Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Chess Players... and The Chicken. Spring Forward Version

 My husband loves chess. he loves to read about it, talk about it, study it but most of all he loves to play. Growing up in New York he played at the Manhattan Chess Club. When we lived in Los Angeles he was a member of the Santa Monica Chess Club and played there regularly. Since moving full time to Sonoma a few years ago he hasn't had anyone to play chess with so he was delighted when Andy the owner of our local book store Readers Books said that he played chess.
A date was set immediately.  After a bit of negotiation as to where the game would be played, (Andy's store versus our house) it was decided that ours would be the quieter venue. Always looking for a chance to test a recipe on someone, I offered to make it a chess players' lunch.

   At the time I made this offer, I'd forgotten that this weekend was the weekend that we set the clocks forward and leapt into Daylight Savings. Not my favorite time of year. In other words I wound up going to bed last night at about 3 a.m. Normally I'm up at 7. The last thing I wanted to do at 7 a.m this morning was cook a big Indian lunch. I wanted to sleep.
  Fortunately the dish I was experimenting with suited my plans perfectly.
  I had planned to cook a whole spiced chicken marinated and wrapped in a banana leaf.

This turned out to be ideal, since the chicken had been marinated the afternoon before I realized that the time was about to change. All I had to do this afternoon was heat up the oven and gift wrap my bird. Add some rice, chapattis and a couple of veg sides and I was done. I had planned to try a new dessert (to me) that I'd gotten from my friend at  Niyas World, but while running around grocery shopping yesterday our car battery died and it threw me into a state of utter confusion. Dessert plans flew out the window. I figured I'd have to try the new dessert another time. For now I'd throw some boxed, store-bought cookies at the chess players. That would be good enough for them.
   Cooking things in banana leaves is a very old technique, it protects and gently steams the food and adds a nice flavor and aroma to whatever one is cooking.
  The first time I went looking for banana leaves I was shocked at the price. Online one place wanted about 15 bucks for one pack and that didn't include postage. A quick search of my local Hispanic market showed me that  I could get the same package there for $1.50 in the frozen  section.
  Simply put,  I love dishes that I can assemble the day ahead with minimal effort and then just shove into the oven on cooking day. This is especially appreciated when stuff like car batteries happen and everything goes kabluey!
   So here is how to do this simple and delicious  
         Banana Wrapped Chicken.
    Start off with 1 Chicken ideally from 4.6 lbs to 5 pounds.
     Preparing the Chicken
   Rinse the chicken and dry it well then poke it all over so that the marinade can get through to the meat.
Rub the chicken with :
  3 Tbs of Lemon juice
  1 tsp of salt
             Making the Marinade
1.) In a heavy frying pan or skillet heat 1 Tbs vegetable oil
   When it's hot, toss in:
2.) 2 onions peeled and roughly chopped
  Stir them around and fry them until the onions start to brown. Then add in:
3.) 4 garlic cloves or shallots crushed
4.) 1 and 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled and chopped
   Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so then add in:
5.) 3 Tbs of ground almonds
6.) 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili or (1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 1/4 tsp paprika)
7.)  1 tsp turmeric
8.) 2 tsp garam masala
   Cook for an additional minute, then let the onion spice mixture cool totally.
   When it's all cooled off, put the mixture into a blender or food processor along with
9.) 5 tsp of chopped fresh cilantro
  Turn it all into a smooth paste.
  Rub the paste all over the chicken both inside the cavity and outside, then cover the bird and tuck it in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  Once this is done you can forget about the chicken and deal with anything that might rear it's ugly head.  Stuff like busted batteries and cell phones that are dead because your husband has been taking pictures of you in reflective surfaces all afternoon practicing his "technique".
  Our friend Bruce Needleman owner of Salsa Trading Company and me the Head in the Bottle at his store
  Actually the thing that saved our butt was Foursquare, the new app on our iPhone . Because of this nifty little app I was able to see that our friend Chip happened to be shopping in the Sonoma Market  where our car was sitting dead in the parking lot. He also had a working iPhone because he had not been out taking pictures all afternoon running down the battery. He was able to help us out by calling AAA for a tow truck and then giving me a lift home so that Patsy could get out and attend to her "business". But, back to the chicken.
    Wrapping and Cooking
  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
    Soften the banana leaves by soaking them in hot water to limber them up, then dry them off.
    Tie the legs of the chicken together  then wrap the fowl in green leafiness. If you don't have or can't get banana leaves, you can use foil to wrap the bird.
    Place the wrapped chicken in a roasting pan, place the pan in the oven for 1 and 1/2 hours.
After 1 and 1/2 hours take out the bird and open up its' little banana leaf gown.
 Put the bird back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so till it's nice and well browned.
   I served this chicken to my players with a nice raita, curried eggplant and potatoes, mustard seed rice, a jar of my apricot chutney, chapattis and a Gujarati carrot salad.
 The guys played chess for a couple of hours. Alan drew the first game and then won the second game. I withdrew to our office leaving them with a pot of chai and some "store-bought" cookies.
  So the Sonoma Traveling Chess club is established, next stop I'm informed is Andys' house and they'll be playing Go. Go figure.


  1. First of all I want to say that your husband has so much patience! After I lose the queen I quit! So I am a poor sport in Chess so kuddo's to Alan to have such a genious hobby! I love this recipe with the banana leaf, this must be so juicy and delicious. Absolutely a wonderful recipe. Use to have tons of banana trees at my other home. Now I know what to do with them next time!~

  2. This chicken looks heavenly! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Gosh Kathy! How authentic can you get?!!! This post could put many Indian food bloggers to shame. What with the banana leaf and to top it all a clip from "Shatranj ki Khiladi"!!! Cool! Have you seen the movie?

  4. @Shirley,
    I'm looking forward to hopefully getting to India early next year and really learning a lot, and yes I have seen the Chess Players. Excellent film. I've been trying to see Devi by Satyajit Ray but it's hard to find around here.

  5. Can I come over for dinner?! This is beautiful. I can only imagine what that sweet, delicate, banana leaf flavor must have done for your wonderfully marinated chicken. Yummm...great post : )

  6. That is amazing. The aroma must be so addictive! can i be your neighbour?

  7. Wow, the banana-leaf-wrapped chicken is wonderful! Have you tried colocasia leaves for wrapping? Those also taste awesome! I will come back to be your follower soon (right now, your follower list is not visible). You have a great blog and terrific content! I am inspired...

  8. @purabi naha,
    the folowers box is visible on Safari browser



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