Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts with Scallion, Ginger and Cilantro Sauce

I was seventeen when I first started teaching English in Taiwan. I began with the preschool-kindergarten age group. Work started at 8am and consisted of me jumping around the room singing songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. There were the occasional wet pants, (always the kids’) and the daily tears (not always the kids’).

By noon I was ready for a large meal and a quiet corner. One of my favorite workday lunches was the local staple, duck rice. I’d bike over to this little roadside stall where 50 NT dollars (a little less than two bucks) would get you half a roasted duck chopped up and set on a mound of rice. It came with a couple little containers of gingery, scallion goodness to be slathered over the moist meat and crispy skin. I’d regularly scarf this down and gather my wits before heading back to school to do my best rendition of Little Bunny Foo Foo.

It wasn’t too long before I moved on to teaching high school and business level English. Thanks in part to make-up and the ability to skillfully dodge questions about my age. The job and pay may have improved but duck rice remained a lunch favorite.

Below is my version of the dish, with a couple tweaks. First, I add cilantro to the ginger and scallion sauce. The fresh herbal punch brings another layer of flavor and brightens the sauce. Second, I use chicken breast instead of duck. This is simply because I don’t have the time or the necessary tools (air compressor, fan, wok) to properly roast a whole duck. It’s also friendlier to those (…let’s call them Westerners) who don’t enjoy picking around the bones.

The scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce is great with just about anything—roasts, noodles and stir-fry dishes. If covered well it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple days. Although, it tastes best 15-20 minutes after you make it.

Sometimes I’ll throw this together for my husband’s lunch since it’s simple to make and reheats fairly well. Occasionally I fret that I’m setting the feminist movement back a couple decades by sending my hubby off in the morning with a packed lunch. So in an effort to quell my ridiculous guilt I even out the score by making him sing a verse from Little Bunny Foo Foo in exchange.

2 chicken breasts (skin on)
white pepper
¾ cup scallion, minced
1 Tbs. ginger, minced
¼ cup cilantro, minced
2 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. soy sauce
2½ tsp. neutral oil such as vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
¼ tsp. salt 

  • Heat the oven to 400°
  • Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and a little white pepper. Set aside and allow the meat to temper (come relatively close to room temperature).
  • Cut the scallions down the middle, halving them lengthwise. Slice in half again so that you end up with four long strips. Finely slice the scallion, both white and green parts.
  • Finely mince the peeled ginger. If you have a microplane you can use it instead of stressing about perfect knife work.
  • Mix the scallions, ginger & the last 6 ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  • Heat a skillet and about 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat. Once you begin to see little wisps of white smoke add the chicken breasts, skin side down. Sear for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium high. Continue to cook for another minute. Flip the breasts and sear the other side for 2 minutes.
  • Place the skillet and chicken into the oven and finish cooking through, about 8 minutes. Remove when breasts feel firm to the touch or internal temperature reads 165°.
  • Allow chicken to rest a few minutes before slicing. Serve chicken over rice and top with scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce.

Brunch with a Side of Unexpected

I’ve always loved Frank Ruta’s cooking. His simplicity, technical execution, use of intriguing ingredients, and overall finesse continue to make Palena in Cleveland Park a favorite for many jaded food lovers.

For me, the most memorable meals are the ones in which I’m presented with a well-known dish—roast chicken, risotto, or soup—executed perfectly with a touch of something unexpected. Dishes with ingredients that are familiar but the flavor combinations seem new and inspired. It sends my mind and palate into a frenzy, searching for reasons as to why their version tastes so good. Those are the meals that I walk away from thinking, “How did they do that?” and “Why didn’t I ever think of that?”

This is the case at Palena. With their brunch offerings, Frank and his team seamlessly marry simplicity with elements of surprise to elevate what we all love for breakfast: eggs, meat and potatoes.

I found myself trying to break down the homemade tomato condiment, hoping to learn its secrets. The same goes for the spicy candied fruit that accompanied the pâté. Salsa verde isn’t anything new, but when the ramp salsa verde arrived alongside my bacon and eggs I suddenly wondered if what I’d been identifying as salsa verde all these years was really just a poor impostor.

Palena is currently serving brunch on Sundays and I suggest you head over there before word gets out and tables become unobtainable. As soon as you sit down put in an order for the fresh donuts. Then sit back and load the sweet, warm pillows of goodness into your mouth as you meander over the menu options. My suggestion? Lay claim to the bacon and eggs, then prepare to ward off the invading forks of your dining companions.

Potato frittata with mozzarella and house cured salmon  

Pork and pistachio pâté with fennel remoulade, spicy candied fruit and mustard glazed endive

Buckwheat crepe filled with Raschera cheese and spinach. Topped with a fried egg and bacon

The famous Palena burger with its glorious truffle cheese, sitting on mushroom marmalade and topped with a fried duck egg. Served with house pickles

Bacon and Eggs: grilled pork belly, potato pancake and coddled egg. Served with grilled ramps, salsa verde and Palena’s tomato condiment

A Compromised Roast Chicken

How many times have you heard the words, “Marriage is about compromise”? It’s an over-used statement that’s tossed out by an exasperated marriage counselor trying to solve a bickering couple’s problems, or by a sheepish husband explaining to his buddies why he bought his wife yet another pair of Louboutin pumps instead of season tickets to his favorite team, or even by a tipsy wife gossiping to her girlfriends about how she dons a French maid outfit in exchange for a 15-minute foot rub and a week off from dishwashing duty.

Marital compromise manifests itself differently for every couple. Those in bi-cultural marriages like myself may find much of it taking place in the kitchen.

Asians like rice. That’s not a stereotype. It’s a simple fact. I NEED to eat rice at least 4 times a week, preferably sushi grade: white, round, shiny, and slightly sticky so that it forms light balls on the tip of my chopsticks. In comparison, my husband would hardly notice if blight destroyed all short grain rice. When we met he could correctly identify only one type; it came in an orange box and was ready in minutes.

I like fish. He hates it. So I don’t cook it in the house (at least while he’s home). I love dried squid, but am banished to the balcony to eat my pungent snack in shame, far removed from his olfactory sensitivities.

Over our 11 years together, my husband’s palate has grown accustomed to—even fond of—Asian flavors. He likes soy sauce, rice vinegar and tofu almost as much as I do, but still craves the occasional PB&J, bowl of chicken noodle soup (ramen doesn’t count) and Italian sub.

The roast chicken below started out as a way to sneak a little Asian-ness into a traditional western family dinner. The spiced brine makes the chicken so flavorful that I’m more than content to leave the chopsticks in the drawer for the night. On the other side of the marital divide, my hubby’s so satisfied with his meat and potatoes that I can usually get a 15-minute foot rub from him… sans further compromise.

2 Tbs. Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seeds
5 whole cloves
2 Tbs. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 cups water: one hot, 2 cold
Rind of 1 lemon
10 sprigs of cilantro
1 shallot, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 whole chicken, halved

  • To make the brine toast the first four ingredients in a small skillet. Toss lightly over medium heat for three minutes or until fragrant and slightly darker.
  • Dissolve salt and sugar in one cup of hot water (I like to put the cup in the microwave for 1½ minutes). Add the toasted spices. Steep (sit and soak) for five minutes.
  • Combine the lemon rind, cilantro, shallot and garlic in a deep pot or baking dish (you can use anything large and deep enough to submerge two chicken halves in).
  • Halve the chicken by cutting down both sides of the breastplate. Once the front is halved, flip the chicken over and press down to flatten. Cut along both sides of the backbone, removing it completely.
  • Place the chicken in the deep dish. Add the water with the spices plus enough cold water to submerge both halves. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours.
  • After 6-8 hours remove the chicken from the brine. Pat dry and allow chicken to come up to room temperature.
  • Heat a skillet and oil over medium high heat. Sear chicken on all sides, 6-7 minutes total. Transfer to a 400°F oven. Roast for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160°F (check the temperature in the dense thigh rather than the breast). Flip the chicken skin-side-up for the final 5 minutes.
  • Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven. If your family isn’t mobbing the kitchen like a pack of hungry zombies I recommend resting the chicken for 5-10 minutes.
  • The beauty of a roast chicken is that it can really be served with anything. I like it with pan roasted potatoes and spinach that’s been quickly tossed in a hot pan with garlic and a squeeze of lemon.

Fundraiser for Second Harvest Japan

Sunday’s fundraiser was a knockout success. When I decided to put this event together, I calculated that we would likely have about 100 attendees. If each gave the requested minimum of $50 we would raise $5000. You all blew that figure out of the water. As of this morning (April 14th) the donations collected for Second Harvest Japan through our efforts stand at $15,442.

Since Persimmons and Chestnuts is primarily a food blog I wanted to give you a little “behind the scenes” peak and talk about the wonderful volunteers that made it all possible. The chefs and cooks who helped with the food for the event were absolute ROCK STARS!! Makoto, sous chef at CityZen, came up with a delicious menu and corralled a talented group to pull it off.

Yama, line cook from CityZen, was appointed head-chef of the basement kitchen for the day and worked with Jenne, Maurie & Noritaka to keep the chorizo en croutes, gougeres, pork sandwiches and beet and goat cheese crostinis coming. Katy, pastry cook from CityZen, created a gorgeous one of a kind three-tiered cake, complete with a crane and cascading blossoms. Always the super star, Katy also made Parker House rolls for the pork sandwiches and whipped up biscuits when we realized we wouldn’t have enough rolls to feed the crowd.

My former NHK co-worker and friend Mio sweetly, but naively, offered to help with the prep. She was given the arduous task of pushing three pounds of goat cheese through a sieve normally reserved for straining tea. I only wish I had a picture of her hunched over in the kitchen counter. Her cramped right hand clasping the metal handle while her left hand used a teaspoon to force the cheese through the tiny openings.  Her pain was worth it though, as anyone who tasted the smooth mousse on the crostinis could attest.

Makoto and Kenta, sushi chef at Café Japone, entertained and delighted the guests with platter after platter of fresh sushi: spicy tuna rolls, yellowtail and tuna sushi, hand rolls filled with Japanese omelets, tuna and avocado and many other surprises.

One delectable treat was reserved just for the cooks…  A regular mortal tasked with cooking for a 110 guests would never have time to make nine people a meal before the festivities but Makoto is a skilled professional. He brought with him a batch of his homemade tonkotsu broth and delighted all of us by making ramen loaded with sliced abalone, scallions, seaweed and what might have been the most perfectly cooked egg to ever float in a bowl of noodles

Sunday’s fundraiser is perhaps the first event ever where many guests ignored the rule of arriving “fashionably late”, causing basement-chef Yama to utter that kitchen term I had actually begun to miss, “PUSH!”

The cooks downstairs kept the food coming and only managed to set off the fire alarm once. But honestly, it really isn’t a party until the hunky fire marshals show up.

At the end of the day, Sunday’s fundraiser was a huge success thanks to all the wonderful friends who gave so generously—including the many gracious donors who couldn’t be there in person but still contributed. I was so touched by everyone’s compassion for those suffering in Japan. This is an issue that means so much to me and I was grateful for the outpouring of support.

Let me repeat what the Japanese Ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki said in his letter to the attendees on Sunday, “The assistance we are receiving from the United States is especially impressive—your rescue teams, your forces, your experts, your government officials have been working day and night with us. Such a massive extending of support, goodwill and solidarity is so encouraging. Your gathering is an excellent example of such efforts on our behalf. I am truly moved. Thank you very much for doing this. People in Japan will never forget your kindness.”

Yesterday I received an email from Charles McJilton, the CEO of Second Harvest Japan expressing his gratitude to all of you. He noted that due to the outpouring of support that they have received, Second Harvest is, “now in the process of developing a comprehensive 1-2 year plan that will increase the level of food security in the [Tohoku] region”. As I mentioned in my speech at the fundraiser, this issue is not one that will go away in a couple of weeks. The thousands of people who have lost their homes and loved ones will need our sustained support during the hard months ahead. Your donations are helping to make that possible. So from the bottom of my heart—THANK YOU!

Guests listening to the reading of Ambassador Fujisaki’s letter

Thank you Media Marksmen for the stunning posters depicting the catastrophe in Japan

A short pause to listen to a few words about the event

A round of applause for the talented Makoto-san

Kenta and Yama making sushi in the main kitchen

Tuna sushi and rolls

Hamachi Sushi

Spicy tuna and avocado hand rolls


Asian pork sandwiches with red onion and cucumber pickles

Beet and goat cheese mousse crostinis

Soused shrimp with pineapple and red pepper relish (not shown)

Three tiered cake with a sugar origami crane and cascading cherry blossoms

What you missed… yes, it really was as good as it looks