Tip two involves a knife tip. I've been repeating to friends, who are as surprised as I and everyone else was to hear it--the room literally started buzzing when Tsai casually showed it: test chicken breasts for doneness by putting the tip of a paring knife into the center of a piece of chicken and then touch it to your lower lip. If it's cool, the chicken's not done yet. If it's hot, it is.
This is new. We all know about the ten-minutes-an-inch rule for fish, and that in the equivalent of a secret handshake chefs can gauge the doneness of fabulously expensive steak simply by prodding it with a thumb or index finger. But touching cool steel till it's warm! I sent Tsai a series of questions: How warm is warm enough? Does it work only for breasts? *Do* chefs know from feel when chicken is done, or are the bones and joints always treacherous? I called Tsai.
His further instructions: use a metal or ceramic knife and put the tip into the breast or thigh, midway but NOT at a bone, which gets much hotter than meat much faster, and bones and poultry meat can be a recipe for tragedy (or tragicomedy, as on my reality-TV show debut as a secret restaurant critic). Pull it out and count to four seconds and touch it to your lower lip--"If you had a goatee it would be there. I don't do goatees, I don't know how." The lower lip, besides being an accurate monitor of heat, can be easily wiped off in case you've just tested very underdone chicken.
The temperature needs to be better than warm--hot, he said, the kind of hot a "kid would have to blow on before putting it in the mouth." It should be as warm as the first bite of fried or roast chicken, he said.
The same method does work for steak, he said, but with beef the gradations matter more--very hot would mean "really well done," which can make for dissatisfied customers and lost money. Poultry just needs to be done, as far as I'm concerned, so I plan to use this method.
Meanwhile, this recipe is an easy weeknight supper, looked fun to make, and was fun for all the Mass in Motion/BNBers to taste--being his well-organized self, Tsai made sure there was a small plate's worth for everyone, and being a good sport, the governor himself dished it out.
Makes 4 servings.
• 4 large boneless chicken breasts, skin off
• 2 cups Soy-Lime Syrup, plus additional for drizzling (recipe below)
• 3 cups water, boiling
• 2 cups (12 ounces) instant couscous
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 english cucumber, washed, cut into ½-inch dice
• 4 - 5 large tomatoes, heirloom preferred ½-inch dice
• Juice of 1 lemon
• Ginger Raita (recipe below)
• kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• canola oil for cooking
The night before, combine chicken and soy-lime syrup in a non-reactive bowl, cover and refrigerate. The next day, preheat the oven to 375°F. Season the chicken very lightly with salt and pepper. Heat a large, ovenproof sauté pan over high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken and sauté until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn chicken and transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the chicken is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the couscous: place couscous in large, heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over couscous, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir quickly to blend and immediately cover bowl with plastic wrap, sealing tightly, and allow to steam until couscous is tender, about 5-7 minutes. Fluff couscous with the back of a fork and add cucumber, tomatoes, lemon juice and remaining extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine and check for seasoning. Serve chicken over couscous salad and top with ginger raita.
• 1 (20.9 fluid ounce) bottle kechap manis
• juice of 1 lime
Combine lime juice, to taste, with kechap manis and store until ready to use.
Makes about 1 cup.
• 1 cup Greek yogurt
• 2 tablespoons minced scallions
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
• ½ tablespoon minced ginger
In a medium bowl, combine all and mix thoroughly. Ideally, store in fridge, covered, for about an hour to allow flavors to develop.
Copyright 2009 Ming Tsai.
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