“Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says “Chicken of the Sea” – Jessica Simpson
I really can’t think of anything to say about these wise words from Jessica (what is there to say?) so let’s get straight down to business today. Bowls of brown rice with something stuck on the top have become quite a regular feature in our house, principally as I am obsessed with my rice cooker and look for any excuse to use it. The switch to brown rice was also something that I found easier than the transition to brown pasta (I find a lot of wholewheat pastas to be texturally “off” or taste too tannic for a lot of sauces) so brown rice quickly became our staple wholegrain carb. Rice bowls are, unsurprisingly, very common across Asia, with the Japanese donburi being a well-known example of the genre. Healthier than fried rice, they are also a perfect vehicle for a Sunday night fridge clear-out as you can put whatever vegetables you like on top provided it all has a tasty sauce of some kind slathered on it.
Now that I have mentioned my beloved rice cooker I am going to have to talk about it. Bear with me. I really am quite evangelical about it. It’s one of those things that you don’t realise you need until you get one and then wonder how you ever lived without it. “Can’t you cook rice, you complete loser?” I was asked by many people when I got it (they didn’t always say the last bit out loud, but I could see it in their eyes). YES I CAN COOK RICE THANK YOU VERY MUCH I would reply. But this is missing the point. A rice cooker not only cooks rice perfectly every time it does so quietly in the corner minding its own business while you get on with other things and then keeps it warm for hours and hours. So you don’t have to check on it or worry about it keeping warm and not drying out while you get everything else ready. And most models can make an enormous quantity of perfectly cooked rice, which is tricky to do on the hob, if you have lots of people for dinner.
Brown rice is where the rice cooker really comes into its own though, because it takes a lifetime to cook. If you have a rice cooker you can stick your rice and water in when you go to work in the morning, set the timer switch and VOILÀ you will have perfectly cooked brown rice waiting for you for dinner. (Alternatively, you can just flick it on while you are drifting around your kitchen eating biscuits and pretending to “work from home”. I usually put mine on just after lunch (while eating biscuits), scoop a portion out for my son’s tea at 5pm and then eat the rest for dinner that evening).
There are tons of rice cookers on the market but, if you have the counter space and more than one child to feed, may I recommend the 8-in-1 cooker from Tefal? It is a rice cooker AND a slow cooker AND a steamer, and also has specific settings for cooking grains (including quinoa, if you MUST) and porridge. As it has a timer function you can set it to come on and cook your porridge so it’s ready first thing in the morning. What more could you want? Here it is at Argos with a staggering discount of one pound.
The only downside to this is its size – I am terribly bad at reading things properly or judging the size of things online (Ocado routinely deliver industrial size bags of basmati, 2kg boxes of cereal – that have to live on the kitchen floor as they are too tall for any cupboard – and enormous jars of olives) – and this took up about half of the entire surface space in my tiny London kitchen. It also has a 2 cup uncooked rice minimum (you can do less but some of it sticks) so you end up with a lot of cooked rice or grain to freeze if you are a family of 2.5 as we are.
Thus, our Tefal has sadly been relegated to storage to be unveiled as an occasional use slow-cooker next winter (or when we have 22 people round for chilli), and I instead had to remortgage to buy a 3 cup Zojirushi one, which unsurprisingly is very very good but horribly overpriced here when you look at what they cost in the US. Why it is so hard to find a good but small reasonably priced rice cooker in the UK is beyond me, but if you aren’t fussed about a timer function and specific porridge setting, this small one from Crock Pot is meant to be very good, has a steamer tray for veg and is a veritable bargain at £21.
ANYWAY, back to the rice bowl because that’s what you are here for right? This version was inspired by one in Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks book, which I was immediately drawn to because PEANUT BUTTER. Gizzi uses 1 chicken thigh per person, half fat coconut milk, removes the chicken skin after cooking and uses small spritzes of oil to keep the calories down. But this isn’t a diet blog so I am going to do it my way. It is very quick to put together, and can be made entirely with ingredients from Ocado or a (well stocked) supermarket, rather than requiring a trip to an Asian supermarket.
The combination of grilled chicken, the warm thai sauce that soaks into the rice and lots of cold crunchy veg and peanuts is much lighter and fresher than a full-on Thai curry.
THAI CHICKEN SATAY RICE BOWL
(adapted from Skinny Weeks, Weekend Feasts by Gizzi Erskine)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low/Medium (Lime leaves – much easier to find in supermarkets than they used to be and they freeze really well but you could leave them out, particularly if using red or green curry paste as these – and some yellow ones – already contain lots. Stick in a squeeze of lime too if you have one but its not a straight substitute as lime leaves have a quite unique flavour).
This recipe uses Thai yellow curry paste, which just so happens to be my favourite of the Thai traffic light collection of pastes. I prefer its less overpowering, aromatic, almost more Indian curry flavour to the red and green varieties when cooking fish or chicken but you can use whichever you have/prefer. Obviously, if you are one those people who make your own thai curry paste this will taste even better (I am not one of these people) but I wouldn’t specifically make a batch up for this as you don’t use that much. If you do go with red or green paste, I probably wouldn’t bother rubbing the chicken with curry powder first as I think this was originally included deliberately to blend with the turmericy yellow paste – just season it really well with salt and pepper instead.
I make this with one deboned chicken leg per person as the meat stays really succulent when grilled – it is a trick from a Nigel Slater book (Eatm, I think) whereby you (or your butcher) cuts/hacks the bones out of the leg, leaving you with a roughly rectangular piece of skin-on chicken. My butcher looks at me like I am slightly deranged when I ask for this, BUT NIGEL SAID SO I shriek at him (in my mind). This way you get the really good brown meat from the drumstick as well as the thigh and it cooks brilliant under the grill/on a griddle and is easier to slice up. Of course, one or two boneless chicken thighs per person would work very well too, depending on how much meat you want to eat. You really must leave the skin on for cooking (even if you do take it off afterwards as I do and feed it to your
dog husband) as it keeps the meat tender.
For 2 you will need:
- 2 chicken legs, deboned but skin on (or 3 chicken thighs, deboned)
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 2 heaped tbsp Thai yellow curry paste
- 200g coconut milk (half or full fat, the choice is yours)
- 200ml chicken stock
- 2 tbsp peanut butter (I use the wholenut unsweetened stuff)
- 1 tbsp palm or brown sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 4 lime leaves
- 120g cooked brown rice (brown basmati is my usual but short grain sticky brown would be great here if you can get some)
- 1/2 cucumber, deseeded and cut into sticks
- 4 spring onions, sliced into matchstick
- handful sugar snaps, cooked very briefly in boiling water, then refreshed under cold water.
- handful (ready to eat) bean sprouts
- 1.5 tbsp unsalted peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped
- handful of coriander and/or mint and/or basil (ideally, thai basil if you can get it), any big leaves roughly chopped
- neutral cooking oil (e.g. grapeseed, groundnut)
- salt & pepper
- Rub the curry powder (if using), a good pinch of sea salt and a little oil all over the chicken and set aside while you chop everything else and make the sauce. Preheat the grill to high (unless you want to cook chicken on griddle pan instead).
- Heat 1tbsp of oil in a frying pan, add the curry paste and fry over a moderate heat for two minutes until aromatic. Pour in the coconut milk and chicken stock and then add the peanut butter, sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the sauce has reduced down a bit. It’s really a question of how thin/thick you like your sauce.
- Cook for chicken under the hot grill, skin side up until the skin is crisp and then flip to cook through the underside (this will take 4-5 minutes if you’re using the flattened out leg, longer if you are using chicken thighs. Cook until the juices run clear). Alternatively, you can heat a griddle pan over a high heat, sear the chicken skin side down and then reduce heat to medium and cook for a few minutes each side (4-5 for thighs).
- Let the chicken rest on a plate for a few minutes, then pour any juices from the chicken into the sauce and slice the chicken into thick slices.
- Divide the rice between bowls, top with the chicken, sauce, spring onions, herbs, cucumber, beansprouts and sugar snaps.
Kitchen Song of the Day: Gold Dust Woman – Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)