Beans & rice (and chicken with cilantro gremolata) on the fly

9-9-09-GremolataBeansRiceCRBy The Hack

The Hack, in his life of action and adventure, has discovered a few truths. One that might not be considered integral to planetary function, but nonetheless true, is this: If one is reasonably literate, one can read a recipe, assemble ingredients, and produce something edible. No culinary school, hours watching Food Network, or reading a fancy pants glossy food magazine required.

And those that enjoy the experience and repeat it become reasonably skilled and efficient, and can impress friends and family. Which leads into another of the Hack’s truths (his brain, supposedly, can hold four): Part of becoming an effective home cook is using what’s on hand. This requires at least two things: A pantry stocked with a somewhat broad array of essentials (if one has attempted some ambitious cooking from recipes, one should have that), and a willingness to fail. The Hack has both items, the latter in spades (a character trait well-developed from many other failures).

One of the Hack’s favorite simple pleasures is beans and rice in all its global formulations. But he’s particularly interested in Cuban and Puerto Rican influences. Perusing The New York Times Web site a while back, he found this story with these two recipes, which sent his eager stomach to hearty rumble mode. But, to the original point of using what’s in the pantry: Take a close gander at the ingredient list.

For the chicken, the Hack had no chicken legs, but he did have leftover rotisserie chicken. Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, olive oil, cumin, garlic: check, check, check, check, check. Two limes? No, but he did have some lemon juice in the fridge. Cilantro? Check—by the truckload in the garden.

The beans part: he had an onion, the olive oil, the garlic, red bell pepper, cumin, coriander, orange juice, salt and pepper. Beans? No red kidney beans. But a one can (15.5 ounces) of white ones (cannelloni in some circles) and he wasn’t looking to make a ton anyway. He had some precooked bacon he keeps around for various uses, and a jar of reserved bacon fat (a must!) in the freezer.

So, the Hack had everything he needed for the beans. Really! He chopped the recipe into 1/3 (since he only had the one can) and rolled, eyeballing it, rather than getting all in a tizzy with measuring implements. For two, it would be plenty of grub.

The Hack’s method: Cook the onion and all the other stuff in the reserved bacon fat, then add the cooked bacon. Don’t have pineapple juice? Who cares. The juices are for a bit of sweetness and acidity. It’ll be a little less sweet with only OJ, but it turns out just fine. If you need more moisture in the mix, add more OJ instead of water to amp the flavor. You won’t miss the pineapple.

For the chicken leftovers, the Hack sautéed them in a pan with a bit of oil to crisp up the skin. Then he made the gremolata pretty much to how it’s listed, sans the fresh squeezed lime juice. That’s where the litlle jug of real lemon juice came in.

With all due respect to nutball foodies out there, busy folks like the Hack often keep a one of those little jugs of store-bought lemon or lime juice in the fridge, rather than a few limes or lemons that he might not get to for a while. It works, and the Hack thinks all those folks feeling guilty about their little jug of juice when their crazed foodie friends come over to the house and stick their nose in the fridge should just stop feeling that way. Acidity and citrus-y zest is what’s wanted here, jug lemon juice is just fine when that’s all you’ve got. Dinner was a hit, the Hack was a hero to his significant other for at least five minutes.

The Hack thinks it’s a wonderful sauce to drizzle over chicken, which brought forth an idea from his soggy brain: It would be just dandy with this, no? (For the record, the Hack reports, yes, it is.)

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