One of the sure signs of summer is the availability of snap peas, but the thing that really gets my interest are the shelling peas. Ever since I lived in Japan, I’ve had a fondness for the simplest of dishes called “mame gohan” or peas rice. It’s such a simple thing — rice, kombu (a kind of think seaweed), salt, sake (rice wine) and peas. Delish! My CSA had given us shelling peas last week and this week, so I knew I had enough to make it. Plunked in front of the tv, I shelled the peas with some help from Mapo, my cat.
For those who like recipes, here’s one that is essentially what I did: http://nanamikitchen.com/en/blog/2014/04/08/green-pea-rice-mame-gohan/. The bonus is that the photos on this page are really beautiful!
Because it’s essentially a clean flavor of nothing more than peas and rice, it got me thinking about what to serve with it. I’ve been craving fried chicken, but I’ve never really made it. I’m a bit of a germophobe when it comes to handling raw meat, so although I like eating it, I don’t always love cooking it. My other fear is making sure things get done in time so big pieces of things like chicken freak me out. I’ve done fried “karaage” (Japanese fried chicken bits that are usually dipped in a soy-based sauce after frying to make them sticky and extra tasty), but I’ve never really made real fried chicken. My grandmother was famous for hers so it feels a little lame not to be good at it. That said, I cheated and did chicken tenders — bigger than a nugget but small enough that there’d be no worry about whether it was cooked. I don’t want to kill anybody.
We also got beautiful broccoli from the farm, so I was set on a menu. Mame gohan, friend chicken tenders, and garlic-broccoli. And beer from my new favorite place Fire Mountain Brew House. And a friend coming over to celebrate the end of the week and, coincidentally, the summer solstice.
Except for shelling the peas, it’s really a simple thing to make. You wash the rice (2 cups of the short-grain rice usually used for Japanese cooking) of starch by rinsing it several times until the water runs nearly clear. I did a quick poach of the peas in about 2 cups of water and then plunged them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep them green. The pea water then becomes the water for cooking the rice, giving it a bit more pea flavor. If you cook the peas in the rice the whole time, you kill the peas by cooking them too long. Using the pea water gives you some extra flavor. To the water and rice you add the piece of kombu, the salt and the sake. You then cook about 10 minutes (high to boil, then super low to simmer) and then take off the heat and leave covered for at least another 10 minutes. At the point you take it off the heat, you toss in your peas so they can warm/steam on top of the rice as it’s cooking. Once done, you stir it all together — fish out and discard the kombu — and then eat. You can make it without kombu and sake, but it’s better with both.
While the rice was cooking, I set to making the chicken.
I had leftover buttermilk, so I had soaked the chicken pieces in the buttermilk overnight. To the milk, I added salt and some healthy “glugs” of the red sriracha sauce (the stuff with the rooster on the bottle). To make my chicken, I took it out of the buttermilk and coated it in a seasoned flour (flour, salt, lots of black pepper, chili powder, paprika, and a little thyme). After the flour, I dredged it in egg and then again into the flour. I was trying to get a thick “crust” on the chicken since I didn’t have any skin on the tenders.
Out of the buttermilk, into the seasoned flour, into the egg, and back in the flour.
A better look at the chicken at the beginning (just flour) and just before frying (after the egg and the second layer of flour). Plus I gave them a little rest before putting them into the oil hoping the coating would stick better.
The key would be an oil thermometer, but alas I don’t have one. I just kept putting in bits of egg and flour to see if it was hot enough to sizzle. Once I felt confident, in went the chicken.
And then when it was brown, I put it on a rack and kept it in a hot oven (about 300 degrees). This actually accomplished two things — made sure it was cooked through and actually crisped up the skin. I had also sautéed the broccoli and garlic and kept it in the oven to stay warm.
It all came together in less than a half hour and we were headed out to the garden for dinner. A delightful, delicious dinner. Good food, good company. Happy solstice!
One final tip: If you need a fancy thing but you don’t have a lot of time, buy a box of brownie mix. Any brand. Before baking, mix in dried tart cherries. It makes a normal box mix into something special. I had made some a week or so ago for a potluck, but I had some of it saved in my freezer. That and some fresh, black cherries from the farmer’s market made for a luscious dessert with some port.