I want to tell you about a secret club...
I'm not supposed to. I've been sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you. I know you won't say anything. Anyway, I have to tell you about the secret club because I feel that if I don't write it here, I won't remember, years from now. And this is something I don't want to forget.
The club is called "The Sunset Girls". There are only two members, Lucy and I. It is very exclusive. And we discriminate, against anyone who isn't us, apparently.
See, Lucy loves a sunset. In the country, one part of our deck looks out across the Shawangunks Mountains. Every night, the big glorious sun, in winter and summer, good times and bad, loses its heat, its fire, and falls behind those mountains like clockwork and sprays streams of pink, blue and violet light into nearby clouds. The clouds look like cotton candy, the whole sky a fairground, with moving, spinning mauve and purple ferris wheels and rose-colored streamers flapping through the breeze.
So, every late afternoon about the same time when we are in the country, Lucy stops me from whatever I'm doing and makes me stand with her on the deck, with her in my arms, wrapped in a soft blanket, and watch the sun breathe its last few breaths before it slides behind a peak for the next 10 hours.
She stays until the very last minute, until the last ray has crested.
And we talk about the sky and what we see in the clouds and the colors we like best. And how we like being "The Sunset Girls". And last time, as I held her in the chilly almost-night, she told me that it was only for us, that we couldn't share this with anyone else. That only we loved the sunset the most of anyone in the whole world.
And that made me feel good. "The Sunset Girls" is our thing, together.
And then, when we can't take the cold air no longer, when even the big blanket wrapped around us cannot keep us warm, we run inside and paint the sky on paper. And for some reason, whatever she draws is always more beautiful than the sky we have just watched. If that is even possible to imagine. But it is.
And then, we eat. And there is talk of the summer ahead and laying in the grass on blankets and watching the stars, naming the constellations and imagining the bigness of the world. This makes her happy.
Last week our post-sunset meal was a very simple chicken dish, one I can throw together quickly. I'd like to share it with you. It's simple, because I was much too interested in the sky to be focused on a long kitchen marathon.
And both of The Sunset Girls liked it.
I usually do this dish with escarole, a nice weighty leaf, but sunset night I only had spinach and that was also very nice. You can just about sub in any green and make it work. Just try not to over cook the greens. Plop them down right on the simmering chicken at the very last minute and let them get all mixed up in the sauce, but just until they wilt. This should take about 30 seconds or so. Then take them out with a slotted spoon.
The other important note for this dish is that you want to buy skin-on chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are cheap and you can feed a lot of people if you buy a big tray of them at Costco, but sometimes, unfortunately, they are sold skinned. This means that you cannot get a good, crusty sear on the outside and your dish will end up looking kind of brown and unattractive when you serve it. You need the skin to crisp up to really make this dish work.
Skin-On Asian Chicken Thighs with Spinach (Or Escarole)
Chicken thighs (figure two thighs for each adult. I cooked six this time)
Salt and pepper
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Light soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Sesame oil 1 tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger
Garlic, 3 cloves, finely chopped
1 Big lemon, cut in halves or quarters, squeezed into marinade and rinds left to sit in marinade (reserve a wedge or two for garnish)
1 good size bunch of cilantro, finely chopped (reserve a bit of it, finely chopped, for garnish)
Wine, a splash or two (oh, make it two)
Butter, a nice big knob
Chicken broth or water, 3/4 - 1 cup as needed, while cooking
Spinach or Escarole or another green you like, a bunch will feed a family of 4 - 6
Jasmine rice (optional)
Wash chicken thighs and pat dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Put the thighs in a medium-size bowl and add fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, lemon and a nice handful of chopped cilantro. Be generous. Cilantro is never a bad thing. I've given you measurements, but feel free to improvise. For instance, I like just a little ginger, but feel free to add more if you want a more dominating flavor.
Get the chicken all soaked up in the marinade and let it sit for 20 minutes or so. If you are going to serve with jasmine rice, you should make that now.
When you are ready to cook, heat a cast iron or regular fry pan on high until it's nice and hot, add olive oil, let that heat up for about a minute. Shake off the extra marinade from the thighs (but save the marinade for later use) and one at a time, put them in the hot pan, skin side down. You are trying to get a nice sear on the skin, so let them just sit there in the oil and fry. Try to resist picking it up to look at it, or flipping it around the pan with your fork.
Once, the skin is golden, flip the thighs over. Turn the heat down a little to a medium-ish flame. Scrape up some of the bits of meat stuck to the pan, they are very flavorful. Add the marinade liquid, wine, a knob of butter, chicken broth (or water). You may need to add more broth/water as the chicken cooks. The broth should come up to the middle of the chicken, without covering the meat. Don't let the bottom of the pan get all dry. Keep a nice steady supply of liquid just under the chicken. Season with a little salt and pepper if needed, but be careful soy sauce is pretty salty and you may not need it. Taste it first.
Cover the chicken. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes, depending on flame.
When the chicken is nearly down, grab a handful of your greens and throw them in the pan. Some will stay on top of the chicken, some will fall into the pan drippings, it's all good. Cover the pan again and let the greens steam for 30 seconds to a minute.
Uncover the pan, remove greens to a separate plate with tongs. Taste everything for seasoning. Then, plate chicken thighs, rice if you serving it. Place greens on top of rice, letting juices seep in. Serve with a drizzle of pan juices over the meat and garnish with lemon wedges and finely chopped Cilantro.