Today was one of those days when I wound up needing comfort food. We have a street festival going on in the neighborhood, one of those great annual community events that the city puts on. My neighborhood is multicultural and pretty artsy so I was expecting good music, interesting vendors, and adventurous cuisine. But it turns out that the 2012 theme was “bacon.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with bacon.
In fact, I have friends who will swear that bacon saved their lives. It’s terrific. Miraculous. Delicious. But the food vendors ended up going all dangerously creative, with things like bacon-garnished cocktails and bacon donuts. Yes, donuts.
Sure, I love bacon too. But all that bacon-inspired artistry made me want to go back to basics, and so here we are with tonight’s dinner: spicy braised chicken legs.
Two brief thoughts, before we get going with the recipe. First, this is the first dish on my blog that needs two pots (or one pot and one wok). So in that regard it’s a bit more complicated than the previous meals. The braising technique (hot searing followed by slow simmering) is perfect for tougher cuts of meat, like chicken legs, but is easy and won’t cause you any stress.
And second, let’s chat for a bit about bones. If you’ve been to a Chinese restaurant (and I don’t mean P.F. Chang’s or Panda Express, I mean authentic Chinese food, like they eat in China), then you know that bones are awesome. In fact, except for Peking duck, you hardly ever get fowl, fish, or amphibians without bones. Westerners find this a bit off-putting, because let’s face it, it’s a lot of work to eat around all the crunchy bits. But there’s a method to the madness: the meat closest to the bone is the most tender, the juiciest, the tastiest, and leaving it intact until it gets to your mouth preserves great flavor and texture. Once you get used to it, you start looking at boneless skinless chicken breasts and wonder why they took all the fun away.
Oh, one more thing: starting with this recipe, I’m going to try a new format for the ingredients. Instead of listing them individually, I’m going to list them grouped together as they are added to your wok, as a mise en place, which might be more convenient. Everything under one number can be combined in its own bowl during your prep, because it’s added to the developing dish at the same time. Feedback on the new format, or anything else, is much appreciated.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 2 lb chicken legs, with the skin still on
- 1/2 cup light soy sauce, 4 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, 2 Tbsp sugar, juice of 2 lemons, 4 star anise, 3/4″ ginger (unpeeled and thinly sliced), 1 cup chicken stock, all stirred together
- 5 cloves garlic (minced), 1 Tbsp Chinese chili sauce (or doubanjinag, or dried red pepper flakes), stirred together
- 1 lb Napa cabbage (sturdy white stem parts only, cut into 1″ squares), 1/4 lb daikon (cut to resemble the cabbage pieces), 5 green onions (sliced diagonally), 2 green and 2 red fresh hot chiles (slivered)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Chill the chicken legs in ice water for an hour, then drain and pat dry.
- Heat 3 Tbsp peanut oil in a large, heavy pot until just smoking, then add the chicken legs and brown for 5 minutes per side, until colorful all around.
- Remove the chicken legs to a cutting board and use a sturdy knife to hack them into pieces about 1″ long, making maybe 3 or 4 pieces per leg. Then put them back into the pot. Add #2 (soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, lemon juice, star anise, ginger, and chicken stock). Bring to a gentle boil and cook covered for about 30 minutes.
- Add 2 Tbsp peanut oil to a separate pan (ideally, your wok) and heat until barely smoking, then briefly fry #3 (the garlic and chile sauce). Add #4 (the cabbage pieces, daikon, green onions, and chiles) and stir fry for about two minutes. Then add the chicken stock (#5) and bring to a boil, cooking for a minute or two until the cabbage is softened but still crispy.
- Arrange the vegetables on a plate and place the chicken pieces on top.
Variations: Substitute any bird for the chicken: try duck, pheasant, or pigeon. Garnish with something colorful. You can take the recipe in another direction by doubling the chili sauce and adding Sichuan peppercorns to mise #3.