Your chicken — and your pasta, eggs and even your desserts — will thank you if you learn how to use the right amount of salt, writes Emily Weinstein
My kids’ babysitter asked me the other day how I make my chicken. The girls love it, she said – one of the most gratifying things you can hear when you cook for young kids, who are tiny, tyrannical critics.
My secret is that I use a lot of salt. And I don’t mean an inappropriate or shocking amount of salt; just the right amount to make the chicken taste maximally chickeny, which is more salt than most people think to use (most home cooking needs more salt. Even desserts need more salt!)
I also season the chicken all over. Here’s how to do this so you avoid making a mess and repeatedly washing your hands: have a pile of salt ready in a bowl or salt cellar. Pick up a piece of chicken with one hand and hold it midair over a cutting board. Use the other hand to grab the salt and sprinkle it on both sides, still midair. Don’t put the chicken hand in the salt bowl, or the salt hand on the raw chicken. That’s it.
I usually roast bone-in chicken thighs salted this way, brushing the skin with oil, then cooking them at 220C and checking for doneness at 30 minutes. But a superb and more exciting (and not at all harder) chicken recipe is below, along with noodles and other delicious options for the week.
Roasted chicken thighs with garlicky cucumber yoghurt
In this simple, homey weeknight dinner, boneless chicken thighs are tossed with garlic, herbs and red-pepper flakes, then roasted along with lemon wedges in the pan. As the lemons brown, their acids mellow, becoming softer and sweeter. When squeezed over the chicken for serving, they offer a rounded tang that’s complemented by dollops of cucumber-flecked yoghurt and chopped fresh mint. The combination of cucumbers and yoghurt is a classic across many cultures, from Indian raita to Persian mast-o khiar to Greek tzatziki and beyond. For this recipe, be sure to use thick Greek-style or other strained yoghurt (such as labneh) or substitute sour cream. Thinner yoghurt will make the sauce runny. Serve this over rice or with flatbread to catch the juices and the cucumber yoghurt.
By: Melissa Clark
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 40 minutes
1kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely grated, minced or passed through a press
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme or oregano leaves, or 1 tsp dried thyme or oregano
Large pinch of red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 lemon, cut lengthwise into thin wedges
125g plain Greek or other strained, thick yoghhrt (or substitute labneh or sour cream)
60g grated seedless cucumber, such as Persian or hothouse cucumbers (see tip)
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint (or use parsley or coriander), for serving
1. Heat oven to 220C. Season chicken generously with the salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine 3 of the grated garlic cloves, thyme or oregano, red-pepper flakes and olive oil. Add chicken and lemon wedges, and toss until well coated (if you want to work ahead, you can refrigerate the chicken for up to 12 hours before roasting).
2. Arrange chicken and lemons on a baking tray in a single layer. Drizzle with a little more oil and roast until chicken is cooked through, 27 to 35 minutes. If you’d like more color on your chicken, run the pan under the grill for 1 to 2 minutes until chicken is lightly charred in places.
3. As the chicken roasts, stir together yoghurt, grated cucumber and remaining minced garlic clove in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.
4. To serve, squeeze roasted lemon wedges all over chicken, and sprinkle with mint and more red-pepper flakes, if you like. Serve chicken accompanied by cucumber-yoghurt sauce and a drizzle of olive oil over everything.
Tip: If you are starting with seeded cucumbers, halve them lengthwise, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds before grating.
Singapore noodles with charred spring onions
While this dish is named for Singapore, it was not created there. Many believe it was invented in Hong Kong, in the 1950s or 1960s, by chefs seeking to add a different flavour profile to Cantonese dishes. It is now a much loved dish at cha chaan tengs, a type of cafe in Hong Kong, and at Cantonese eateries across the world. The original features meat, eggs and vegetables, but this vegetarian version showcases charred spring onions, which add sweetness. Peppers are often included, but you could use carrots, cabbage, cauliflower or any thinly sliced vegetable that can be cooked in 3 to 4 minutes. The technique of “blooming” the curry powder in the oil ensures that the vermicelli is silky rather than gritty. Use a curry powder that has turmeric listed as one of the first ingredients, as it lends a lovely golden colour to the noodles (you can add ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder to a commercial curry powder if you want to ensure a bright hue).
By: Hetty McKinnon
Serves: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed
1 bunch spring onions (about 8 to 10)
2 bell peppers (any colour), cut lengthwise into 0.5cm slices
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
280g rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes and drained
2 tbsp soy sauce
1. Season eggs with ½ teaspoon of salt, and whisk well.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large (30cm) frying pan or wok over medium-high, and, once hot, swirl the oil around and pour in the egg mixture. Allow the egg to set before pushing the egg to one side and tilting the pan to the opposite side. Cook this way until the egg is just set. Break the egg into large chunks (they’ll break up into smaller pieces on their own), remove from pan and set aside. Wipe out the pan if necessary.
3. Prepare the spring onions by separating the white and green parts. Halve the white sections vertically so they are thinner, then cut into 5cm segments. Cut the green parts into 5cm segments.
4. In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high, add the peppers and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, then add the white parts of the spring onions in stages. As the spring onions wilt, add more and cook until charred, another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
5. Return the pan to the stovetop, reduce heat to medium and add 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the curry powder and 2 teaspoons of salt, and stir vigorously to dissolve the curry powder, about 30 seconds.
6. Increase heat to medium-high, add the drained vermicelli and ¼ cup of water, and drizzle with another 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Using tongs or long wooden chopsticks, toss the noodles well, ensuring that they are well coated in the curry mixture.
7. Add the soy sauce and toss for 3 to 5 minutes, until the noodles are tender. Add the peppers, spring onion whites and egg back to the pan, along with the spring onion greens, and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes until the greens are wilted. Taste and season with more salt, if required.
Kefta is ground beef or lamb mixed with ingredients like fresh herbs, onions, ground cumin and sweet paprika, which are often used in Moroccan cuisine. Moroccans often grill it over charcoal, but it’s very versatile: you can thread kefta onto skewers, as done here, or shape it as a patty to fill a sandwich or even use it as a stuffing for dumplings.
By: Nargisse Benkabbou
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 15 minutes
450g minced beef or lamb (15-20% fat)
1 small yellow onion, grated with its juices reserved (about 120g)
Handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Handful cup coriander, finely chopped
Handful mint leaves, finely chopped
2 heaped tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
½ heaped tsp salt, plus more as needed
½ tspblack pepper
Pinch of ground cayenne
1. In a large bowl using your hands or a large spoon, combine the beef, onion and the juices, parsley, coriander, mint, sweet paprika, cumin, salt, black pepper and cayenne.
2. Take about ½ teaspoon of the kefta mixture, cook it (in a pan or in the microwave) and taste it to check the seasoning. Add more salt to the kefta mixture if necessary.
3. Take about 2½ tablespoons of the kefta mixture (slightly larger than a golf ball) and mold it onto a skewer to form a log (if using a long skewer, form two logs on each). Repeat until you’ve used all the kefta mixture. Place the skewers on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.
4. Heat your grill or grill pan to medium-high and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through, using a thin spatula to help turn if the kefta sticks. Serve immediately with bread and a side of vegetables or a salad.
Creamy chive pasta with lemon
This recipe is a good way to showcase any fresh chives you may have. In the spirit of buttered noodles with chives – or stir-fried lo mein with Chinese chives – this recipe uses the delicate alliums as an ingredient instead of a garnish. Their gentle onion flavour adds freshness to lemon-cream sauce, which is not unlike a delicate sour cream and onion dip. You can use creme fraiche for more tang, heavy cream for an Alfredo vibe, or ricotta for a hint of sweetness. To use another spring allium like ramps, leeks or a combination, thinly slice and simmer in heavy cream (not creme fraiche or ricotta) to soften before adding the other ingredients.
By: Ali Slagle
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
Salt and black pepper
450g long noodles, like linguine or spaghetti
180g creme fraiche, heavy cream or ricotta
50g freshly grated Parmesan (1 3/4 ounces), plus more for serving
1 tbsp fresh lemon zest plus 3 tbsp lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)
10-50g chives, cut into 2.5cm pieces
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
2. In the same pot, make the sauce: stir together the creme fraiche, ½ cup reserved pasta water, parmesan, lemon zest and juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the pasta, return to medium heat, and cook, tossing vigorously, until the noodles are well coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add more pasta water as needed to gloss the noodles.
3. Add the chives and stir until evenly distributed and slightly wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat with more grated parmesan and black pepper on top.
Eggs in purgatory
It’s unclear whether “purgatory” refers to the bubbling red tomato sauce used to poach the eggs in this easy frying pan meal or the fire of the red-pepper flakes that the sauce is spiked with. In either case, this speedy southern Italian dish, whipped up from pantry staples, makes for a heavenly brunch, lunch or light supper. Note that the anchovies are not traditional, but they add a subtle fishy richness to the tomatoes. However, feel free to leave them out.
By: Melissa Clark
Makes: 3 to 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling on toast
2 large cloves garlic, 1 thinly sliced and 1 halved
3 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
Pinch of red-pepper flakes, more to taste and for serving
1 (800g) tin diced tomatoes
½ tsp fine sea salt, more to taste
¼ tsp black pepper
1 large sprig fresh basil or rosemary, or a pinch of dried rosemary
2 tbsp grated parmesan, more for serving
1 tbsp unsalted butter, more to taste
Sliced crusty bread, for serving
Small handful chopped basil or parsley, for garnish
1. In a large frying pan with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic, anchovies and red-pepper flakes and cook just until the garlic turns golden brown at the edges, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil sprig, and turn the heat to medium-low.
2. Simmer, squashing tomato pieces with a wooden spoon or a potato masher, until the tomatoes break down and thicken into a sauce, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in parmesan, butter, salt and red-pepper flakes to taste.
3. Using the back of a spoon, make 6 divots into the tomato sauce, then crack an egg into each divot. Cover the pan and let cook until the eggs are set to taste, about 2 to 3 minutes for runny yolks (if the pan is not covered, the eggs won’t cook through, so don’t skip that step).
4. While the eggs are cooking, toast bread in a toaster or under the broiler. Rub warm toast with the cut garlic clove, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt.
5. To serve, sprinkle eggs with more parmesan and chopped herbs, then spoon onto plates or into shallow bowls. Serve with garlic toast and pass pepper flakes at the table.
© The New York Times