Thursday, October 22, 2009

Inspiration in the workplace.

Ever since I started my new role in January, I've been eating lunch with a bunch of colleagues from my new floor. I knew all of these folks by name before I moved to the new group, but I'd never spent a lot of time with them. Little did I know how food-obsessed all of them are, and little did I anticipate the ideas and inspiration I'd get from our daily talks about what we like to eat.

A few weeks ago one of the more avid cooks in the group, my friend Connie, told us about a dinner she'd made recently: a coq au vin-esque one-pot meal of chicken, barley and cabbage. The whole thing sounded so deliciously autumnal that I ran back to my office and added Savoy cabbage and barley to my FreshDirect cart right then and there.

This weekend I finally had a chance to work on the recipe itself (Connie had improvised her version, so I needed to recreate it.), and I can't get enough. It's nutty and hearty and rich, but not actually bad for me. I made the whole recipe, and ate it for lunch all week. Hopefully Connie approves.

Connie's Chicken with Barley and Cabbage

One whole chicken, cut into eight pieces (or five whole chicken legs, drumstick and thigh)
Olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 small celery stalks, including leaves, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly bruised
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup barley
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, shredded
5-6 thyme stalks
1 Gala apple, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken pieces. Heat a heavy-bottomed, 5-7 quart pot over high heat. Add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom, then add the chicken pieces, skin-side down, in one layer. (If you can't fit all the pieces in one layer, brown the chicken in multiple batches; don't crowd the pan, or the chicken will steam instead of browning.) While the skin browns, salt and pepper the other side of the chicken.

Once the skin-sides are golden-brown and slightly crisp (about 5-8 minutes), turn the pieces over and lightly brown the bottoms, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and pour off all but 3-4 tablespoons of the fat in the pot. Add the shallots, celery and garlic and cook on medium-high heat until the garlic is fragrant and the shallots translucent, about three minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir to incorporate, and cook for a minute more.

Add the barley and toss with the shallot mixture and the fat. Salt the barley (about a teaspoon should do it) and pepper it lightly. Add the wine, water and chicken stock, then stir briskly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits of chicken skin or shallot.

Add the mustard and stir to incorporate. Add the cabbage, resting it on top of the barley and liquids. Salt and pepper the cabbage (again, about 1 teaspoon of salt should do it.) Then arrange the chicken on top of the cabbage, placing the thyme springs on top of it all.

Turn the heat to medium (you want the mixture to simmer, but not to boil, so keep an eye on it for a bit), cover the pan, and cook until the chicken is done and the barley is tender, about an hour and fifteen minutes. Remove the thyme stalks (all of the leaves will most likely have jumped ship by this point).

Remove the chicken to a plate for a moment. Add the apple to the pot, stir to distribute throughout the barley, and heat the mixture through for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Spoon the barley and cabbage onto individual plates, place a piece of chicken on each, and serve.

Serves five to six.

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