Yesterday was the first day of meal-making, (after my initial cooking day), during this self induced ‘One Chicken/One week of Meals Challenge’. I’m gonna share a recipe with you in a bit. But first, a word on food safety and chicken storage…
A fresh chicken, de-boned, can last you up to three days safely in the fridge before you need to freeze it. This is technically correct, this is what you’re supposed to do. I have been known to use it after the third day, as long as I bring whatever it is a part of to a boil before serving it.
Freshly made chicken stock can last you 3-4 days in the fridge, if properly covered and at the right temperature. After that, you need to be sure to bring it to a rolling boil before using it. Once you do that, you can re-refrigerate it and it will be good again for another 3 days. But you can only do this once. After this point, you should freeze it. We should all have fresh chicken stock in our freezer. You can freeze it in quart sized freezer bags, laid flat until frozen and then stored upright like books on a shelf. If you don’t want to bother with worrying about freezing them completely flat at first, then just store them in 1/2 quart and quart sized containers, or even by the cup if you have containers small enough. And always remember to label and date!!!
Now onto the fun part…
Tonight’s dinner was a North African inspired Chicken and Lentil dish. It was healthy, delicious, hearty and incredibly easy to make because I did all the hard work on Monday! I reserved both the lentil cooking water (that was first pasta water, then barley water, and then finally lentil ‘broth’) and the chicken stock so the stew yesterday tasted just as flavorful as it would have had I cooked the chicken and the lentils with everything else. And as I mentioned in my initial post about this challenge, I am only relying on my (well-stocked) pantry and fridge/freezer to round out the week’s meals. No cheating and going to the store for anything. (This is to hopefully shock me back into cooking the way I used to, the way we all used to frankly, and to also prove to all of you how important a well-stocked pantry is.) So canned chickpeas, plum tomatoes, some previously baked sweet potatoes, lots of spices, dried fruits and homegrown herbs helped me out in today’s meal. But by all means, use raw sweet potatoes, dried lentils, raw chicken and water or stock, you just won’t need to reduce the liquid because the liquid will be absorbed by both the chicken and lentils. If you’re doing everything from scratch, just follow the (**) instructions below.
(What I discovered after making this dish is that the chicken was almost not needed. There were so many other exciting things going on, that the chicken could very easily have been omitted. So if you’re a vegetarian, make this dish! And use the lentil broth if you can and then vegetable broth in place of the chicken.)
*North African Chicken and Lentils
(serves about 4)
(-**If you’re using raw chicken, sear it now (8 or so bone-in chicken thighs would be best). Season, and sear on both sides and remove. Then if you’re using the raw sweet potatoes, dice 2 and add now. Keep them in the pan throughout the cooking process and they will become pleasantly mushy.)
-In a large saucepan with high sides, or dutch oven, sweat out 1 medium-large onion, diced in a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Season well with kosher salt.
-Once the onion has become translucent, turn the heat down to low and add 2 cloves of garlic and 1 inch piece of ginger root, minced.
-Immediately add 1 TB of ground cumin, 1 TB of ground coriander seed (freshly ground if you can), 1 tsp sweet paprika and 1 tsp kosher salt. Stir well and do not allow the garlic to brown!
-Add in the flesh of 2 small-medium baked sweet potatoes and mash with the back of your wooden spoon. Toss with the onion mixture and try to get it as smooth as possible.
-Add 1 28 oz can of plum tomatoes with the juices, breaking them up a bit with your spoon, 1 15 oz can of chickpeas, UN-drained*, 1 cup of pitted, dried apricots, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 TB light brown sugar. Stir well.
-Add in your reserved 3 cups of lentil broth and 1 cup of reserved chicken stock (**OR if you’re starting from scratch here and/or didn’t save your broth, use a total of 4 cups/1 quart of broth or stock).
(-**This is when you would add your seared chicken to finish cooking and your dried lentils to cook in the liquid. You will be done with the dish when the chicken is cooked through and the lentils are cooked to your liking.)
-Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by about half. This can take anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on how high your ‘simmer’ is. If you don’t have the time, use half the amount of liquid and make sure you taste and check your seasoning. And you can always use a crock pot set on low at this point if you’re planning on leaving for the day.
-Add in about 1 1/2 cup of your cooked lentils and about 1 1/2 cups of your cooked chicken, shredded.
-Mix well and check your seasoning. I found that I needed more salt, cinnamon and cumin. A lot of times, you will need to re-season something that has been cooking for so long because the flavors become muddled. And always, always, finish a slow cooked meal with something bright and fresh. In this case, I suggest sprinkling some chopped, fresh cilantro and/or mint leaves over the stew when plating, but the zest of any citrus will do, and flat leaf parsley can brighten anything.
(*There is no need to drain your beans when cooking a stew like this! Unless the bean broth will add an unpleasant color to the finished product, as in black beans, then there is no need to waste it. You will be using less of another liquid, which in turn saves you product and money.)