Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicken & Chick Pea Tagine and Naan Reattempted

Preserved lemon, cilantro, and yogurt added a trio of accent flavors
to this already savory Tagine.
The tasty charred bubbles on the naan were achieved by a cast iron pan,
since most home cooks don't own tandoor ovens!
When I made Chicken and Salmon Tikka Masala, I had grand plans of making homemade Naan. I knew that I had to let the dough rise for 2-4 hours, so I planned ahead and took all of the ingredients for the dough to school with me. I teach a cooking club after school, so I figured I could sneak in some dough preparation and make it a bonus lesson for the kids. However, yeast is not easy to find in Washington Heights, NYC, so we ended up with delicious but non-homemade Naan from our favorite Indian delivery spot, Indus Express. This week, I attempted the homemade dough again, but this time to serve alongside a Moroccan dish, Chicken and Chick Pea Tagine.

About Tagine
A tagine is actually a cooking vessel used in northern Africa (etymology ties it to the Greek word teganon, which means "frying pan") and the namesake of the stewy entree. Tagines are beautiful, and I am sure that one of these days I'll end up with one. They are made of ceramic or clay and work to retain moisture in food through the tall, conical design of their lid. This traps the moisture, then allows it to cool far from the food and return to the food below. However, not everybody is convinced that the traditional equipment is essential to making a successful and moist tagine. Cook's Illustrated tested multiple models of tagines alongside modern dutch ovens. The vessels that lost the least water were those with the heaviest, tightest-fitting lids rather than the tagines themselves. So whether you are a traditionalist or a use-what-I-have-ist, be sure to cook your Tagine (the food) in a vessel with a tight-fitting, heavy lid.

I used foil to cover the vents on my own lids,
helping preserve the moisture retention that a tagine provides
Choosing the Recipe
My roommate's father is one of our valued family dinner guests. A renowned cook himself, he has wowed all of the roommates with his stories of fishing in Mexico and eating sea urchin straight from the ocean, among other adventurous gastronomic tales. Because my roommate knew that I was looking for a reason to make Naan again, he suggested pairing it with his dad's recipe for Chicken Tagine. He was able to round up the recipe, which I am thrilled to share with you. 

Now, we are all aware that Naan is Indian and there must be a more locally appropriate bread for Morocco. However, despite their origins on separate continents, Naan and the Moroccan bread, khobz (pronounced like a person with a thick French accent saying "robes," with a raspy effect in the initial sound-- technically a uvular fricative, I believe, but this is far too much nerdiness for one set of parentheses) have a lot in common. Both are both fairly flat, eaten with almost all meals, and used as a side dish as well as a utensil. Naan would definitely work, but I wanted authenticity, so I made Khobz too! Who says that two breads is a bad thing?

Memorizing the Recipe
This week, I made Chicken Tagine (and Chick Pea Tagine, for those like me who don't eat chicken), homemade Naan, and homemade Khobz. I memorized the Tagine and the Naan recipes, but not the Khobz.

To commit the Tagine to memory, I had to remember all six of the spices (plus salt and pepper). For this I categorized the colors in the spice blend: 3 browns (cumin, coriander, and cinnamon), 2 reds (cayenne and paprika), and 1 yellow (turmeric). It helped! The steps were simple, since most recipes with onion and garlic involve sweating them early in the process. Since this is a stew, I knew I'd want to get a good brown on the meat before all the liquid came in, so the browning step was logical as well.
3 browns, 2 reds, and 1 yellow: my way of memorizing the spices in Tagine
Memorizing the Naan was a bit more challenging. Baked recipes always are because they are so dependent upon precision; so many white powders are involved; variations occur in timing, temperature, and mixing process; and you can't taste along the way to see how the food is doing. I got by with knowing my dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking powder) and my liquids (oil, yogurt, and yeasty water), since they all got mixed separately then put together. The measurements, however, required a little cramming.  I think that I will have to make Naan a few more times before it's really engrained in my mind. 
Liquids and dry ingredients, before they came together.
The Verdict
While the Tagine remained quite soupy, which is different from my roommate's childhood memories, the roomie of honor said that his dad would be impressed. That was all I needed to hear! The Tagine was seriously complex in its flavors, with a spicy kick that only got stronger as we worked our way through leftovers. I used half of the cayenne pepper called for, but I left the recipe as is for those who like more spice. I also made some quick preserved lemons, so we had spice, yogurt, cilantro, and the salty-sour bitterness of whole lemons all taking place in each bite. Needless to say, this dish is not for the simple-taste-budded. If you are daring with your flavors, however, you will walk away a very happy eater.

The Naan was a glorious success, the cast iron skillet contributing to its beautiful charred and bubbly exterior. The interior of the Naan was chewy and perfect for scooping up bits of the chicken and chick peas in the Tagine. In the future, I would love to try to make Naan with some onions or garlic on top too. Naan is annoyingly expensive to buy from a restaurant (one little flat for $3?), so now I have a go-to recipe for making my own. Since the prep time is so long with the yeast, I'll have to experiment with freezing Naan (or its dough) and report back.
The naan dough, so light and airy, was intimidating to handle at first,
but it rolled out beautifully and was very forgiving.
As for my non-memorized recipes, the Khobz was the fastest and easiest bread I have ever made. It's not supposed to rise a lot, so the rising time was only an hour. The dough was easy to prep and knead, and when it came out of the oven after only 25 minutes it had a beautiful toasted crust surrounding a center that was moist enough to eat on its own but dry enough to soak up all the lovely spiced tomato broth from the Tagine. It paired beautifully with a young Parrano gouda, and I can see it making a tasty sandwich. The side dish I served, Green Beans with Mustard Butter, was a hit, and I can't wait to make it again for company. With shallots, vinegar, cream, and mustard seeds in a compound butter, it brought some fresh tang to this meal.
When the Khobz came out of the oven, I felt like we were truly ready to break bread together.
The crackling of the crust when we broke it apart made it appeal to all five senses.
The whole meal came together in about 1 1/2 hours once the bread dough had risen. Not too shabby for a stew, two breads, preserved lemons, and a side of green beans. It was a beautiful spread and I am happy to have attempted it.
Clockwise from top left:
Khobz, Chicken Tagine, cilantro, Naan, preserved lemons,
Green Beans with Mustard Butter, and Chick Pea Tagine
The Recipes
Chicken Tagine (with Chick Pea Tagine modifications)
from Ron Garrett the First
Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (modify to your preferred level of spice)
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cans Italian stewed tomatoes
  • plain yogurt, for serving
  • cilantro, for serving
  • Heat olive oil in a pan. Place chicken pieces in the pan and begin to brown them.
  • Add onion and garlic and cook until they are sweating.
  • Mix and add all spices (cumin through cayenne). Allow chicken to brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
  • When meat is browned, add tomatoes and raisins.
  • Cover and let the stew simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • Top with yogurt and cilantro and serve over rice or couscous.
  • To make this dish vegetarian, replace the chicken with 1 can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained. Add to the pot after onions have sweated and proceed as instructed.
If you prefer a thicker stew, you can use a slotted spoon to control
how much tomato broth is in your bowl... or you can just sop it up with Khobz and Naan!
Stovetop Naan
Adapted from Aarti Sequeira, Food Network
Yield: 6 flats, each about 8x3"

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (100°F)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 stick melted butter
  • In a large glass, dissolve the yeast and 1 tsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for about 10 minutes or until frothy.
  • Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk to incorporate.
  • When the yeast is frothy, add the yogurt and olive oil to the glass and stir.
  • Pour the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredients and begin to mix lightly with a fork. 
  • Once the dough has mostly come together, use your hands to finish mixing it. Do not over mix; as soon as the dough has come together into a soft and slightly sticky mass, cover it with a towel and let sit in a draft-free, warm area for 2-4 hours. (I placed mine on top of the radiator cover with a folded dish towel underneath and left it there for only 2.5 hours)
  • Once the dough has risen, lightly flour your countertop and gently remove the dough from the bowl. Place on the countertop and separate into 6 even pieces.
  • Roll each piece into a ball and coat in ample flour before setting to the side.
  • One at a time, place a dough ball on the floured surface and flatten into a teardrop shape. Roll with a well-floured rolling pin until 1/4 inch thick, about 8-9 inches long, and 4 inches across at the wide end of the teardrop. Lift the dough every once in a while during the rolling to make sure it does not stick to the counter.
  • Roll out all dough balls and set aside, covered.
  • Place your melted butter in a bowl near the stove with a pastry brush. Have a little dish of salt ready as well.
  • Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is nearly smoking.
  • Place a naan on the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Flip the bread, cover, and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
  • Remove from the skillet and transfer to a plate. Brush with butter and sprinkle some salt on top.
  • Repeat with the rest of the naans and serve.
I don't have a lid that would work, so I fabricated one out of foil.
It worked like a charm.
Add melted butter when the naan is still hot.
Chewy, bubbly, and charred: everything I want in Naan.
Everyone was eyeing the last piece before we split it up!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chewy Thin Crust Pizza Dough

Baking until you see a matte crust means that there will be some bite on the outside
and chewiness on the inside, despite the ridiculously thin base.
An slightly important announcement: 
For sustainability's sake (both for me as a writer and you as a reader), I will only be writing one post per recipe. I'll still be planning in advance and letting you know about the tricks of memorizing everything, but the whole process, from finding the recipe to eating it, will be in one post. 

Now to the good stuff... PIZZA!
I firmly believe that the arguments about the "best" kind of pizza must end. We can postulate about the need for a deep dish or a thin crust, for wood-fired or oven baked in cast-iron, and for the necessity or intrusiveness of tomato sauce, but at the end of the day every person is entitled to his or her opinion. If I were a founding father, I would have included that in the Declaration of Independence:

"We have been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the ability to eat a phenomenal pizza made in our preferred style."

It has a nice ring to it.

That being said, there are superior recipes within each style, and despite my preference for thick crust, I decided to test out a thin-crust dough recipe at 101 Cookbooks called "The Best Pizza Dough Ever," abridged from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Without knowing anything about Peter Reinhart (I confess), I trusted this recipe from the get-go for a few key reasons. 

  • First, the post was well written. I love a blog post that is pleasant to read.
  • Second, there were many citations and links. This is one of the most fun parts of reading someone else's thoughts... you know where they came from.
  • Third, the measurements were given in weight as well as volume, allowing me to use my scale for the precision-essential ingredients like flour. 
  • And last, but probably most importantly, the dough took more than a day to prepare yet had little hands-on time. The slow fermentation process (letting the dough sit overnight) was something I could get behind, and boy, was it worth it! I wish you could smell the effects of this slow-and-steady method; as I let my dough reach room temperature on baking day, I could smell the tangy, live aroma of the yeast exuding from the dough. In my humble opinion, that is what baking is all about.
This is when it gets nice and yeasty smelling... delicious.
Keep yours covered in plastic so it does not dry out.
The recipe I am going to put forth is a reworded version of the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, but I hope it preserves the integrity of the dough. I did not use an electric mixer, so I omitted those instructions. If you wish to see the more technologically advanced instructions, click here and report back. Otherwise, read on. The following recipe contains the exact steps that I took, and my results were lovely. Light, airy, and crisp on the bottom despite the delicate thinness of the dough, and just the right amount of chew in the crust. For a thin-crust pizza, I was thrilled to find an edge with tenderness and a bit of bite rather than aggressive crunch.

This is intimidating, and I am sure I didn't do it correctly, but it worked out!
Shuffle your fists around underneath the dough to make the inside nice and flat
while preserving a tangible crust

The Recipe: Reinhart's Pizza Dough, adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Yield: 36 oz. dough (Six 6-oz balls of dough, enough to make six 12-inch pizzas)


  • 20.25 oz unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast (check out the differences in yeast here)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
  • Cornmeal for dusting (about 1/3 cup per pizza made)
Preparation: Day 1
  • Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and cold water until the flour is all absorbed.
  • Dip the metal spoon into cold water as needed as you stir the dough vigorously in a circular motion. Move from clockwise to counterclockwise every couple of minutes to help the gluten develop further (and to help out your arm muscles). Continue mixing for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is elastic and sticky (beyond tacky). It should stick to the bottom of the bowl but clear the sides. If the dough sticks to the sides, toss in a little more flour and keep mixing. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, add a teaspoon or so of cold water.
  • Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Line a large, flat container (I used a tupperware, but a flat pan or serving plate will work) with parchment paper. 
  • Cut the dough into six even pieces (I weighed mine as a clump and then made sure all the pieces were equal by weighing each piece separately. Each ended up slightly over 6 ounces). With dry, flour-coated hands, roll each piece of dough into a ball and place onto the parchment-lined dish. Lightly brush or mist with olive oil and wrap the dish with a large plastic bag.
  • Refrigerate overnight and up to three days.
Preparation: Day 2
  • Remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator two hours before you want to bake it. Place on a floured countertop and press gently into a 1/2-inch thick disk, about 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the disks with flour and lightly brush or mist with olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for two hours.
  • Preheat your baking stone on the bottom oven rack for 30-45 minutes at the highest temperature your oven allows. If you do not have a baking stone and plan to use a sheet pan, preheat your oven to 450°F without any pan inside.
  • Generously dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Coat your hands with flour, pick up a disk of dough, and rest it on your fists, shuffling your hands around the circumference of the circle until the center stretches out. It is going to get really, really thin faster than you would expect. Once the center is stretched, lay the dough on the pan and finalize the form to your desired shape and size (about 12" is what I ended up with from a 6-oz ball of dough). There should be enough cornmeal under the dough so that it slides when the pan is shifted horizontally. This will come in handy for sliding the crust onto the baking stone.
  • Top the pizza with light toppings (I am a fan of the basic margherita pizza, with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and basil added after baking).
  • If using a normal baking sheet, brush off the excess cornmeal from the sides of the sheet and place in the oven in the bottom third. If using a baking stone, the stone should already be in the oven. Brush off excess cornmeal from the baking sheet that holds your uncooked pizza (otherwise it may burn), place the pan close to the stone, and shuffle the pan back so that the pizza slides from the pan to the stone.
  • Cook for about 5-7 minutes. When the crust has developed a firm, matte exterior and the cheese is bubbly, remove from the oven. If using a baking stone, place the tip of a baking sheet under the edge of the pizza and use a spatula to guide the pizza onto the pan.
  • If using a baking stone, carefully pull it out of the oven and brush off the excess cornmeal so it does not burn (I had my window open, fan on, and front door open because I missed this step the first time around). Replace the stone and repeat the baking process if making more than one pizza.
  • Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and add any toppings that should not be cooked. Serve and enjoy.
I used the cardboard from my pizza stone box to hold and transfer
completed pizzas to the baking stone. With a generous dusting of cornmeal,
there was no difference between cardboard and a pan!

Time it took me to memorize this recipe: 4 days (and I plan to use it in the future).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tilapia Piccata: The Verdict

The final dish, served with a roasted artichoke and a winter fruit salad

The Process:

I was shocked at how straightforward the recipe was. With help from my apartment family, we chopped all our veggies, pounded and floured our meat, browned and deglazed, and were eating in no time. In fact, the item that took the longest was the side dish!

The Verdict:

One of my roommates declared that this was his favorite dish I have ever made, and he is not one to lie about such important things! In addition to being delectable, it was simple enough to whip up in about an hour. I love how pounding the meat (I used tilapia as well as chicken) makes it cook so quickly, the coat of flour makes browning a painless process, and the deglazing of the pan with broth and wine adds aroma, flavor, and volume to the dish without slaving away to make a fancy sauce. In the future, I would probably let my deglazing liquids simmer a little longer before serving them as a sauce... it was a bit strong on the wine. Nevertheless, everyone was happy.

The more coverage you get, the better browning you get.
Take the dredging seriously!
Orzo was not available at the store where I did the shopping, but the even more petite seme di melone was, so I used that as our grain. It was delicious for leftovers with a little bit of the sauce on top. I also mixed a few spoonfuls of the sauce in with some mayo to make a last-minute dipping sauce for our roasted artichokes. Perfect.

Deglazing with white wine, lemon juice, and veggie broth

For a simple meal that is a definite crowd pleaser, I highly recommend the not-quite-Italian dish. Whether you make it with tilapia or chicken, the recipe is wonderful.

The Recipe: Tilapia Piccata, adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on The Food Network
Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 tilapia filets
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, enough for dredging
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced very thin
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/8 cup brined capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Lay fish fillets side by side on a sturdy surface. Cover with plastic wrap and pound lightly with a weighted pan or meat tenderizer until about 1/4-1/2 inch thick (don't demolish the fish, but a few quick bops will help it cook faster and more evenly.)
  • Season fish with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour and shake of excess.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp buter with 3 tbsp oil. When melted, add two pieces of tilapia and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • When the bottom is browned (don't the fish move around until this happens... just a quick peek should do), flip and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the fish from the pan and set aside. Refill the pan with 2 tbsp butter and 3 tbsp oil and repeat the cooking process with the remaining tilapia filets.
  • Once all filets are browned and out of the pan, toss the shallots in the pan with the remaining butter until soft.
  • Remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice, wine, stock, and capers to the pan. Return to the heat and bring to a boil, scraping off the cooked bits of flour and fish.
  • Return the fish to the pan and simmer for about 3 minutes. Take out the fish and plate. Add the final 2 tbsp of butter and whisk vigorously.
  • Pour the sauce over the plated fish and garnish with parsley.
Round 1: Chicken, pounded for quicker cooking

Round 2: Tilapia, with the butter browning even more around the edges

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Risotto Verdict and Tilapia Piccata: The Recipe

Risotto: The Verdict
Last week's risotto was a huge success... and I mean HUGE. We made enough risotto to feed a small country... Maldives, perhaps? And it was so much fun to see how three risotto recipes, which all looked and tasted identical during the initial stages of cooking, became completely unique by the end.

While making three risottos was a little bit daunting at first, knowing that the basic steps stayed the same was a comfort:
1. Saute onion in butter
2. Toss in the rice and coat it in the butter
3. Add broth one ladle at a time, stirring like a maniac and letting it all absorb before adding more
4. Once the rice is al dente and the liquid amount is to your liking (some like it dry, others like it soupy), toss in parmesan cheese and any other mix-in you want.
5. Serve hot and enjoy!

A beautiful picture from, a lovely blog for little kitchens
Moving on... all about Piccata
Chicken Piccata is a staple of American restaurants with a varied menu. That's right... I said American restaurants. It's actually fairly rare to see Chicken Piccata on the menu of Italian restaurants. In NYC, I searched Piccolo Angolo, L'Impero, Babbo, Pepolino, Po, and Pasquale's Rigoletto, and there was no Chicken Piccata. Or Fish Piccata. In fact, I only found one Veal Piccata. It is far more likely to see it on the menus of places such as California Pizza Kitchen, Pete's Tavern, and TGI Fridays. Now, that does not mean that Piccata is of low quality. It does, however, mean that it is not fully Italian. Italian-influenced may be the better term to use.

I have been interested in understanding the basic components of Piccata for a while, and it now seems quite simple. Marlene Sorosky Gray, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, explored different restauranteurs' takes on the four basic components (the more traditional ingredient is in italics):
-Liquid: broth, wine, sherry
-Citrus: lemon, orange, lime
-Cured flavors: capers, marinated artichokes, piquillo peppers
-Accents: parsley, garlic, nuts

I'll be keeping it pretty classic with some tilapia coated in flour, browned in the butter/oil with some shallots, then removed so I can deglaze the pan with lemon juice, wine, and broth. A quick return to the pan, a sprinkle of parsley, and we're good to go. I plan to serve the fish on a bed of orzo with whole roasted artichokes. The pan sauce will be a perfect dip for the artichoke leaves, and I have an odd fascination with orzo. Pasta that looks like rice? Double carb heaven!

The Recipe: Tilapia Piccata, adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on The Food Network
Yield: 4 servings


  • 4 tilapia filets
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, enough for dredging
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced very thin
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/8 cup brined capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped


  • Season fish with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour and shake of excess.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp buter with 3 tbsp oil. When melted, add two pieces of tilapia and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • When the bottom is browned (don't the fish move around until this happens!), flip and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the fish from the pan and set aside. Refill the pan with 2 tbsp butter and 3 tbsp oil and repeat the cooking process with the remaining tilapia filets.
  • Once all filets are browned and out of the pan, toss the shallots in the pan with the remaining butter until soft.
  • Remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice, wine, stock, and capers to the pan. Return to the heat and bring to a boil, scraping off the cooked bits of flour and fish.
  • Return the fish to the pan and simmer for about 3 minutes. Take out the fish and plate. Add the final 2 tbsp of butter and whisk vigorously.
  • Pour the sauce over the plated fish and garnish with parsley.

Days to memorize: 2 (oops... that's what happens when you are sick and forget what day it is!)