Cooking has been fairly perfunctory these days. I’ve lacked that that little kick, that jolt of inspiration I usually get when I see something new – a recipe, an article, a video – that makes me want to roll up my sleeves and get to it. This means that my stovetop has seen a a lot of greens and beans on rotation (roma beans with kale, lima beans with rapini, black eyed peas with spinach…you get the idea), in other words, a mix-and-match troupe of dishes so simple that you could make them even if you’d been lobotomized; I can stand there, mouth-breathing over a pan of frying shallots and beans, letting my mind drift off to wherever it may go, and have a (more or less) wholesome dinner ready within 4 and half minutes. To make it a little more well-rounded, I’ll maybe add a wedge of toast and some canned tuna. But not always.
These are not necessarily the most satisfying of meals – creatively, spiritually, aesthetically – but hey, they do the job.
It’s easy to fall into a cooking funk when your overall motivation feels floppy, sluggish, unharnessed. It usually starts when you catch yourself buying the identical set of groceries week in and week out, then replicating the same meals from the week before (hellooooo roast chicken #578). Greens and beans aside, my fall-back funk foods – aside from the usual bag of tortilla chips and full-fat yogurt (in which to dip them) – include the aforementioned chicken and some type of white fish, usually cod or halibut, which usually gets tossed into the oven with a layer of seasoned breadcrumbs I keep in the freezer, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Now, roast chicken and panko-crusted cod are great back-pocket dishes. They truly are. But after you’ve had them day in and day out, without so much as a flourish to distinguish them, they start to feel a tad repetitive. So, a little while ago, I gave myself a nudge to break the pattern. In allegiance to the funk (Woah. James Brown, can you hear me?), I still bought a whole chicken and filet of cod. But this time I wanted – no, needed – to make them look, feel and taste like something outside the repertoire I’d started to cling to. I needed something that was more vibrant than softened pinto beans, lost in a tangle of wilted arugula; more jazzy than a plain, roasted chicken.
I’m happy to report that I found two recipes to lift me out of my cooking slump – the first being a fragrant, anise-clementine chicken recipe from Ottolenghi that is sticky, jammy, crispy and sweet, with a subtle tinge of liquorice flavour from the Pernod; the second being a dish of lemon-scented cod, studded with olives and poached in white wine, then topped with fresh parsley. Both are handsome and delicious and, while definitely an upgrade from beans and greens, they too could be made post-lobotomy if you had to. All you need to do is stick everything in a pan, anoint it with booze* and toss it in the oven. Thankfully, it figures out the rest on its own.
(*it might go without saying, but one of the perks of cooking with booze is that here is usually a little leftover as a “job-well-done” libation for the cook. You might want to bookmark that thought.)
Pernod-Clementine Chicken – adapted from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
- 5 Tbsp Pernod (or Arak, or Ouzo)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange (or clementine) juice
- 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp grainy mustard
- 3 Tbsp light brown sugar or honey
- 1 tsp sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks)
- 4 clementines (washed but unpeeled) sliced thin
- a few sprigs of thyme
- 3 medium onions (and/or fennel bulbs) cut lengthwise and then into quarters
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Pernod, oil, orange and lemon juices, mustard, brown sugar and salt. Season with pepper, to taste.
2) Place chicken skin side up in large roasting pan with clementine slices, thyme sprigs, onion pieces (and/or fennel wedges) and fennel seeds. Pour sauce over top and gently toss everything together with your hands. (alternately, you can prep in advance and marinate: place chicken with clementine slices, thyme sprigs, onion/fennel wedges, and fennel seeds in a large mixing bowl or ziplock bag. Turn several times to coat. Marinate chicken for several hours or overnight.)
3) Preheat oven to 475°F. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 400ºF and continue roasting until the skin is brown and crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove pan from the oven.
4) Transfer chicken and clementines and onion pieces with juices to a serving platter. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Pairs well with a crisp salad and a knob of bread to soak up the juices.
Slow-Baked Cod with Lemon, Olives and White Wine – adapted from Real Simple
- 2 lb cod fillets (or halibut)
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup Kalamata olives
- zest from 1 lemon, cut into strips
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper, to season
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Heat oven to 400° F.
Place the fish in a small roasting pan. Add the wine – it should reach about halfway up the sides of the fish. Scatter the olives and lemon zest around the fish. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Roast until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the parsley. Divide the fish among individual plates and spoon the olives and wine sauce over the top.