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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To Pork or Not to Pork: That Is the Question

Once again, that sounds dirty.

But really, it refers to my conundrum:  if I am going to cook through Italian cookbooks, to really learn Italian food, what is a semi-religious Jew to do?

I am a reform Jew, and a twice-a-year Jew at that:  the high holidays and Passover, although I would say that being Jewish, the ethics of being Jewish, inform my daily life.

You see the problem here:  Italian cooking inherently involves a lot of pork.

I admit, I cheat:  a little salumi here and there, but that's about it.  On Sunday, I found myself staring at the extensive pork section of A16:  what is a Jew to do?

I'm deferring that answer for another day and substituting chicken.  Fortunately, it turned out delectably, tender and toothsome with a salty-sweet relish.  To die, I tell you.


This recipe is perfect for either a weeknight dinner or, if you're feeling like you want to impress people, an appetizer for a dinner party. 


I'm deferring the inherent conflict for another day.  In the interim, this recipe is brilliant.

Chicken Spiedino with Pine Nut, Garlic and Currant Soffritto
Adapted from A16 Food + Wine

2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, cut into even chunks
Kosher salt
1/2 cup dried currants
3/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup roughly chopped garlic cloves
2 ounces arugula
Wooden skewers

After cutting the chicken thighs into chunks, toss with aproximately 1 tablespoon salt.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.


Put the currants in a small bowl and cover with warm water to rehydrate, for at least 20 minutes.

While the currants are hydrating, put the pine nuts and all but a tablespoon of the olive oil in a small pan over low heat.  Warm to a low simmer, stirring often--this will want to stick--for about 6-7 minutes, or until the pine nuts start to brown.

Add the garlic and simmer for about 8 minutes, until the garlic turns golden.  This mixture takes some careful watching and stirring, as you don't want to scorch the garlic.

When the garlic is golden, drain the currants and add them to the pan.  Remove the pot from the heat and cool on the counter.  The soffritto can be made ahead of time.


When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator and let stand for 30 minutes.    Toss the chunks with the reserved tablespoon of olive oil.  Soak approximately 10 wooden skewers in warm water while the chicken is coming to room temperature.  20 minutes out from cooking, start a hot charcoal grill--stack all the coals on one side, so you have both direct and indirect heat.



String the chicken chunks onto the skewers, with no more than five chunks per skewer.  When the fire is ready, put the skewers on the direct-heat side of the grill for approximately a minute, until they become less pink and have grill marks.  Then transfer the skewers to the other side of the grill and cook until fully cooked, approximately 10 minutes.


In the interim, arrange a platter with a bed of the arugula.  When the chicken is done, place the skewers on the platter and drizzle with the sauce.  You will have plenty of extra sauce;  save it for future dishes, including the panino that I will share later this week.

Serves 4 as a main course;  6 as an appetizer.

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