I used to be picky about meat. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it. I don’t know if I just got bored with what was on offer, or if I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet, but it was a rare meat that made me smile.
They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and that’s exactly what happened.
One week in middle school, my best friend said he didn’t believe I had the will to be a vegetarian, and that it was stupid to try. I showed him…for exactly one week. Then I caved. One meat I did like was Chinese beef, or beef in “Chinese” food. The chow fun did me in, y’all.
I was ashamed but also prideful, “I realized there was no point in being vegetarian. You were still wrong, even though I did give up. So…hah!”
Then in high school, I decided to try again, and really try. For me, it was like a challenge: could I challenge myself to expand my non-meat experiences? By eliminating “cheeseburger” from my options at restaurants, I figured it would make choosing an entree easier, something I still struggle with. I also figured it would be the healthy choice (Present Me is rolling his eyes at Teenaged Me), and that it made sense because I still wasn’t super thrilled about meat as a concept.
The first year was rocky. My family would (perhaps unintentionally, or perhaps cunningly) leave halves of Panera sandwiches that they had bought in the fridge. They would be halves of the very panini that I enjoyed the most…and I, though I probably could, would not restrain myself from sneaking bites of the chicken bacon whatever that belonged to my sister.
I was a bad vegetarian. Once, I wanted to try a friend’s nachos, which had ground beef on them. I wiped the beef off, and shrugged, “meh.” They all looked at me and said, “you’re a really bad vegetarian.”
The summer before that, I had spent a month in Ireland, gorged on bacon and Irish sausage (Irish sausage is a godsend, unless it dark and called “pudding.” That is a not-godsend.)
I was ashamed. So I doubled down and said, “no more of this nonsense!” I went to homeroom a changed dude.
For about two years after that I was a good vegetarian. I was super discerning. I was also a little nag-y, maybe (my college friends can confirm or refute.)
I once went out for Korean barbecue with friends, just because I didn’t want to be the only one not going, and ate all the pickles and condiments. And then I ate dinner when I got home. That was sort of a low, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Early on in my second year at university, when I was starting to think about studying abroad in Japan, and also just living in Japan in general, a friend convinced me to exchange my vegetarianism for pescetarianism (is there a standard spelling for that yet?!) It didn’t take a lot of convincing. Before she could even get the “sc” out of her mouth, I was all in. “Please, teach me the ways of the fish!” We went out for a sushi dinner that night.
I loved all of it. That’s huge: as much as I disliked meat, I used to like seafood even less. But that night, I was in love. The lust has since plateaued into a balanced and prominent enjoyment of seafood.
I assumed I should get into seafood because Japan, and obviously, and duh. I later discovered I was misguided: Japan loves meat. The second step towards my carnal rebirth was ramen, an unavoidable and unforgettable thing…made with pork bone broth. I caved a little more: “I’ll only eat meat if it’s in ramen. Just that one exception.”
People were, understandably, flummoxed. I survived that way for a good three years, enjoying Los Angeles’s sushi and seafood scene, getting into Korean food (I can have KBBQ now!), and paradoxically eating ramen.
Fate, however, had different plans. Not only did Japan love meat, Japanese public schools loooooooove serving meat for school lunch, and the whole “how do I maintain my pescetarianism (sp?) at school without compromising my relationship with the staff” dance was exhausting. I successfully got them to stop serving me meat at my junior high school, but my elementary school was a more difficult task, and I gave up. I decided to eat the meat, but only at school (or in ramen, or if it comes from the sea, or if I can’t see it…and so on, and so on.) One of my favorite dishes was, morbidly, orange chicken.
One evening, while enjoying my daily hazelnut latte across from the McDonald’s near my apartment, I could feel my willpower leaving my body through the foot area, and I caved one last time. I told everyone I had started eating meat again. Nearly everyone I had ever known was elated.
My heart had grown fond, but my tastebuds and stomach acids had grown lusty.
When I first started officially eating meat again, I had to take it slowly, to ease my stomach back into the process, but I was like a caffeinated baby: ready and raring to go. Once I felt like my stomach could handle the red, I went crazy. I jumped so far off of the no-meat bandwagon, I couldn’t even see the car anymore. I ate so much meat, my mom commented when I moved home, “Well, I guess you really aren’t a vegetarian/pescetarian anymore.”
And if you asked me three years ago what my favorite meat was, I would have said “chicken.” I would still say “chicken,” though steak, cooked right, is pretty damn good, too.
That’s where this bird comes in: beer braised chicken. In my quest to learn cooking techniques (poaching, braising, grilling, roasting, and so on), I found a recipe for braised chicken and immediately fell in love…with the end result, but not so much with the recipe itself. It was inordinately complicated, so over the last fifteen-ish months, I’ve simplified it a lot. It’s a franken-braise, hardly reminiscent of the original recipe at all. I don’t even remember where I found the recipe.
Braising is one of those things that feels complicated because people make it complicated. You can find multiples of dozens of braising recipes and styles and techniques and tips online. It’s enough to make your chicken thigh spin (pun.) Since starting this recipe, I’ve tried a few others (coq au vin, braised pork belly, pot roast, to name a few), and every time, I was overwhelmed by the deluge of braising styles. To make things more palatable, I like to think of braising as Six Simple Steps:
Every recipe is just a variation on this. Some recipes use starch, others don’t. Some use a lot of liquid, others only use a little. Different meats take different lengths of time to braise. Some people boil the hell out of the meat (don’t do that.) Others, smartly, don’t let it get above a simmer. Some people pour off the fat, while others (me. it’s me), love the fat. They embrace the fat. You can make gravy with the braising liquid, or serve it as is, or even serve it soupy.
beer braised chicken
2 lbs chicken breast and/or thigh with skin and bone
~4 Tbsp canola or coconut oil (for searing and sautéing)
kosher or sea salt
crushed black pepper
1 large yellow onion
1/4 lb carrots
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (or other starch, such as corn, potato, or tapioca)
1/2 a bottle of beer (dark beers, lagers, Pilsners, etc., work best, as opposed to IPAs or flavored beers.)
1 c chicken stock
1 long sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp dried rosemary)
Place chicken, skin side up, on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and cover with paper towels to dry. Let the chicken come to room temperature, sitting out of the fridge for about an hour before you’re ready to sear.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Chop carrots into thumb-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the onion.
Heat a large, wide sauté pan, braiser, or Dutch oven on medium heat for a few minutes. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the oil and heat.
Make sure the oil covers the entire bottom of the pan/pot. It’s ready when it runs as thin as water or starts to smoke. You can also test the oil by tilting the pan so the oil pools on side, and sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the pool. If it bubbles, it’s ready.
While the pot/pan and oil are heating, peel and mince the garlic cloves and set aside. Measure out and prepare the rest of the ingredients, each ingredient in its own bowl or measuring cup.
Liberally salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken, and when the oil is hot enough, gently place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Place chicken in one layer with some space in between each piece. Liberally salt and pepper the opposite side.
Flip the chicken after a few minutes, when the skin is nicely bronzed, and continue to sear the opposite side.
Remove chicken, reduce heat to low, and add another 1-2 Tbsp of oil. Set the chicken aside in a bowl, and let the oil heat.
Add the onion and carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender and fragrant, then add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until you can smell it.
Add the flour and cook for another minute or two, stirring/whisking constantly.
If you’re using dried rosemary instead of fresh, add the chopped, dried rosemary at this point and cook another minute or two.
Pour in the half bottle of beer and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the beer reduce by about half.
Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken back in, skin side up, and cover the pot/pan.
Braise/simmer for about 45 minutes, making sure the liquid doesn’t boil, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and falls apart easily.
If using fresh rosemary, mince the rosemary and add it to the chicken after about 40 minutes.
Serve the chicken with the gravy, reducing the sauce after you remove the chicken, if necessary.
See ya on the flip side,
previous monthly muffins
My first year in college, a friend of mine wanted to show me around Los Angeles, so we drove all over, exploring his favorite places (ie., his favorite date spots…) One of the places we visited, a place in which I would end up spending a significant amount of time over the next three years, was Little Tokyo. At this point I had been to Japan once, on a 2-week guided, structured tour, and was in the honeymoon phase of my infatuation with the Land of the Rising Sun.
We wandered around a Japanese grocery store in the little shopping village of Little Tokyo (Maru-something or other), where I found bags of powdered tea. This wasn’t green tea or matcha, mind you, but powdered Royal Milk Tea, one of my absolute favorite things from Japan (though technically it’s from England…and if we’re really splitting hairs, it’s originally from India.) I loved Royal Milk Tea. I still do, but due to developing lactose…problems…I can’t drink it unless I make my own non-dairy version (which I have done, and is almost as good as the dairy version.)
This excursion was in April, just before final exams and summer vacation, so I grabbed a box of the powdered tea and brought it back to North Carolina. The first thing I did when I got home was make earl grey muffins. It was an inspired act, and a brilliant decision: they were heavenly. Possibly the best muffins I had ever had. I haven’t been able to find powdered milk tea since then, but I’ve experimented a bit with black tea pastries (black tea spiced apple pie, black tea butter cookies, and a failed attempt at an earl grey bundt cake.)
The winter before last, December 2015, I dreamt up a recipe for black tea butter cookies, spicy shortbread discs with whole, loose earl grey tea leaves, perfect for balancing on the saucer of a cappuccino mug. After the November and December 2016 muffins, laden with chocolate and other delicious things, I wanted something light, something bordering on celestial.
Right on cue, in sauntered these muffins: earl grey nut muffins. Inspired by a long-ago memory of Royal Milk Tea and Royal Milk Tea muffins, and based on the black tea butter cookies, these muffins are subtly sweet, with the pleasant flavor and aroma of tea, none of the bitterness of caffeine, and an accompaniment of sweet, crunchy walnuts. As with most of my muffins, these are half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour.
And they’re a perfect breakfast treat.
earl grey nut muffins
makes 1 dozen
150 g all-purpose flour
150 g whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
a hefty pinch of kosher salt
4 bags of black tea (8 grams of tea)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
180 g granulated sugar
180 g milk
1 tsp almond or walnut extract
2 large eggs (~50 grams each)
120 g canola oil
120 g chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F/190 C, and line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners.
In a small bowl, combine all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking powder, salt, loose tea (cut open the tea bags with scissors), and cinnamon.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, milk, extract, eggs, and canola oil.
Dump dry ingredients into wet mixture and combine, then whisk in chopped nuts and mix until almost completely combined.
Using a large spoon or cookie scoop, scoop the batter into the muffin pan so each cup is 2/3 – 3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the muffin tops spring back when pressed lightly, or a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack.
Cheerio and all that,