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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

COOKING WITH KOVAKS: CHICKEN À LA VERMOUTH

I like to consider myself a pioneer of the palate. This is a little chicken recipe I learned over twenty years ago. When I was sailing. An Algerian taught it to me when I was on shore leave in Marseilles. The vermouth is my signature touch.

The best side dish is couscous. I will also explain the “Kovaks method” of cooking this excellent staple.

What you need:

(First you need a kitchen with a stove. I don't have one, so I have to apply my skills where I can. Usually some dame's place.)

Kovaks’ Chicken à la Vermouth

Chicken legs, say six
Two carrots (decent sized, diameter of a 1 euro coin)
One leek (decent sized, diameter of a 2 euro coin)
Half a red bell pepper (size of a fat fist)
Salt and pepper
Cumin
Martini Rosso (amount subjective)
Olive oil
Water (store bought is better)

"Kovaks method" couscous

Pre-steamed and dried couscous
Olive oil
Half a fat onion (white)
Salt
Butter
More water

Sprinkle the chicken legs with salt, pepper and cumin. I’m usually generous. I like powerful flavors.

Place legs in well-oiled frying pan. The pan must be deep enough to accommodate them. And it must have a cover. Cook on low to medium heat, covered, rotating once.

Take a breather. Fumigate your brains with a couple Ducados. Drink an aperitif of vermouth. This should be enough time.

Chop the carrots, slice the leek, dice the bell pepper. Add to the pan with the chicken once the wings are golden brown. They do not have to be cooked through at this time. Make sure the veg bits are evenly distributed. It doesn’t matter if some cover the chicken. Add a little bit of oil and stir the chicken to make sure it doesn’t stick. Cover. Cook on low heat for about the time it takes to drink two more aperitifs of vermouth.

I try not to smoke too much at this point because it kills the sense of taste. Relax and read through the paper.

Now that it’s all cooked you can add water. Store bought is better than tap. Whatever your means. Do not empty the pan. Leave the chicken, carrots, etc in it. Fill it about a finger high with water. Add about half a shots' worth of vermouth and a dash of salt. Tilt the pan gently to mix the fluids. Cover. Simmer on low for about the time it will take you to make the couscous:

Finely dice the onion. Add this to a decent sized sauce pan with about two spoonfuls of oil in it (make sure the pan is at least five or six fingers deep to accommodate the rising couscous). Cook on low to medium heat until the onion bits are translucent and soft.

This next part is important. The “Kovaks method”. As in sleuthing, timing is essential.

Measure out half a coffee mug of couscous while the onions are cooking on low. Add the couscous and a pinch of salt to the pan and stir. Try to get an even layer of oil and onions on all of it.

Now. Turn the heat all the way off. There is enough residual heat. This is very important. Add exactly half a coffee mug of water to the couscous. Stir slightly to make sure the grains settle evenly. Add a little slab of butter. Cover.

Read half a chapter of a book or something. Or run down to the paki market and buy a bottle of chilled Blanc Pescador.

Fluff the couscous. Cover. Set the table if you’re expecting company.

The best presentation is a mound of couscous with the sauce from the chicken and carrots and leeks and peppers on top. The chicken legs on the side. Spoon some sauce over them. Maybe a slice of leek or two.

You’re done. Bon appetite.