Chicken and rice. It’s the embodiment of comfort food. It’s weekends at my grandparents’ house where they would lift me up in fire-smothering hugs on my way in and out and a few times in between. If it wasn’t meatballs, it was chicken and rice. Grandma served to everyone, but never made a place for herself. And until I was old enough to stay up after the sun went down (and even sometimes now), I believed the sustenance she got from the food she so closely tended to, eliminated her need to eat it. I wondered if she knew how good her chicken and rice was. If she knew, then certainly she would sit down with us and eat it. When I did catch her eating every once in a while, she wouldn’t affirm like we did that she was certainly the best cook ever. She would say, “but don’t you think it’s a little dry?” or “this one isn’t as bad as the last one,” measuring herself to a standard I didn’t understand. The standard of a culture, of never settling for excellence, but always striving to grow. I get that now.
My husband has been asking me for chicken and rice lately. He grew up in a Colombian household where chicken and rice was dinner almost every night. My grandma’s version of chicken and rice is closest to the Jerusalem cookbook’s version of it, recreated on the blog here, as Grandma never really used a recipe. While we’ve both been craving comfort lately and resisting the natural contraction of life that comes with colder weather and scary world events, I wanted to keep expanding and growing, rising to the exponentially elusive estate of excellence. And let me tell you, this chicken and rice is EXCELLENT. I ripped the recipe right off of Lady and Pup’s blog. Her blog and this chicken are total game changers. I switched up the rice, but followed the method to a T. Hers is another mama’s version from yet another culture where chicken and rice is a staple passed on through the generations. Chicken and rice to these generations is more than just a meal. It’s a battle against hardship, it’s perseverance, growing roots, expanding broken branches, love, loss, remembrance, gathering and nourishment.
When the impulse to cook chicken and rice called to me once again, I wanted to do so in a celebratory and joyful way with flavors that were like a new cloak on old beautiful memories. This is where Mandy’s awesome recipe comes in. Briny meets salty, sweet, tart and heat all in a forkful. The anise and garlic-infused marinade is a slow overnight process before the chicken legs are braised to tender perfection and laid upon a bed of Chinese forbidden rice, so deeply purple that it looks black as night from afar. Its roasted, nutty taste and soft texture led to its being treasured by royalty. Ginger and red pepper add a bright contrast to the depth of the two different qualities of soy sauce. The Sichuan peppercorns are key here too. They have slight lemony overtones and create a tingly numbness in the mouth that sets the stage for the chopped red pepper. They are pungent, but produce a strange, effect on the tongue like drinking a carbonated beverage. Paired with a good brown home brew, this dish effortlessly assumed the chicken and rice mantle in a fresh and powerful way. I hope it does for you too. Be well.
BRAISED CHICKEN LEGS W/ FRIED CAPERS ON FORBIDDEN RICE
For The Braised Chicken Legs:
- 4 large whole chicken legs
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 16 slices (50 grams) ginger
- 11 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 star anise
- 1 1/2 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
- 3/4 cup (168 grams) soy sauce
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) Chinese shoaxing wine
- 1/4 cup (56 grams) dark soy sauce (important for color)
- 3 tbsp (35 grams) light brown sugar
- 1 cup (240 grams) unsalted chicken stock
For The Fried Chili Capers:
- 1/2 cup (80 grams) brined capers, drained
- 4~6 small red chilis, chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1/3 tsp granulated sugar
- Forbidden rice (but see Mandy’s incredible tutorial on rice-making here)
- Crispy fried eggs
- Shishito Peppers as an optional side
- Ground white pepper for dusting
For The Braised Chicken Legs:
Start the day before. In a skillet over medium-high heat, add canola oil and sliced ginger, cook for a couple min until the edges of the gingers are slightly browned. Add the chopped garlic, star anise and sichuan peppercorns, and cook for another min until fragrant. Transfer the mixture into a large container, along with soy sauce, shoaxing wine, dark soy sauce and light brown sugar. Stir until the sugar has melted, then evenly coat and marinate the chicken legs in the container for about 18~24 hours, rearranging/flipping the chickens once in between.
Transfer everything into a large pot and add the unsalted chicken stock. Bring it to a simmer then cover with lid, leaving a small opening for steam to escape. Every 10 min or so, flip and baste the chicken legs with the braising liquid, and continue to cook for 30~40 min (depending on the size of chicken legs) until tender but still juicy. The meats should not be falling off the bones or anything like that. They will be still supple.
Remove the chicken legs from the pot, then strain the braising liquid through a sieve. Discard the solids, then skim off of excess fat on the top. But it’s important to leave some fat in the liquid for flavours. Return the legs back to into the liquid.
For the Fried Chili Capers:
While the chicken legs are cooking, place the capers in enough water to submerge, and let soak for 3~4 min to get rid of excess saltiness. Drain well then roughly chop them. Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the chopped capers, red chilis, rice vinegar and sugar, and cook for a few min until the edges of the capers start to shrivel and brown just slightly. Let cool and set aside until needed.
Serve the chicken legs over hot steamed rice with fried chili capers and crispy eggs, with a generous pouring of the sauce over the rice and eggs. Dust with a bit of white pepper.