Several weeks ago I got a phone call from my friend, Heather. She asked if Annie and I would mind catering her big 30th birthday party that she was planning on hosting at her condo. It was very flattering, however I told her I'd have to think about it. It's kind of a big step. I mean it's one thing to just do the food for a holiday or a small gathering. But actually catering food for a party adds a whole level of expectations and stress. I called Annie to ask what she thought. As we talked it out we decided that the duties and amount of food we'd need to make was no different really than some of the parties we thrown in the past. It was something we could most likely handle easily. And if something went wrong (not that it would) our defense would be that we've never done this before. We decided to do it.
Annie and I made an appointment with Heather to come by and talk about her ideas, our ideas, what she liked and didn't like and how much food we should prepare and what the signature cocktail might be. We decided to have our meeting over a little casual dinner. This recipe comes from the July 11, 2007 issue of the New York Times.
1 cup roasted, salted cashews
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus 4 tablespoons for garnish
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (I used two, seeding one and leaving the seeds in the other)
Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus additional lime wedges to serve
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds of chicken (I used a combination of boneless, skinless breasts and thighs)
In a food processor, combine the nuts, 2 tablespoons of cilantro, oil, garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, jalapeno, and lime juice. Blend until smooth scraping down the sides as necessary. If the mixture seems too think, you can thin it out with a tablespoon or two of water. Keep in mind it is more of a paste, rather than a loose, liquidy marinade. Season with salt and pepper.
Season the chicken pieces on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a resealable plastic bag and spoon in 2/3 of the cashew mixture, saving the rest to serve with the chicken once it's cooked. Seal the bag and massage the mixture into the chicken. Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to 12 hours.
Pour a little oil onto a paper towel that has been folded into a small, thick square. Wipe the grate of your grill with the oil and then preheat over medium heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes on the first side, depending on how thick your chicken pieces are. With a pair of tongs, flip the chicken and continue to cook for about another 10 minutes on the second side.
Alternately place the chicken on a rack set on a baking sheet and broil for about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Note that simply baking it in the oven doesn't result in as flavorful chicken. It's best with the golden color and crispy bits that grilling or broiling can provide.
When the chicken is done cooking, remove to a platter. Cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes, so the juices can reabsorb into the meat. After the chicken has rested, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve with lime wedges to squeeze over and a small dish of the reserved marinade.
The paste is really nice on the breasts, but it's fantastic on the thighs. Thighs really do have SO much more flavor. If you think you don't like dark meat just get over it. Also if you are someone who is not a fan of cilantro, don't be scared off. All the flavors combine in such an interesting way that none of them really take center stage. Rather they come together in a complex way so that the outcome is sweet and spicy, nutty and fragrant. It's a very versatile marinade. It could be paired with more Asian flavors (I could see it topping a mound of udon noodles) or Latin (black beans, some herbaceous green rice would, and warm corn tortillas would be great). We served it with quinoa that I tossed with grilled corn, crumbles of salty cotija cheese and squash that I sauteed with red onion and fresh thyme (the second step of this succotash salad).
At the end of dinner we decided to serve this chicken in the form of skewers. We also came up with a handful of ideas and parameters. The next step was fine-tuning and editing the list and coming up with the recipes. It's seems we are now caterers. Sort of.
Serves 8 or so