Food is why this journal exists, of course, yet the voyage only begins with taste. By the time the plate is brought to the table, at least two of the senses are engaged, followed by a third and a fourth when the dish is sampled. In a few cases, even the fifth perception, that of sound, comes into play.
One of today’s submissions, Sizzling Chard, sparks all five. When oils are heated and drizzled over lightly-steamed vegetables just before service, the greens pop, almost effervesce, as the hot liquid finishes the cooking process and seals in the flavors, both of the chard and of the scallions, peppers and ginger that supplement it.
This is a typically Cantonese preparation and when Milk Street provided instructions in its Fall 2018 issue, it intrigued. Do the greens actually sizzle? Yes they do!
Of course, the sound show is the chard’s party piece, but it also excels where things really matter, in taste. The greens have a succulent leafiness that’s fresh and just has to be incredibly healthy, yet the pepper laced among it and in the drizzle makes it tingle and dance. Ginger sparkles too, especially when hot liquid triggers the aromatics. When toasted sesame seeds are sprinkled over the greens, they add a savory crunch.
This Cantonese vegetable explosion nicely complements hen prepared in style favored in a nearby province, Szechuan, and as described on No Spoon Necessary. A spicy, flavorful marinade ensures the mildly sweet bird sings with vibrant tastes. Moreover, a unique basting sauce is applied as the hens grill, searing in the tingly, nearly fruity notes that make Szechuan pappercorns so distinctive.
After the hens come off the grill, they get one final dose of the sauce, then are garnished with chopped scallions, cilantro and pepper flakes, then they’re dusted with sesame seeds. The same seeds, in fact, that augment the chard served alongside the bird. The two dishes were chosen because they work well together, but only after reviwing the recipes carefully did it become clear both are finished in the same way too. Their culinary destinies have been fulfilled.
The sizzling chard beguiles the ear, while Szechuan peppercorns set the tongue tingling, favoring the diner with so much more than good looks and taste.
Hot Oil-Flashed Chard with Ginger, Scallions and Chili
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large bunces of Swiss chard, with the stems removed
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
- 1 tablespon freshly-grated ginger
- 1 chili, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring the water and salt to a boil. Pile the chard into the pan and cover (the lid may not close completely). Cook until the chard wilts, about five minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring ocassionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about three minutes. Transfer chard to a serving platter.
Distribute the scallions and chili evenly over the chard, and grate ginger over it, evenly as well. Add both oils to the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Cook until the oils are hot, about two minutes. Pour the oils over the greens, then toss to distribute. Drizzle the vinegar and soy sauce over the chard and toss again. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Grilled Szechuan Cornish Hens
- 2 Cornish hens, spines removed, then flattened (*1)
For the marinade:
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 scalions, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup vegetalbe oil (*2)
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilatro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
For the basting glaze:
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns (*3)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 2 tablespons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon chili oil
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large zip-top bag. Add the hens and maniupulate the bag so the marinade completely covers the hens. Force out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 6 hours, up to overnight, turning the bag to coat a few time throughout.
About fifteen minutes before the hens are finished chilling, prepare the glaze. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the peppercorns. Shake the peppercorns frequently while toasting, and cook them until they’re fragrant, about five minutes. Pour the peppercorns into a food processor and add the other glaze ingredients.. Blend for about a minute, until the glaze is largely smooth, but still has some texture. Divide the glaze equally among two containers and set aside.
Heat half a grill to medium-high heat, while leaving the other half “unheated.” Remove the hens from the zip-top bag and discard the marinade. Cook birds, skin side up, on the “hot” side for about five mintes. Flip the birds, leaving them on the “hot” side and brush with one of two containers-full of reserved glaze.
Transfer the birds to the “cool” side, flipping them again to skin-side up. Cover the grill and cook until the birds are done, about fifty minutes.
Remove the hens from the heat and brush them with the remaining glaze. Garnish with chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, pepper flakes and sesame seeds and serve.
1 – This is called “spatchcocking” a hen. Remove the spine with poultry shears or, even more carefuly, with a knife. Flip the bird and press down firmly on the breastbone until the bird flattens a little. The last three sentences come with all sorts of double-entendres, don’t they?
2 – Personal preference, I used peanut oil. Not only is it fairly routine in East Asian cuisine, but peanut oil also anticipates peanuts, which are integral to Szechuan cuisine.
3 – If you can’t get Szechuan peppercorns, “regular” peppercorns will do, though not as flavorfully. After you toast the peppercorns, add half a teaspoon of orange juice to the glaze.