Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

Lemongrass
What to do with those lemongrass tops?? (Photo credit:Wikipedia)

Several recipes I learned while writing The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook are still in my everyday cooking repertoire.  Mochiko Fried Chicken (pg. 187), Japanese-Style Hamburgers (pg. 153), Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes (pg. 123), just to name a few.

And an all-time favorite–Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies (pg. 179).

Seemingly simple at first, this is one recipe that takes practice to perfect. Over the years, I’ve managed to improve the final outcome bit by bit.

I confidently caramelized the sugar to the point where it turns a rich mahogany and hovers on the bittersweet, and doesn’t burn. I know that the quality of the chicken is very very important to this dish. The chicken has to be fresh and definitely not plumped up with water. The extra liquid released during cooking turns the chicken pieces into mush, far from the nicely bronzed outcome you want. Now, I can make this dish with my eyes closed (well, almost!) and it turns out delicious every time.

But I am always left with one conundrum: what to do with the lemongrass tops?  I’ve tossed the tops into a pot with tea. I’ve made lemongrass vinegar. And then it came to me–why not poach chicken? It would make an excellent addition to a mixed green salad, my Harvest Rice Salad, and for a summery chicken salad for your next picnic.

The chicken turned out soft and tender, and was imbued with a delightful lemony scent and flavor. The remaining stock was so fragrant I was almost tempted to stick my head over the pot and breathe in the aromatherapy “fumes!”  I decided to save it for another dish instead.

What do you do with your lemongrass tops?

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Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

poached chicken

I used boneless chicken thighs for this method (I wouldn’t even call it a recipe!) because that’s what I always eat but you can use breasts too if you prefer. You can put the tea leaves into a cheesecloth sachet but I find that the tea leaves can be easily scraped off. If you only have tea bags, use one tea bag and remove it once  the water comes to a boil, unless you want a stronger tea flavor. Try adding other complementary herbs to the mix like Thai basil, ginger, or green onions.

Time: 20 minutes

2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon good quality looseleaf black or green tea
Tops from 3 to 4 stalks of lemongrass
3 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 pound)

Fill a heavy (2-quart) pot about halfway full with water, just enough to cover the chicken pieces. Add the salt, tea, and lemongrass tops, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and bring it back to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and remove the pot from the stove (important if you have an electric stove). Let sit for about 15 minutes (thicker pieces may take longer) or until the chicken is no longer pink inside (cut into a piece to check). If it is, put the lid back on and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.

Let the chicken cool a little then put it in the fridge overnight to cool completely. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred with two forks or cut into slices.

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Coronation Chicken–A Sandwich Fixing Fit for a Queen

Depending on the quality and amount of curry used, the color of coronation chicken can range from acid yellow to subtle ochre. I like to think mine is the latter

Coronation chicken isn’t so well known in these parts (i.e. the U.S.) but in the U.K., this dish has a fabled history.

A humble dish with a regal name, coronation chicken was invented by Rosemary Hume, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, joining the ranks of its Anglo-Indian brethren, chicken tikka masala and mulligatawny soup. It’s basically chicken salad’s gussied up little sister–shredded chicken dressed with a curry- and chutney-spiked mayo and studded with raisins–served over basmati rice or between bread.

According to this Guardian Newspaper article (where you can also read more about its provenance and permutations), coronation chicken was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth chicken). And since Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year (she ascended the throne 60 years ago on February 6th, and her coronation took place June 2, 1953), why not pay tribute to my colonial heritage?

And besides, I had leftover chicken, curry powder, and preserves just waiting to be used up. Operation “Cook Down My Kitchen” cracks on!

Do you have a favorite way with coronation chicken?

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Coronation Chicken

I first discovered Coronation Chicken when I was living in England. A friend ordered a coronation chicken sandwich for lunch one day. (This was one dish that didn’t quite catch on in the colonies, at least not Singapore). I wasn’t enticed by the turmeric yellow-tinged chicken but she coaxed me into having a bite and I’m glad she did! That first bite was an intriguing mélange of tender chicken, spicy curry, and sweet raisins. I’ve had many versions since then, not always tasty and often not pretty. I came up with a dressing that wasn’t too sweet, doing away with the requisite raisins/dried apricots of many recipes, and cut the greasy mayo with the lighter texture of yogurt. Plus, I added some celery (another refrigerator legacy!) for a nice crunch. The result–a light and bright filling I enjoyed sandwiched between hearty slices of herb bread.

Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 appetizer servings, or enough filling for 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 4 drumsticks or 3 breasts worth)
2 stalks celery hearts, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon preserves (I used a tropical mix but try apricot) or mango chutney
2 tablespoons yogurt (whole milk or lowfat is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
A few squirts of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken and celery in a medium bowl.

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the curry powder until fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine the curry powder, chutney, yogurt, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Fold the curry dressing into the chicken until the chicken is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the chicken on a bed of lettuce leaves or between slices of freshly baked bread.