by Alison Boyd & William Sertl
Sertl hates to cook alone. When forced to, though, he never resorts to can-opener cuisine or Frozen French just to get something on the table fast. Solo dinners must be healthy and flavorful, even while following these basic rules: 1: a minimal amount of ingredients; thus, 2: not much prepping; and, 3: no cookbook consultations.
He cites the Golden Rule: Thou must chop something—even a measly onion—to be able to call a dish homemade.
Alison wonders “why the rush?” She’s on board for the no-fuss part, but thinks a few more ingredients and a pinch of TLC might yield a dish that’s worth the extra trouble. It might even prove company-worthy.
Sertl cooks his favorite fast-food meal—boneless chicken thighs in Indian-spiced yogurt. Alison tastes the dish and proceeds to improve it while still coming down on the good side of quick-and-easy.
Chicken in Yogurt with Vindaloo Paste
Not only easy to make, the chicken tastes great cold the next day, cut up for salads or just eaten as is. If you have a rice maker, you’re on the fast track to the perfect side.
8-12 boneless chicken thighs
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1-2 Tbs Patak’s Vindaloo concentrated curry paste
(available at King Kullen)
¼ cup mint, finely chopped
Prep time: 5 minutes
Mix yogurt and I tablespoon of the curry paste in a large bowl, add salt, and stir well. Add up to 1 tablespoon more paste, tasting as you go for the desired heat. Stir in mint, then add the chicken and mix to coat each piece. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or—what the hay?—leave it overnight. Just don’t tell Alison.
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Line the bottom of a broiling pan with foil for easy clean-up and space the chicken pieces on the tray that fits over the pan. (Don’t coat the tray with foil, as chicken will stick.) Place in oven for 30 minutes, until coating turns golden brown. Let cool a bit.
New, Improved Spicy Chicken in Yogurt
Like chili or a meaty ragù, this dish tastes just as good heated up the next day. It freezes beautifully. A lot of the work can be done ahead of time. Once it is, it’s a snap to put together. Skip the garnish if you want to save time. Rice is the right thing to serve, but why not consider a fancier pilaf, especially if company’s coming. If they are, put the garnish back on the list—now.
½ small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeño, split, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbs sunflower oil
12 boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of any
remaining fat and sinew
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek-style)
3 tsps ground coriander
3 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp cumin powder
I Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs soy sauce
½ tsp black pepper
Garnish: Thin slices of red onion; fresh cilantro leaves
On the side: mango chutney
Prep time: 20 minutes
Place the onion, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and sunflower oil in a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste. Add yogurt and remaining ingredients. Blend well. Put the chicken in a large Ziploc bag and add all but 1 cup of the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 18.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange coated chicken thighs in a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
Oil a large heavy baking sheet and turn the oven up to 375. Remove the chicken from the baking dish, place on the pan, and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
Place one cup of the reserved marinade in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for at least five minutes.
Place the chicken on a large serving platter, drizzle with the reheated marinade (mixture will separate), and garnish with onion and cilantro. Serve with chutney.
He said: I loved Alison’s version and was amazed at the difference in the two dishes. I would definitely make hers for guests. Or for myself if I could get the prep work out of the way during the morning-coffee high. But I’m still not tossing my recipe for those nights when measuring an extra teaspoon of spice feels like added jail time after dreaming of parole.
She said: Sertl’s chicken is fine when you’re in a hurry. But my upgrade is so much—how shall I put it?—better. This recipe has evolved over the years from a version that was more akin to his. I remember my surprise at the deeper flavor after adding Dijon mustard and soy sauce, almost on a whim. Sorry, but with complexity comes a longer shopping list, a bit more slicing and dicing, and maybe a little less TV.
The Last Word: Rice Pilaf
No matter which chicken you make, rice is a must to pair with the each dish’s spicy coatings. A rice cooker keeps things simple, but Spinach Rice Pilaf makes a great upgrade. Either way, go for Indian basmati, with Dehraduni (kalustyans.com) the best variety you’ll ever find. This pilaf recipe can easily be halved and will still serve about six. Great for leftovers.
2 bunches (about 20 ozs) spinach
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
3½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
3 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill (or Italian parsley),
plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly wash spinach, using several changes of water. Dry completely and finely chop. Heat oil and butter in a heavy frying pan. Add onion and cook over low heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add spinach to pan and sauté for 3 minutes, until wilted. Add rice and stir thoroughly for a couple of minutes, making sure grains are well coated. Pour broth into pan, stir well, and bring to a boil. Add dill. Cover pan and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes without lifting lid. Remove pan from heat with lid still on and set aside for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff rice with a fork. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with dill.
Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.