Meat and poultry


Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

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Apologies for the less than appetizing photograph.  Sausage isn’t the most photogenic food.  But it is delicious, especially when you take the time to make it yourself (and extra-specially when you manage to do it without a proper grinder!).

I use a food processor all the time to grind chicken thighs for meatballs, burgers, and sausage, but I wasn’t sure it would work with pork.  Chicken thighs are naturally lean and have little connective tissue, but the cuts of pork often used for making sausage — butt and shoulder — are tougher, more sinewy, and usually require slow, moist-heat cooking to make them tender.  Could my trusty Cuisinart chop the meat finely and evenly enough to make a tender sausage?  A 12 dollar slab of pork butt and an hour or two of my time seemed a reasonable gamble.

There are a few hard and fast rules for making sausage.  The meat has to be very, very cold so that it’s chopped, not mushed.  Once it’s ground and seasoned, it needs to be mixed vigorously — this makes the mixture sticky so it holds together.  And sausage has to be fatty — a ratio of 3 or 4:1, meat to fat — which usually means you have to grind some fat back into the mix.  (Full disclosure:  I broke this last rule.  The piece of meat I bought was pretty fatty — 5:1, maybe — and the sausage turned out fine.)

You can stuff the mixture into casings, if you like, or cook it as bulk sausage, which is less time intensive and just as tasty.  I cooked most of the sausage in patties (for the freezer) and browned the rest for dinner tonight (with broccoli rabe and barley).  It received rave reviews from the whole gang.

Pork sausage with garlic and herbs

Yield:  About 3 lbs. bulk sausage

3 lb. boneless pork butt (the fattiest one you can find)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1/4 c. minced garlic (6-8 cloves)

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh sage leaves

3 tsp. kosher salt

3 tbsp. white wine (or just use water)

Freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Using a very sharp knife, cut pork into cubes no larger than 1-inch square.  Place in a gallon-sized, zip-top plastic bag and freeze for at least an hour, or until meat is fairly firm but not frozen solid.  (When the meat is partially frozen, the food processor will chop it.  If the meat is too warm, you run the risk of processing it into a gooey paste.)

While pork is in freezer, warm a skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic and herbs and cook two minutes more.  Transfer onion mixer to a small container with a lid and refrigerate until cold.

Using a food processor, grind pork in three batches.  Hold the machine steady with one hand while you push the pulse button with the other.  Process, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until meat is well-chopped (but still chunky) and cohesive but not so long that it becomes pasty.  Transfer ground meat to a mixing bowl and repeat with remaining batches.

Add onion mixture, salt, wine or water, and pepper to ground meat.  Mix very well with a spoon, your hands, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until seasonings are well-incorporated and mixture is sticky.  Refrigerate the mixture overnight, if possible, before cooking.  You can freeze the uncooked sausage, stuff it into casings, or form it into patties.  Cooked sausage freezes well, too.

If you think of pot roast as dry, tough, and tasteless, think again.  With the right cut of meat — a well-marbled chuck roast is best — and a few flavorful accompaniments, it can be soft, succulent, and richly satisfying.

Unlike sirloin and rib roasts — tender cuts of meat cooked quickly in a hot oven — pot roasts are tougher cuts, cooked slowly at a lower temperature, partially covered with liquid.  This low and slow, moist-heat cooking method is called braising.  The long cooking time and gentle heat break down the connective tissues that bind the muscle fibers, rewarding the patient cook with a tender, delicious, and economical supper.

I like to braise beef in wine, or beer and vinegar, or with other acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) that stand up to and cut through the richness of the meat.  Though you can cook a pot roast on the stove, I prefer the even heating and fine temperature control of the oven.  Never let a pot roast boil, and don’t overcook it — it’s done when a knife or carving fork slides easily into the center of the meat.

Pot roast with onions and beer

Yield:  Serves 6

For braising:

2 tbsp. canola oil

3 1/2 – 4 lb. boneless beef chuck roast

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 lbs. yellow onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 12-oz. bottle dark beer

1 c. chicken stock or beef broth

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

For thickening sauce:

2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

or

2 tbsp. cornstarch and 2 tbsp. cold water, stock, or broth

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Warm a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat.  Season beef all over with salt and pepper.  Drizzle oil into pot.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add beef and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a large plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions and bay leaf to drippings in pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and browned, about 25 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and stir in thyme.  Pour in beer, raise heat to medium-high, and stir, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Stir in stock or broth and vinegar and return beef to pot.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and put pot in the oven.

Cook for about 3 hours, turning beef once after an hour or so and checking periodically to make sure braising liquid is at a bare simmer.  If it’s boiling, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees.  Pot roast is done when very tender — you should be able to pierce it easily all over with a carving fork or knife.  Let meat rest in the pot for 30 minutes, then remove to a cutting board.

Skim fat from surface of sauce.  Taste, and season with pepper and additional salt as needed.  If you’d like a thicker sauce, you have two options:  a beurre manie or cornstarch slurry.  To make beurre manie ( or “kneaded butter”) work butter and flour together with your fingers until evenly combined.  Bring sauce to a simmer and add beurre manie in little pieces, stirring to dissolve.  Cook gently until sauce is lightly thickened.  To make a slurry, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, stock, or broth until dissolved.  Bring sauce to a boil.  Stir in slurry and cook 1 minute or until thickened.

Slice or shred roast and serve with onion sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in sauce.

Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free beer, or use 1 1/2 c. white wine instead of beer and omit the vinegar.  Thicken sauce with cornstarch, or make a beurre manie with sweet rice flour instead of all-purpose.

Tamales are so much work.  There’s the pork braising, the lard whipping, the husk soaking, the bundle tying, the hour-long steaming.  Delicious, to be sure, but not something I’d attempt at home more than once every decade or so.

A tamale pie, however, combines the best parts of the tamale — the soft, fluffy masa dough and the saucy, spicy filling — in a big, weeknight-friendly casserole.

My version is lard-free and heavy on the vegetables.  Masa harina is available in most larger grocery stores, but if you can’t find it you can top the pie with cornbread batter instead.  A cornbread-topped pie takes about 35 minutes to cook and is done when lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the casserole comes out clean.

Tamale pie

Yield:  13 x 9-inch casserole, serving 6-8

For filling:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

12 oz. mushrooms, sliced

2 zucchini, cut into 1/2″ dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tbsp. paprika

1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

15 oz. can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (with or without green chiles)

3 c. shredded, cooked chicken, turkey, or pork

15 oz. can kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained

2 c. chicken stock

2 tbsp. cornstarch

For topping:

2 c. masa harina (corn flour)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. cold butter (I use Earth Balance), cut into pieces

1 c. corn kernels (thawed, if frozen)

2 c. chicken stock

Make filling:

Warm a large, straight-sided skillet or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high and add mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in paprika, oregano, and cumin, and cook until mushrooms have released their liquid and most of that liquid has evaporated, at least 5 minutes more.  Stir in cider vinegar, tomatoes, chicken, beans, and all but 1/4 c. of the stock.

Make a slurry by whisking cornstarch with reserved 1/4 c. stock until dissolved.  When filling in skillet comes to a boil, whisk in cornstarch.  Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Set aside.

Make topping:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine masa, baking powder, and salt.  Pulse to evenly combine.  Add butter and pulse until well incorporated.  The mixture will resemble wet sand.  (If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut the butter into the masa.)  Add the corn and the stock and process until evenly moistened.  The mixture should be soft, light, and spreadable.

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Pour in filling, then spread masa topping over the top.  I find the best way to do this is to drop small spoonfuls all over the surface of the filling, then use a rubber spatula to gently smooth the surface.  Don’t worry if the filling isn’t entirely covered, but do try to spread the masa layer to an even thickness.

Cover casserole with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Uncover and continue baking 10-15 minutes more or until filling is bubbling around the edges and masa topping is set in the center and lightly golden in color. (If you’re not sure, pick up a bit of topping from the center of the pie — if it’s still raw underneath, return to the oven for 10 minutes more.)

Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.  Tamale pie keeps well in the fridge for about 4 days, though the tamale topping won’t be as fluffy when reheated.  Reheat individual servings, covered with a damp paper towel, in the microwave.

Make it meatless:

Use vegetable stock instead of chicken.  Omit the shredded meat and add an additional 3 cups chopped vegetables, beans, and/or tofu.  Try, alone or in combination:

∙ Eggplant, peeled, diced, and added to the pan along with the zucchini and mushrooms.

∙ Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced small, and added to the pan with the zucchini and mushrooms.  Before adding the cornstarch slurry, test a piece of squash for doneness.  If it’s not tender, simmer filling a few minutes longer before you thicken it.

∙ Fresh or frozen corn kernels, added to the pan just before the cornstarch slurry.

∙ Whatever cooked beans (or lentils) you have on hand.  A 15 oz. can contains about 1 ½ cups of beans.

∙ Firm tofu, drained, pressed, diced, and added to the pan along with the beans.

Snowy, gray February days cry out for comfort food.  In this simplified version of a classic pot pie, tender, fluffy biscuits become dumplings as they settle into a rich stew of chicken and vegetables.  Cook the filling ahead of time, if you like, and let it reheat on the stove top as you make the biscuits.  We ate this tonight with braised greens, but a simple salad would be just as nice.

Chicken and biscuit pie

Yield:  Serves 6

For chicken filling:

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or use 4 c. shredded, cooked chicken)

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

3 1/2 c. chicken stock

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

3 tbsp. butter (or dairy-free alternative)

1/3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 c. frozen peas

For biscuit topping:

1 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

4 tbsp. cold butter (or dairy-free alternative)

1 c. cow’s or unsweetened soy milk (or 3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened rice milk)

Make chicken filling:

If using chicken thighs, arrange them in a single layer in a large skillet.  Season with salt and pepper, then pour in stock (stock should just cover chicken).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken from stock, let sit until cool enough to handle, then dice or shred into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.

Warm a large saucepan over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in thyme and a pinch of salt and cook one minute more.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.

Return saucepan to heat and add butter.  When butter is melted, sprinkle in flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.  Slowly add chicken stock, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for a few minutes until thickened.  Stir in peas and a few grindings of black pepper.  Taste and add additional salt if necessary.  Pour filling into a shallow, two-quart casserole or gratin dish and set aside.

Make biscuit topping:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Stir well with a whisk.  Using a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best), cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in milk until just combined.

Drop biscuit dough by the heaping spoonful onto the filling.  Try to evenly distribute the dough over the casserole, but don’t worry about covering it completely.  Bake for 30 minutes or until filling is bubbling and biscuits are lightly browned.

Make it gluten-free: Replace the 1/3 c. all-purpose flour in the filling with 1/4 c. potato flour (NOT potato starch), and watch the butter/flour mixture carefully as it cooks — potato flour browns very quickly.   You can top the casserole with gluten-free biscuit dough and bake it as a pie, but I prefer baking gluten-free biscuits separately and then serving them with the filling.  Either way, here’s the recipe:

Gluten-free, dairy-free drop biscuits

Yield:  Makes about 15 biscuits

1 c. superfine brown rice flour

1/3 c. sweet rice flour

1/3 c. tapioca starch

1/3 c. potato starch

4 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1/4 tsp. baking soda

4 tbsp. cold, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening

1 c. unsweetened rice milk

1 tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together flours, starches, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, and baking soda.  Stir well with a whisk.  Using a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best), cut shortening into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Combine rice milk and honey, stirring well with a rubber spatula until honey dissolves.  Pour into flour mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon until evenly combined and thickened.  Drop dough by the large spoonful onto lined baking sheet, spacing biscuits about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.  Serve warm.

I’ve mentioned before how much I love boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  They’re inexpensive, kid-friendly, and incredibly versatile.  I broil them, braise them, grill them as kebabs, and grind them up for sausage, meatballs, and, most recently and to my family’s great delight, sliders.

Purists will argue that my miniature chicken burgers are not really sliders (technically thin rounds of beef steamed between a pile of onions and a squishy, white bun), but who cares?  They’re adorable and delicious!  We ate them on tiny sweet potato rolls with thinly sliced avocado and plum tomatoes (ketchup for the kids), with oven fries and coleslaw on the side.

Chicken sliders

Yield:  One dozen, 2-inch burgers

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks

Scant 1/4 c. chopped chives (or 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced)

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground, black pepper

Canola oil, for the pan

Slider buns or small dinner rolls and sliced avocado and plum tomatoes, for serving

Pulse chicken in a food processor to grind.  Be careful not to over-process: running the machine for 4-5 seconds, then scraping the bowl, then running it 4-5 seconds more should do it.   You want a chunky yet cohesive mixture.  Don’t turn it into a paste.

Transfer ground chicken to a large mixing bowl.  Add chives or scallions, salt, and a few grindings of pepper and mix until evenly combined.

Warm a lightly oiled, large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat.  While pan heats, roll chicken mixture into small balls, then flatten into patties.  Cook in two batches until nicely browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.

These burgers reheat nicely in the oven (on a foil-lined baking sheet, at 350 degrees, 5-8 minutes or until warmed through).

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, bigger is always better.  This year’s 24-pounder yielded a holiday dinner for 7, more than a gallon of stock, and easily a week’s worth of leftovers for my family of four and my in-laws as well.  Today my mother-in-law made turkey, chickpea, and sweet potato curry, and I made a simple turkey soup with barley and this hearty chili.

Making chili is a good way to use up small amounts of assorted dried beans lurking in the back of your pantry.  If you don’t have any, or want a quicker-cooking chili, you can use canned beans.  6 cans, rinsed and drained, should yield the proper quantity for this recipe.

Turkey chili

Yield:  4 -4 1/2 qts.

1 1/2 lb. dried beans, soaked overnight (I used Great Northern and pinto)

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 Spanish onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp. ancho chili powder (or more or less, to taste)

1 tbsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled

2 qts. turkey or chicken stock (or use part bean cooking liquid)

1 15-oz. can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes

6 c. shredded, cooked turkey

Juice of 1-2 limes

Handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Salt, to taste

Drain beans and place in a large saucepan.  Cover by 3-inches with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil hard for a few minutes, then reduce heat and skim froth from surface of water.  Cook beans at a bare simmer until just tender, about 40 minutes to a little over an hour (depending on type and age of beans).  Season generously with salt and continue cooking 10 minutes longer.  Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid.

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and stir in garlic, chili powder, and cumin.  Cook another two minutes.  Add oregano, beans, and bean-cooking liquid and/or stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes more or until beans are very tender.

In a food processor or blender, puree a few cups of the soup, then return puree to pot.  Stir in tomatoes, turkey, and juice of 1 lime.  Taste, adding additional lime juice and salt as needed, and serve.

Chili keeps well in the fridge up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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