And now, back to the bird. Every so often I get a serious craving for this chicken… The thing I miss the most about lunch in New York is Sophie’s. If you live there and you haven’t been, do yourself a favor and go for lunch sometime. If you work anywhere near the financial district and you haven’t been… shame on you.
The chicken part of this dish is, in the end, just a supporting role. The sauce is the real star, the reason you eat at Sophie’s at all (other than the roast pork, of course). The meat is great, but don’t kid yourself – the reason you’re eating it is just to get the green sauce into your mouth. We called it the crack sauce. I’ve googled and searched and can’t find a solid explanation anywhere of what it is. I decided to take a shot and see if I could make it happen. It’s been a while so it wasn’t so fresh in my memory but the taste of that sauce is pretty tough to forget.
The dish is simple and you don’t have to do much but the important part is that all of these simple bits have some flavor. Chicken, rice, beans, plantains, carrots and sauce. That’s it. Nothing complex and definitely not rocket science. Don’t mess with chicken breast though – go for the legs/thighs and be happy that you’re eating chicken with some flavor. “Wa wa dark meat is fatty bla bla bla” – you’re eating chicken! It’s not like it’s beef. Shut up and eat the good stuff and leave those dry flavorless breasts for the people who don’t know any better. If you have a problem eating dark meat, you should probably be eating tofu anyway…
Cuban Roast Chicken with the Crack Sauce
Skin-on chicken leg & thigh pieces
A little lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 jalapenos (I used canned but fresh would be even better as long as they’re hot)
Cilantro – a little or a lot, however you like it
Lime juice from half a lime
2-4 tablespoons plain yogurt (I used Trader Joe’s European Style)
Salt – a pinch
1 large can black beans (or cook some dry beans – obviously better but canned are fine too)
1/2 a medium onion (I use yellow ones)
2-4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno (again, I used canned but fresh is good too)
1/2 brown, 1/2 white, cooked with a couple cloves of garlic and some salt
And you can toss a couple of carrots in the roasting pan too if you like carrots – they go well and they’re good for your eyes, right?
First things first – get the rice steaming. If you don’t have a rice cooker and you make rice more than once a month – buy one. It’s an amazingly worthwhile investment and you’ll probably eat more rice because you have it.
Grind up the dry chicken seasoning (or mix if you’re just using ground spices), mix in a little lemon juice (it should still be fairly pasty) and rub it around under the chicken skin. Toss the bird in the oven at 350 for about 40 minutes. At that point crank it to 450 for another 5 or so minutes until the skin is brown and crispy.
While that’s working, you have plenty of time to fix up the rest.
The sauce was an experiment but it turned out great. It’s a creamy, green, garlicky, tangy, spicy *hot mess*. The sauce is creamy but I was at a loss as to what to use to get that consistency… Maybe it’s the Armenian in me… or no wait, there’s no Armenian in me… either way, yogurt was the first thing that came to mind. I’m not sure that it’s what they’d use in Cuba or at Sophie’s, but it got the job done… and got it done well. Add the yogurt a tablespoon or so at a time until you get a good consistency.
The beans get flavored with something like a sofrito, I guess. Just simmer the garlic, onion and pepper in some oil for about 10 minutes or so until it’s softened up and then toss in the beans and simmer until they’re nice and hot. Season with some salt.
At this point your chicken is probably halfway done or so. Take a minute to slice up those carrots however you want (I like to do big sticks where I basically just quarter them lengthwise) and then toss them in the roasting pan with the chicken. At this point you should have some fatty juices collecting in the bottom of the pan so you can try to slide them under the bird, maybe even lift the chicken pieces to get the carrots down in that juice.
The most crucial move when making plantains is choosing the right ones. You’ll be tempted to pick ones that are yellow, maybe even yellow with some dark spots – that’s because you’re used to choosing bananas. Put those ones back and grab a couple that look like they were forgotten at the bottom of the fruit bowl for a couple weeks. We’re talking black here. Soft, black and sweet – riiiipe. You see?
Slice em “on the bias” so you get some nice surface exposure to caramelize.
Sautee them in some vegetable oil (or butter if you’re feeling fatty… nothing wrong with a little butter). Sautee them in low to medium heat until they are nice and brown on each side. There’s no rule about flipping here, just get em brown.
They should look something like the shot below. The darker ones on top were actually better – a little bit crispy, good and caramelized, and still soft inside.
Toss those carrots around a little more and crank that oven heat for the last few minutes.
And then, you eat. And make sure you make enough to have some leftovers – you’ll want more tomorrow.