into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the ponzu sauce. Cut each chicken breast into 6 pieces (a sharp knife and a slicing motion will prevent the skin from being torn off the pieces) and place on top of the vegetables. Serve with rice bowls and chop sticks.