You know what's great? Chicken and rice. I mean, practically every culture has some variation on that universal theme. Simple in concept, yet open to endless interpretation, two versatile ingredients that form a blank canvas upon which to paint with a palette of spices and herbs.
Here in Casa Hedonia, paella is regular party fare. It's an all-day affair, prepping and then searing layer upon layer of ingredients, then assembling it all with rice and saffron and baking it off for the pièce de résitance. But because we enjoy it so, dpaul has occasionally taken some short cuts, allowing us to enjoy the complex flavors of southern Spain in a fraction of the time — and in less than platoon-feeding quantity.
For a recent dinner party, we tried a new (to us) variation on chicken and rice, from the stunningly beautiful cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Instead of the floral aroma of saffron, this dish is rich with warming spices and the sweetness of caramelized onions.
But, like paella, it's big party food. So we wanted to scale it back.
There were other things we wanted to tinker with, too. The original recipe calls for whole cardamom pods and cloves in the dish, which add amazing flavor and aroma, but are hard to see against the dun background of the dish. Rice perfumed with the spices is lovely. Chomping into a whole cardamom pod is a palate-blasting mouthful of tannic resin. The original also called for barberries or currants, and neither is particularly handy. I chose prunes, which I love to cook with, but dried cranberries or cherries could work as well, or raisins for that matter.
This will become a staple in our repertory. It feels luxurious even though it's economical. And if you did a little prep ahead, like by caramelizing the onions the night before, it's quick enough to make even after work.