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!)
- For the Chicken
- 3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
- 3 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon brown miso
- 2/3 cup peeled and finely grated ginger
- 4 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon togarashi seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 8 good-size skinless, bone-in chicken thighs, or other bone-in chicken pieces
- For the Cucumber
- 1 1/2 cucumbers
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons pink pickled ginger, very finely shredded
- Small handful of shiso leaves, if available, or mint leaves, torn (optional)
Mix everything for the chicken (except the chicken itself) to make a marinade. Pierce the chicken on the fleshy sides with a knife, put the pieces into a shallow dish and pour the marinade over. Massage it in well, turning the pieces over. Cover and put in the fridge for 30–60 minutes.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°F. Take the pieces out of the marinade and put them in a shallow ovenproof dish in which they can sit snugly in a single layer. Pour over half the marinade. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, basting every so often with the juices and leftover marinade (don’t add any leftover marinade after 20 minutes, it needs to cook properly as it has had raw chicken in it). Check for doneness: the juices that run out of the chicken when you pierce the flesh with a knife should be clear and not at all pink.
When the chicken is halfway through cooking, peel and halve the cucumber and scoop out the seeds. Set on a board and bang the pieces gently with a pestle or rolling pin. This should break them up a little. Now break them into chunks with your hands.
Crush the garlic with a pinch of the salt and massage this—and the rest of the salt—into the cucumber. Put in a small plastic bag, squeeze out the air and put in the fridge for 10 minutes. When you’re ready to eat, tip the cucumber into a sieve so the juices can drain away. Add the shredded ginger. You can add shiso leaves if you can find them (I can’t, I have no Japanese shop nearby). Nothing else really tastes like it, but I sometimes add mint. Serve the chicken with brown rice or rice vermicelli (the rice vermicelli is good served cold) and the cucumber.