‘Tis an ill cook who cannot lick his own fingers.
~William Shakespeare

Breasts may receive all the attention. But, boring breasts candidly need a rest. On the other hand (so to speak), thighs should take home the praise in terms of sublime flavor, savory succulence, delectable simplicity, forgiveness, and even economy. Dark meated, myoglobin rich, luxurious thighs are the shit — sweet temptresses, in my humble. Plus, ’tis the season for figs.

THIGHS WITH PAPPARDELLE, FETA AND FIGS

4-6 boneless chicken thighs, free range

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
White pepper, a pinch
Cayenne pepper, a pinch
Fresh rosemary leaves, diced
Fresh thyme leaves
Fresh sage leaves, diced
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Extra virgin olive oil, to just cover

2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh, garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

3/4 C feta cheese
1/2 C capers, drained

Thyme leaves
1/2 C red wine
10 fresh figs (whether Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota or Calimyrna), diced
1 1/2 T local honey

Artisanal pappardelle

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a rolling boil and then liberally add sea salt.

Place the chicken between a thick wooden cutting board and plastic wrap. Firmly yet gently pound each thigh until thinner but also uniform in thickness. Season with salt and black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic. Cover with some olive oil and place the chicken in a large ziploc bag for about 2 hours, turning a couple of times.

Remove chicken and discard marinating garlic. Add two pads of butter, a touch of olive oil and smashed garlic to a large, heavy skillet and once sizzling, but not brown, discard garlic and add chicken thighs and saute about 5 minutes per side. Early on the second side, add the feta until it becomes warm at least and tent well or place in a low preheated oven. Right before serving thighs, add capers.

Then, to the same skillet add red wine, figs, and later honey until cooked. Meanwhile, cook artisanal pappardelle noodles for until tender, about 3 minutes, in boiling water. Carefully strain through a colander.

Serve chicken thighs plus feta and capers over pappardelle with cooked figs on the side on plates. (Feel free to eat the thighs with your fingers.)

Advertisements

My mother never breast fed me. She told me she liked me as a friend.
~Rodney Dangerfield

Please consider that these words are uttered by an avowed chicken addict. While lamb, pork, beef, offal and friends often beckon in this kitchen, chicken invariably rules. However, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be the bane of a cook’s existence. They are insipidly dry, tough, tasteless, often stringy and uninspiring — often sapping the very passion to cook. Yawners on a good day, a cook’s torment on others. One renowned chef questions whether these bland and skinned boring bosoms should even be considered a valid part of a chicken’s anatomy. So, a word to the wise: nestle up to succulent, dark meat like thighs, legs, backs, as they are ever sublime.

POLLO AL PIMENTON

4 chicken leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T pimentón agridulce
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T duck fat
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 T pimentón agridulce
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C Spanish fino sherry
1/2 C chicken stock
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Splash of high quality sherry vinegar
1/4 C crème fraîche

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and pimentón. Heat the olive oil and duck fat with the smashed garlic cloves in a large, heavy sauté pan to medium high and brown the chicken, skin side down until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Remove chicken, tent with foil in a dish and drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Lower the heat and add the red pepper, onion, fennel and pimentón. Cook until soft, but not browned, about 10-12 minutes, adding the garlic for the final minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and then add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover the pan, and cook, turning the chicken once or twice, until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil. Turn up the heat and boil liquids down to a sauce consistency, adding the sherry vinegar toward the end. Cook further for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to low, whisk in the crème fraîche until the sauce thickens, adjusting the seasonings to your liking. Plate, then ladle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

The death of a parent is rarely well served by prose, essay or exalted speech. And obits never do justice. Like life, death is more the stuff of poetry with melodious cadence, dissonance, subtlety and ambiguity. That big visual born of few, yet potent, words that link pasts and presents.

My father was admittedly no wordsmith. He was more a man of carefully metered words and most times an avid listener. He carried a certain grace and charm, a souplesse so when he moved, when he spoke, and even in his eyes there was quiet meaning that seemed as smooth as wet sea stones. While Dad had the power of a raging bull under his skin, outwardly he was poised and glib. Sometimes he was somber, but more often he sported an impish grin, raised brow, dancing look, and always greeting with that crushing handshake. There were diversions along the way of course, some sweet and some not. Nothing is perfect, and none of us are infallible. But, that was the very humor and sadness of the humanity he embraced.

Dad had an abiding love for the endless sea and the eternal pulse of waves. The ocean was his vast cathedral. There he was taught, and there he often returned to discover. So, I felt compelled to give way to a real poet, Pablo Neruda:

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

Kiss-principled, pan sautéed sweetbreads. Something akin to what he savored on some weekend mornings as a child.

SWEETBREADS WITH LEMONS & CAPERS

1 1/2 lbs sweetbreads, preferably veal
Whole milk

Sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns
Cold water

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried thyme
All purpose flour

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 C dry white wine
Juice of 2-3 lemons
2 T capers, rinsed

Capers, rinsed or
Chopped tarragon

Briefly rinse sweetbreads under cold water. Place them in a glass bowl, cover with milk, and allow to soak several hours. Remove the sweetbreads, discarding the milk. Using a sharp paring knife and fingers, remove excess membrane or fat. Do not overly obsess about peeling, and do not fret if the sweetbreads separate some into sections. Rinse, pat dry and set aside.

In a heavy large saucepan filled 3/4 full, add a generous pinch of salt, lemon juice, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the water to a boil, add the sweetbreads, and poach for about 5 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and briefly plunge them into an ice bath, then drain promptly and dry thoroughly.

Line a small sheet pan with a kitchen towel and place the sweetbreads on the towel in a single layer. Fold the towel over them to cover, then place a same-sized sheet pan on top. Weigh the top pan down with whatever works–a brick, cans of tomatoes, a hand weight. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove from the frig, place sweetbreads on a large platter and bring to room temperature. Season with salt, pepper and thyme and dust in flour, lightly coating on all sides. Melt butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat until bubbling but not browning. Sauté sweetbreads until nicely golden brown, turning once. Place the sautéed sweetbreads on a platter or baking dish and set aside, tenting loosely with foil to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with wine and just bring to a quiet boil, scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower to a gentle simmer, add the sweetbreads and finish until just cooked through, about 5 minutes, turning as needed. During the last minute or so, add the lemon juice and capers and cook until sauce has slightly thickened.

Plate sweetbreads, drizzle with sauce, then garnish with capers or chopped tarragon.

Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.
~Bertrand Russell

Ancient Rome had an illustrious tradition of kinky emperors, some of whom just narcissistically railed out of control. Whimsy and revelry gone morbid.

Armed with a paranoid temperament, Caligula (37-41 AD) was widely reputed for his tyrranical cruelty, orgiastic extravagances and sexual perversities. Nero (54-68 AD), an early persecutor of Christians, was known for having captured worshippers burned in his garden at night for a source of light. Alleged to have calmly fiddled while Rome burned—a My Pet Goat moment—he also had his mother Agrippa summarily executed and stepbrother poisoned. Commodus (180-192 AD) who ruled with his father, Marcus Aurelius, held perverse sway over hundreds of concubines and terrorized Rome’s rich and famous with a murderous reign of death and torture. In the midst of his cruelties, Commodus would sing and dance, frolicking as the town buffoon on Rome’s streets. The notorious Caracalla (209-217 AD) ruthlessly murdered his brother and persecuted some 20,000 of his allies. Elagabalus (218-222 AD) married multiple times, even taking one of the sacred vestal virgins as one wife. He was rumored to have had homosexual liaisons with his courtiers and had his body hairs plucked to appear more feminine…even engaging in public crossdressing.

Enter on stage Silvio Berlusconi, the current prime minister. Facing trials on a number of scandals, his private life has become curiously linked with the phrase bunga bunga. The term is now so well embedded in the Italian language that “bunga bunga city” refers to Sig. Berlusconi’s world.

Hordes of linguists and journalists have puzzled over the origins of these words which emerged last year, when a teen Moroccan belly dancer said she had attended bunga bunga parties with other women at Sig. Berlusconi’s villa in Milano.

I openly confess to not knowing what bunga bunga means. But, Arab news sources have reported that that Berlusconi learned these harem rituals frοm hіѕ friend, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Some have suggested that the phrase comes from one of the prime minister’s favorite infantile African-connoted jokes. Other references to bunga include a masquerading hoax about the Abyssinian emperor inspecting the H.M.S. Dreadnought at the turn of the century which involved the author Virginia Woolf donning a full beard. Earlier this year in Spartacus fashion, Sabina Began, German actress and Berlusconi’s friend, even revealed to Sky Italia that she herself was bunga bunga: “Bunga Bunga is simply my nickname.”

I still do not know the definition, but have felt an urge to proclaim “I am Bunga Bunga!” It has a certain cinematic ring.

So, enough bunga bunga prattle. On to more serious fare, risotto—a marvel of the food world. There is a radiance to risotto. An elegant, yet soulful, sheen which almost causes you to bow at the waist.

RISOTTO con FUNGHI e VINO BIANCO

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ozs proscuitto di parma or san daniele, diced finely
3/4 lb porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 1/2 C arborio rice
8 C chicken stock

1 C sauvignon blanc
4 T unsalted butter
1 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium sauce pan, heat stock on low until hot, almost simmering.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add the shallots and proscuitto and cook until the shallots are softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned while stirring. Add the rice and stir until coated and opaque, about another 2-3 minutes.

Then, begin the process. Add a ladleful of hot stock, and cook, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more. The rice will become tender and creamy but still al dente after about 18 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so. Season with salt and pepper, divide among shallow serving bowls and serve.

…dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening.
~Art Buchwald

This Provençal comfort food exudes the melodious aromas of poultry, olives, fennel and capers that so often waft from the region’s kitchens and tables.

Capers (Capparis spinosa L.) are perennial bushy shrubs that bear fragrant white to light pink petals, and fleshy leaves renowned for the delicious immature buds which are commonly prepared pickled in salt and vinegar. Native to the Meditteranean basin, the thorny caper bush is well adapted to the sun soaked, sandy and sometimes nutrient needy soil found in the region.

Intense manual labor is required to gather capers, for the buds must be picked each morning just as they reach the proper size—before they open. Merchants categorize capers by size with the smallest non pareil often being the most desirable. However, somewhat larger buds from Pantelleria, a hot dry wind-swept speck of a volcanic island south of Sicily, are also highly prized.

Freshly picked caper buds are not an especially savory lot, but their piquancy increases after sun-drying, salting and brining. Deceptive by size, these charming, petite morsels are tart, zestful and bring earthy, tangy, citrus dimensions to dishes. A pantry without capers should sense remorse. Capers are packed in glass jars in coarse salt or vinegar brine, and so it is incumbent to thoroughly rinse before use.

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH WINE, CAPERS, OLIVES, FENNEL, & SHERRY VINEGAR

1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb) chicken, rinsed, patted dry, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

1 dried bay leaf
2 rosemary sprigs
1 C high quality green olives, pitted (such as picholine)
1 C capers, drained and well rinsed
4 fennel branches, roughly sliced into 2″-3″ pieces
2 C dry white wine
1 C chicken stock

1/4 C sherry wine vinegar

3 T fresh tarragon or flat parsley, roughly chopped

Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and a couple of pinches of herbes de Provence crumbled between finger and thumb. In a large heavy deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter and garlic over medium heat. But, do not allow to brown. With a wooden spatula, massage the garlic cloves into the entire pan surface. Then, place chicken in pan, skin side down; the skin should sizzle some when the pieces contact the surface. Brown chicken in batches, turning over once, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Remove crushed garlic cloves before they brown. Set aside browned chicken on a dish or platter, loosely tented.

Reduce the heat to medium or medium low, and add the onions. Sweat onions until soft and translucent, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Return the chicken to the pan, and add the bay leaf, rosemary, olives, capers, fennel, wine and stock. Cover and simmer slowly until chicken is tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the chicken to the dish or platter, and tent loosely with foil. Also remove bay leaf, rosemary sprigs. Raise heat, fortify sauce with sherry vinegar and boil down rapidly until sauce begins to just lightly thicken and coat a spoon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve over rice, pasta or thick noodles.

Elegant beurre blanc (French for “white butter”) involves “mounting with butter” which is the process of whisking in butter at the end of a sauce to add shine and flavor. Sounds a little like the scene in Last Tango in Paris? Paul (to Jeanne): “Get the butter…”

Debate exists about the origins of beurre blanc, one theory being that the Anjou region is the birthplace of this sauce having first been served at the restaurant La Poissonnière in Anger. The more favored version is that early in the 20th century, a chef named Clémence Lefeuvre first offered this shimmering sauce at her restaurant La Buvette de la Marine on the banks of the Loire near Nantes.

Beurre blanc does not reheat at all as it will break and separate. Do not allow the finished sauce to boil or even simmer and conversely do not allow the sauce to become so cold as to solidify. The whisking of the butter should take place shortly before plating or you can even keep the sauce in a thermos for a bit.

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH WILTED LEEKS AND TARRAGON

4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), rinsed and cleaned well, sliced thin lengthwise
2 T unsalted butter
3/4 C chicken stock

Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C white wine or champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white or black pepper
3 shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

8 fresh sea scallops (divers)
Sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

2 T capers, drained, rinsed and patted dry
2 T fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
Fresh tarragon leaves to garnish

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and stock, salt and pepper and then simmer until leeks are very tender, almost wilted. Strain through sieve, transfer leeks to platter and tent with foil.

Boil wine, wine vinegar, salt pepper, shallots, thyme and bay leaves in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Remove thyme and bay leaves and discard. Immediately whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a light hollandaise. Stir in capers and chopped tarragon. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, season scallops with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and sauté until cooked, about 2 minutes per side.

Arrange leeks as nests in shallow soup bowls, drizzle with a little sauce and then top with scallops. Spoon sauce over scallops and garnish with fresh tarragon leaves.

It is all right for the lion and the lamb to lie down together if they are both asleep, but if one of them begins to get active, it is dangerous.
~Crystal Eastman

May I never be cured of my weakness for lamb.

MUSTARD & YOGURT LEG OF LAMB

1 (6 to 7 lb) leg of lamb, bone in

6 T Dijon mustard
6 T whole fat yogurt
1/2 T dried red chili peppers, finely ground
1 T dried Herbes de Provence*
1/2 C fresh mint, chopped
3 plump fresh garlic heads, halved crosswise
3 dried bay leaves
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Brandy or cognac

In a medium bowl combine and whisk together the mustard, yogurt, chili peppers, Herbes de Provence and mint to a paste. Place the leg of lamb in a baking dish and brush the paste over all of the meat. Cover and marinate overnight, but bring to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat oven to 450

Place the open garlic head halves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs in the bottom of a roasting pan. Atop, arrange the lamb on a rack in the pan with the marinade. Place lamb in the lower third of the oven and roast, allowing 10 to 12 minutes per pound for medium rare, about 1 1/4 hours. (Lamb is medium rare at an internal temperature of 130 F).

Remove lamb from the oven and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the lamb to a platter, and place on an angle against the edge of an overturned plate. Tent loosely with foil. Turn off the oven and place the platter in the oven, with the door open. Let rest about 20 minutes. The lamb will continue to cook while resting.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping and stirring until the liquid is almost caramelized. Do not let it burn. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Add several tablespoons brandy or cognac to deglaze. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, carve the lamb and place on a warmed platter.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a sauce boat. Serve immediately, with the lamb.

*Herbes de Provence is that mélange of aromatic dried herbes commonly used in the sun drenched region of Provence.

2 t dried basil leaves
2 t dried thyme leaves
2 t dried savory leaves
2 t dried marjoram leaves
2 t dried rosemary leaves
1 t dried lavender

Coarsely grind all of the ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder by pulsing.

Buen Provecho!

WINE MARINATED LEG OF LAMB

1 (6 to 7 lb) leg of lamb, bone in

Marinade
2 bottles red wine
1/2 C red wine vinegar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
12 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6 thyme leaf sprigs, stemmed and chopped
1/3 C fresh sage, chopped
1/3 C fresh rosemary, stemmed and chopped
4 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 C red wine
2 garlic heads, unpeeled, halved transversly

Red wine

In a large plastic bag or bowl, combine the marinade ingredients. Refrigerate overnight or more, turning from time to time. Remove the meat, pour the marinade through a sieve, and discard the solids. Bring the lamb to room temperature before roasting and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450

Arrange the lamb on a rack in the roasting pan and add 1 cup red wine to bottom of pan. Place halved garlic heads in bottom of roasting pan. Place in lower one third of the oven and roast, allowing 10 to 12 minutes per pound for medium rare, about 1 1/4 hours. (Lamb is medium rare at an internal temperature of 130 F). The meat should be basted fairly frequently and feel free to add wine should the pan become dry.

Remove from the oven, transfer to a platter and loosely tent with foil. Let rest about 20 minutes. The lamb will continue to cook while resting.

Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium high heat, and deglaze by scraping up the bits in the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid is close to caramelizing, but take care not to burn. Add a few tablespoons of red wine, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers until thickened some. The sauce should coat a wooden spoon. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve or chinois and serve with the carved lamb.