When life comes at you fast

...rotisserie chicken is on your side

Lately, life’s been coming at a rapid-fire clip. Work and side-gigs abound and free time has whittled down to a sliver. This is a moment when project cooking takes a back seat, and practical, easy meals are front and center.

One tack is to get your hands on a rotisserie chicken. Suddenly, a variety of meals are at your fingertips: chicken salad stuffed into potato rolls (maybe with a few squirts of sriracha and some quick pickled cucumbers); crunchy chicken Caesar salad with sourdough croutons, summer corn and thinly sliced radishes; and for those cooler days that bring a whiff of fall, white bean chicken chili.

It’s all good. It’s all easy. And regarding the chili, I’ve never seen John smile so wide after a bite of anything. (Recipes below.)

What I’m Reading

The fight to save the American chestnut: Not to toot my own horn, but this article I wrote on the infighting amidst American chestnut lovers was eye-opening. You’ll never look at trees the same way. Oh, and the recipe for Lois Breault-Melican’s Brussels Sprouts with bacon, maple syrup and chestnuts will make a feature appearance in the next newsletter!

In cookbook land, I’ve been flipping through Open Kitchen by food stylist Susan Spungen. While Spungen’s recipes skew loosely Middle Eastern in flavor (labneh, za’atar, sumac and preserved lemons make appearances), it’s recipes like Vietnamese pork tenderloin and Vietnamese Watermelon and tomato salad that I’ve bookmarked to try before summer ends. Her recipe for Grain Salad with Many Flavors was a recent hit, with a few modifications: I subbed barley for farro (couldn’t find it), chopped some dates in place of raisins, created the addictive nut topping from Meera Sodha’s fennel apple chaat (you should make the whole thing, it’s lip-smackingly good), and added a splash of pomegranate molasses. Pretty decent for a grain salad.

What I’m Drinking

Cider, specifically something dry and crisp like Stella Artois Cidre (or Artifact Cider’s Feels Like Home, if you’re feeling fancy and you like flannel).

As for cocktails, I’ve been embracing my inner grandma by adding sherry to nearly everything: Sours, margaritas, daiquiris.

Only ever seen the stuff languishing in your pantry? Here’s a quick primer:

What is sherry? Sherry is a fortified white wine that’s enriched with grape brandy. It’s left to ferment under a layer of yeast called flor, and the more oxygen it gets, the nuttier and fruitier it will be. It’s aged in oak barrels and the longer it stays in the barrel, the more vanilla-like flavors it will pick up. If I had to describe the taste in broad brushstrokes, I’d say it has notes of raisin, almond, nougat, and in some cases, a funky, fruity flavor.

Where does it come from? Spain, particularly the southern region, lays claim to the production of sherry. Nerdy facts: The Phoenicians first brought grapes to the Jerez region (where sherry is made) in 1100 BC; the city of Jerez was called Sherish by the Moors during their occupation of Spain; and England had a pretty sweet trade deal where they’d provide the Spaniards wool in exchange for sherry.

What are all the variations of sherry, and what does it all mean?? Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Manzanilla, and Palo Cortado… what does it all mean? Turns out each variety has a varying amount of time spent under flor and in oak barrels, which affects the flavor.

To break down a few of the more common varieties:

Fino: Dry with a slight bread-y flavor. Fresh, citrusy. Aged under flor. Great in a margarita.

Amontillado: Not aged under flor or aged partially under it. The lack of protection causes oxidation which produces a richer flavor than fino, and is darker in color. Lovely in a sherry sour.

Manzanilla: Similar to fino, but can only be made in a specific location. Light, zesty and citrusy. A great summer sipper.

Oloroso: The Nebbiolo of sherries, Oloroso is aged without flor and has a walnut flavor along with notes rich balsamic, tobacco and dried fruit. Sweet, earthy, rich, decadent.

Sherry Sour

2 oz Amontillado sherry (though whatever you can get your hands on works just fine)

1 oz lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup or honey

4 dashes bitters (optional and not traditional)

1 egg white (traditional, but optional)

Shake ingredients together in a shaker with ice, then strain into a coup glass. To make it fancy, drip three drops of bitters on top and run a toothpick gently through.

Sherry Margarita

1 ounce fino sherry

1 ounce good tequila (mezcal would also be delicious)

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce orange liqueur (triple sec or curacao)

1/2 ounce simple syrup or agave

Take a slice of lime and run it around the rim of a rocks glass, then roll the edge of the glass in kosher salt. Fill with a few cubes of ice. Shake ingredients together in a shaker with ice, then strain into the rocks glass. Garnish with a lime round.

What I’m Eating

As I mentioned in my intro, it’s been a crazy month, and that’s why I’ve been turning to rotisserie chickens to save the day. If you find yourself with a store-bought rotisserie bird n the fridge, why not try making a creamy, easy white bean chili with chicken? (Recipe linked right there and below as well). A base of tomatillos, jalapenos and onions provides tang and depth, while blending some of the beans and adding a dash of cream cheese makes it creamy and comforting. Top it with (semi) homemade tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream and avocado and you’re in for a treat. John eyed the bowl warily when he first saw it, but to quote an old cliche, it was love at first bite.

White bean chicken chili with homemade tortilla chips

Ingredients

  • 6 tomatillos, husks removed

  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 3 jalapenos (2 seeded and roughly chopped, 1 seeded and finely chopped)

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 Tbsp cumin

  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp oregano

  • 2 cans cannellini beans (no need to rinse; the bean liquid helps thicken the chili)

  • 1.5 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade)

  • 1 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 1 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste

  • 2 ounces cream cheese

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed

  • Juice of one lime, plus wedges for serving

Instructions

  1. Peel and quarter tomatillos.

  2. Combine chopped tomatillos, 2 roughly chopped jalapenos and onion in a blender. Blend until a smooth, salsa-like consistency.

  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottom pot (I like to use my Dutch oven for this). Carefully add the tomatillo mixture (it may splatter), garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant and slightly darkened, about 3-4 minutes.

  4. Add beans, cream cheese and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, then using a handheld blender, puree a little bit of the mixture, leaving most of the beans whole. If you don't have a handheld blender, ladle 2 cups of soup into a blender and puree, then return to pot.

  5. Add shredded chicken, corn kernels and finely chopped jalapeno and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add lime juice, taste for seasoning and add more salt as desired.

  6. Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheddar, avocado, scallions, lime wedges and a few dashes of Cholula's. Really good washed down with a sherry-tequila margarita.

(Semi) Homemade corn tortilla chips

1 bag soft corn tortillas

1/2 cup neutral oil (like Canola)

Salt

Cut tortillas into thin, 1/2 inch strips or tear them into chunks. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. It’s ready when you flick water in and it sizzles. Add some tortilla pieces a little at a time and fry, flipping, until golden and crisp. Scoop out cooked tortillas with a spider or slotted spoon and place in a paper towel-lined bowl. Repeat, then sprinkle tortilla chips with salt and toss gently.

Other easy rotisserie chicken meals

Benefit Juice Bar’s chicken salad sandwich

There was a little juice bar (it wasn’t trendy) on the corner of Benefit and Transit in Providence that had one of the best chicken salad sandwiches I’ve ever had. They called it a banh mi, but the only resemblance to the Vietnamese sandwich was the crusty french bread and pickled carrots and cucumbers. Their version was stuffed with sriracha-laden chicken salad and each chewy bite was filled with tang and heat. Here’s my recreation of the recipe. Serves 4.

For the quick pickles:

2 large carrots, shredded

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp honey

6 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp chili flakes

pinch of salt

Whisk the honey and rice wine vinegar together until combined. Add the shredded carrot and cucumbers slices, chili flakes, and season with salt to taste.

For the homemade mayo

1 egg

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 cups neutral oil

Blend egg, rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper together in a tall, narrow container with a handheld blender. Slowly drip the oil in as you continue to blend, until it starts to emulsify and thicken, then pour the remaining oil in a steady stream. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

For the chicken salad:

2 cups chicken, shredded

1 cup mayonnaise (homemade is super easy and delish but storebought is also fine)

4 Tbsp Sriracha

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

Combine chicken, mayonnaise, sriracha, salt and pepper and stir until well-coated. Taste, and add more sriracha as desired.

To assemble the sandwiches:

You can either use a crusty small French loaf or go the way of the potato roll. Either will yield delicious results.

Split French bread or potato roll. Fill with quick pickles and sriracha chicken salad. Serve.

Really good chicken Caesar salad with sourdough croutons, avocado and radishes

A good Caesar salad can bring joy to the table. Golden, crispy sourdough croutons make it even better. This way of preparing croutons is based on The French Laundry’s recipe, which I dutifully replicated as a wee teenager to top another TFL recipe for creamy cauliflower soup. Needless to say, the croutons made a longer-lasting impression than the soup!

For the salad:

1 head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chopped

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

1 avocado, cubed

1 cup shredded chicken

1/2 cup parmesan shavings (you can use a peeler to do this)

Croutons

2 cups sourdough cut torn into ~1 inch chunks

3 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

salt

Dressing

3 anchovies

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1 tsp salt

1 egg yolk

3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp dijon

2 tsp black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

To make the croutons: Melt butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the sourdough pieces to create one layer (if you have more left, save for round 2) and stir until coated. Let cook, flipping and stirring occasionally, until sides are golden brown. Remove and let drain on a paper towel lined plate. Add more butter and oil as needed and continue with remaining sourdough. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still warm.

To make the dressing: Blend anchovies, garlic, salt, pepper, egg yolk, parmesan and dijon in a blender, or with a handheld blender. Slowly pour the olive oil in while blending until the dressing has slightly thickened.

To prepare the salad:

Place romaine lettuce, chicken and radishes in a large serving bowl and pour on the dressing. Gently toss the lettuce until everything is evenly coated (it won’t look great, but this way you get a bit of dressing in each bite), then scatter the top with avocado, parmesan shavings and croutons. Serve with an extra crack of pepper on top if you’re like me.

Final Notes & A Question For You

As summer winds down and fall peeks around the corner, change is coming, both in the seasons and in newsletter-land. For my next round of newsletters, I’d like to delve more into food from different cultures, highlighting their stories and explaining various ingredients. I’d also like to do more Q & A style sections, where I answer questions and provide advice for home cooks. And I need you, dear reader, to help.

Do you have any questions about cooking in general or a specific culture’s food that you would like to learn more about? Leave a comment or reply to this newsletter, and I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for reading, and until next month!