i made chicken breasts this week. i made mahimahi steaks. i made fruit sauces, i made cream sauces, i made sauces out of vegetables and oils and cheese and all manner of ingredients. but you know, i still didn’t feel challenged. i feel like almost any person can at least imagine the ingredients of a sauce that would function as a topping for meat. so i got to thinking, what about sauces which aren’t meant as a topping?
aren’t there sauces which are meant for more than just drizzling on top of a cut of meat or fish? how about the sauces which are meant to drown the food you plan to eat? i honestly couldn’t think of that many until i widened my perspective a little. when i really considered it, i realized that most sauces served on chicken wings could be categorized as “drowning sauces.”
but honestly, chicken wings aren’t exactly the epitome of gourmet food. buffalo wing sauce, hot sauce, honey mustard sauce, barbeque sauce, bleu cheese sauce, and ranch aren’t even close the category of food that i plan to cook in my kitchen (ever).
so instead, i resolved to buy two whole chicken thighs, chop them into bite-sized morsels, cook them with a little bit of salt and pepper in a frying pan over high heat, and drown them in three homemade sauces i deemed worthy.
spicy dark chocolate mole, hawaiian-style teriyaki, and five-spice chicken gravy.
feast your eyeballs.
spicy dark chocolate mole
it would be an understatement to say that in japan, there is no mole. to even propose the concept of mixing the flavors of tomato and chocolate to a japanese person is to give them an invitation to gaze at you in disbelief and confusion.
which in no way undermines the deliciousness (and delicacy) of mole. i won’t go into the history of it here, but it is one of the most ubiquitous sauces known to latin american (particularly mexican) cuisine. not all moles contain chocolate, but in my opinion, the best ones do.
- a half can of stewed tomatoes
- dark (unsweeted) chocolate
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 small onion
- chili powder
- (ground) coriander
- something spicy (i’ll explain, don’t worry)
- peel and mince the garlic and onion. add some oil to a pan, and once hot, add the mince and sautee until transparent.
- add your tomatoes and some of the juice. the result will be a little too thick to simmer without danger of burning, so add a little bit of water. keep the heat medium low, and allow the flavors to cook together for a few minutes.
- add your spices. chili powder will give your mole a mexican flare, but the true stars of the show are cumin and cinnamon. don’t overdo it with either, because they are both super powerful, but their flavors will ultimately be what gives your mole the zing you are looking for. coriander is only natural. after all, it is the same plant as cilantro, one of the most amazing and widely used flavoring agents in latin american cuisine. this is also the step in which i added my “something spicy,” which was dried chinese hot pepper. before you jump down my throat, anchos and jalapenos and chipotles do not exist in japan. i made do with what i had. (if you can get your hands on anchos or chipotles or jalapenos, make sure to be careful using them. sautee them over low heat and make sure not to choke yourself out with the resulting nerve gas).
- keep simmering, stirring occasionally to keep from burning. put the contents of the pan in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.
- put the smooth tomato sauce into the pan once more and gradual add pieces of the dark chocolate. here’s where i will be honest with you. japan doesn’t have super dark chocolate that costs less than your right arm. the chocolate i used, which i was well aware was not even going to be close the chocolate i would have liked to use, was labeled “meiji dark with extra cocoa,” and i highly doubt that it was even 25% cocoa mass by volume. despite my chocolate being almost the exact wrong chocolate for this recipe, it turned out delicious and smooth and well balanced. don’t do what i did. find a chocolate that is somewhere between 50% and 70% cocoa mass by volume. you won’t regret it even if it costs a little more.
- stir over super low heat. the resulting color should be a deep brown, or if you used a hearty portion of the appropriate chocolate, very close to black.
- pour into a bowl and dip whatever kind of meat you want. seriously, it goes with almost anything. chicken is my personal favorite, but pork is also a winner (especially if you feel like smothering some chops and giving them a nice long, low temperature bake in the toaster oven).
teriyaki is a japanese classic. i think most people are aware of this fact. but unlike mole, most japanese people have tasted teriyaki and know exactly what good teriyaki should taste like. which is precisely why i resolved to make them eat their words, so to speak. to explain to a japanese person that you plan to make teriyaki with pineapple (while it sounds pretty logical to americans who have grilled pineapple before) is to give them an invitation to tell you that you can’t. which is technically not correct. because i can, and i did.
- a can of pineapple
- soy sauce
- fresh ginger
- japanese sake
- black pepper’
- (maybe) a tiny bit of flour
- red pepper
- peel the garlic and ginger. mince super finely, and add to a pan with a little bit of hot oil. while they are simmering in the pan, mince some pineapple. when the garlic and ginger start to get close to where you want them, add in the pineapple and sautee for just a few minutes more. kill the heat.
- combine the juice from the canned pineapple, sake, and soy sauce at pretty close to a 1:1:1 ratio. when in doubt, go a little bit heavier on the soy sauce. add a spoon or two of sugar (trust me, you don’t need to overdo it because the pineapple will be plenty sweet), the black pepper, and the red pepper. stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- turn the heat on your pan to medium high and add the sauce mixture to your garlic-ginger-pineapple sautee. get the sauce hot enough for a very very slight simmer. if the sauce gets too hot, the sugars will burn and turn it black and gooey and bitter. if you keep the heat just right (stirring copiously along the way), the sauce will thicken and become a beautiful reflective dark brown.
- don’t get discouraged. if your sauce doesn’t thicken, you can add a tiny bit of flour a little at a time. do your best not to let it clump. if it still doesn’t thicken, there is always next time. teriyaki can be a really tough sauce to get to the texture you want. practice makes perfect.
- add the contents of your frying pan to a blender, and pulse until the pineapple is smoother. this sauce will be a litte chunkier than your average teriyaki, which is what makes it so great for dipping.
- chicken is the age-old classic, but this sauce goes great with beef and fish (especially non-white fish like tuna or trout). keep in mind that when grilling spitted foods like kebabs, a quick roll in this sauce one or two minutes before being ready to eat can add an incredible depth of flavor that your guests will lose their minds over. remember though, high heat is the death of sugar, so don’t let your grill flames burn the sauce.
five-spice chicken gravy
oh, gravy. i know you know it is delicious. and if you haven’t had it before, i feel bad for you. truly.
but in the interest of mixing it up, let’s use one of the most chinese spices ever to make this gravy super extra special.
- chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- a clove or two of garlic
- star anise
- chinese five-spice
- butter (optional)
- cream (optional)
- it is all about the drippings. i made chicken gravy, which means i needed chicken drippings. my favorite is to use the oils that chicken skin gives off when cooked over really high heat in a frying pan. other great options are to use the juices that drip off of chicken legs when baking, or the liquid fat that chicken thighs give off when sauteed. anyway, add your greasy fatty goodness to a pot, add minced garlic, and simmer for a little bit. add in some chicken stock, and bump the heat until it reaches a strong boil.
- take the heat down to a simmer, add one pod of star anise and spoon or two of chinese five-spice (which is magical, but i won’t get into the details of here), and black pepper. cover and let the flavors combine. give it a taste. it shouldn’t need any salt, but if it does, feel free to season at your leisure.
- extract the anise pod. if the seed as gone awol, find it. trust me. nobody wants to bite down on an anise seed when they are expecting beautiful smoother, perfectly executed gravy.
- kill the heat and remove the pot from the burner. here is where you have some options. you can’t go dumping flour into a pot of piping hot broth unless you plan to rename this recipe “five-spice chicken soup with the worst tasting dumpling ever created by man-kind.” your first option is to use a ladle to put a small portion of the broth into a bowl or cup, slowly sprinkle in some flour, and stir. this mixture can then be reintroduced to the pot, and once a little bit of stirring over low heat occurs, it should thicken quite nicely. if not, do it again. another option is to do the same thing, only use melted butter or lukewarm cream instead of a portion of the broth. this works well, but it will change the flavor of your gravy (because you are introducing new ingredients). the texture might be a little smoother, but it can lead to the flavor of butter overpowering your five spice. i won’t tell you which one i prefer. i’ll leave it entirely up to you to decide.
- pour into a bowl. salivate. dip whatever you want in it, it’ll be good no matter what. eat it with a spoon if you feel the need. i won’t judge you.