Japanese Ginger and Garlic Chicken With Smashed Cucumber From 'A Change of Appetite'


[Photograph: Laura Edwards]

This recipe, from Diana Henry's new cookbook, A Change of Appetite, is not for the faint of heart. You have to really like ginger to be into it. And not mind grating said ginger for a really long time. A garlicky, slightly sweet marinade with a whopping two-thirds of a cup of the spicy stuff does not leave the chicken thighs wanting for any flavor, I'll tell you that much. Wowzers. To be honest, I had to scrape the layer of marinade off the cooked chicken to take the intensity down a bit. But the heat and the multiple layers of savory tastes are on point, and the meat is just delicious.

The cold, salty cucumbers provide a nice counterpoint, though these, too, I found somewhat too aggressively seasoned. The treatment of the cukes was not something I've seen before, and involved whacking them with a rolling pin (maybe aggression is a theme in this recipe?), massaging the shards with salt and garlic, and draining them of liquid after a short chill in the fridge. The salt is obviously there to draw out some of the moisture, but it was a bit much. All told, however, I enjoyed eating the completed plate of food, including the suggested brown rice, especially with all the elements in one bite.

Why I picked this recipe: Henry was inspired by the food and flavors of Japan for many of the recipes in the book, and I wanted to see how she blended her audacious sensibilities with the subtleties of Japanese cooking.

What worked: Though this is a terrifically healthy meal, Henry's flavors are so vibrant and bold, you definitely don't leave the table feeling like you're on some dreary diet.

What didn't: I didn't love bites full of the ginger-heavy marinade, and those salty cucumbers needed toning down.

Suggested tweaks: I would try the cucumbers with 1 teaspoon of salt instead of 2, if you're using fine sea salt. You could also reduce the amount of ginger in the marinade, or just scrape it off the meat before it hits the plate if it's too strong for you—the residual flavor is tremendous. And as to that ginger, if you don't mind the grating, go for it. Otherwise, steal a trick from the wise Madhur Jaffrey, and throw it in a food processor or blender with a few tablespoons of water. I won't tell. (By the way, the required 2/3 cup of peeled and finely grated ginger works out to be almost exactly 1 pound of skin-on, whole pieces of ginger root. Nice to know when you're shopping!)

As always, we have 5 copies of A Change of Appetite to give away this week.

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