THANK GOD I did not try to make this after work on Thursday, because I would have been cooking FOR FUCKING EVER and wouldn’t have gotten any sleep and would have been a crankypants all the next day, and lord knows I’m cranky enough on a good day so who KNOWS what that level of crankiness would have led to.
It’s best we weren’t forced to find out. And then last night, I had a powerful craving for chicken fingers, so, you know, that’s not something that can be ignored. And then I had to watch the end of the Olympic ceremonies, which, I have to say based on the 15 minutes I saw, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, CANADA. Torch lighting malfunction, and then 15 minutes of Wayne Gretsky riding around Vancouver in the back of a pickup truck? Do you REMEMBER China? You are Canada, strong and proud and polite! You can do better!
Although to be fair, you were very polite. If you had a national sports hero riding around New York in the back of an unsecured pickup, he or she would have had every stitch of clothing ripped from his or her person as a souvenir for drunk fans gone mad with Olympic Fever; that’s why they’ll never give New York City the Olympics. So good job on that front.
Therefore Saturday for lunch, it was chicken tagine with pumpkin acorn squash, chickpeas and homemade harissa from David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes. Also, I’m sorry for all the capital letters. I get yelly sometimes. I’m not Canadian.
Normally I stay away from dishes with dried beans, because I just don’t have the wherewithal to remember to soak them, and then I get home and I’m all flustered, which is a bad combination with my latent crankiness. But this sounded so good – chickpeas simmered with onion, clove and cinnamon, served with a gingery, cuminy chicken cooked with winter squash – and so apropos to the heinous weather we’re having right now that I went for it anyway.
When I go for it, I really go for it – I set the dried chickpeas to soak Wednesday night and made this on Saturday, so I soaked the living hell out of those chickpeas. I don’t do things by halves. By the time I got around to cooking today, a whitish substance was floating on top of the soaking water. I choose to believe it was protein that had leeched from the beans and NOT MOLD. Whatever, I rinsed them really well anyway, and then they got boiled. And some kinds of mold are good for you, so who’s to say I didn’t incubate some kind of bean-based cure-all? Not you, you weren’t even here.
While the beans were simmering their way to sterility, I threw the harissa together. You should make some, because toasting fennel, coriander, cumin and caraway seeds makes the kitchen smell really, really good. Some paprika and cayenne, a crushed garlic clove or two, olive oil and a few drops of vinegar, and we have harissa. It’s a gorgeous deep rusty red just waiting to be offset by the yellow squash.
I also prepped three GIGUNDOUS chicken legs, rubbing them down with grated ginger and more cumin. Apparently, when you give your chickens free reign, feed them appropriate chicken-y food and don’t dope them to the gills with antibiotics, they grow to be four feet tall. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, and I wish I had a way to give you a sense of scale with this picture. I guess I could have held one of the chicken legs next to the dog, but that chicken would not have been long for this world.
I also started sauteeing up the onions that make the base of the tagine, adding garlic and saffron at the last minute.
At this point, it may not seem like this dish takes an inordinate amount of time, but you have to wait for the chickpeas to cook before you can start the chicken, because the chicken stews in the chickpea cooking liquid. The more enterprising cook would have made the chickpeas the night before so s/he wouldn’t have to wait an hour for them to cook before starting the 1 hour+ chicken cooking process, but I am not the more enterprising cook. I am the cook who had to eat chicken fingers and watch a hockey legend hold on to the cab of a pickup truck for dear life.
When the chickpeas were done, I assembled the tagine. At this point, I ran into four instructions that seemed to run counter to one another:
- Cut the squash into thick pieces.
- Layer the chicken on top of the squash on top of the onions.
- In a SHALLOW baking dish.
- Add enough of the chickpea cooking liquid to barely cover the chicken.
Now, as I’ve said, I did have abnormally large chicken legs. But along with the thick-cut squash, my ingredients were busting out of the top of the not-so-shallow dish I used, and there was no way to get the liquid to cover the chicken breasts. I did the best I could and then shoved the pan into the oven, 50 minutes covered, 20 minutes uncovered (plus a minute or two under the broiler to give the chicken a flavor boost).
This part will also make your kitchen smell really good.
When the chicken was finished I stacked some (extremely tender) squash in a shallow bowl, nestled a piece of chicken on top, spooned over some chickpeas as directed, added some of the cooking broth and then sprinkled some harissa over the whole thing. Then I made Brian eat it, because I wasn’t actually that hungry.
For all that the house smelled delicious, I have this to say: Have a liberal hand with the salt. I found the dish to be under-salted and then, because the chicken wasn’t covered in the cooking liquid, it lacked the flavor of the squash or chickpeas. The squash, which was cooked totally submerged in the chickpea broth, was flavorful, and the extra has been reserved to be made into a puree or soup sometime next week, probably for Tight Ass Tuesday. The chickpeas were the real winners here, little flavor bombs that took on the richness of the clove and cinnamon but still retained their essential chickpea-ness.
And yes, the dried chickpeas were obviously superior to canned chickpeas; aside from having a more assertive flavor, they held their shape and texture a lot better than canned. That’s not to say that I’ll be using them from now on; I won’t, because I’m lazy. But every once in a while, like on a Saturday I have all to myself, I might remember I still have half a bag of ’em around and will put them to good use. (Brian requests that I just make these again, so he can snack on them like they are Cheez-its.)
Overall, this was a pleasant, warming meal, but based on total cooking time required, I have to pronounce it Not Worth the Overall Effort. But man, someone should figure out how to turn the fragrance it produces into a candle, because I would buy stock in that shit.