Peanuts and spice and everything's nice in chicken dish


January 12, 1994|By ROB KASPER

The other night my wife and I arrived home from work late, tired and beaten. The kids were hungry, tussling with each other and demanding help with homework. It was a chicken-in-peanut-sauce night.

Chicken in peanut sauce is one of our fallback meals. It is not "quick and easy," as so many dishes claim to be. It requires some effort and a fair amount of organization. But it has a big payoff, it tastes good.

The first time you make it, it will take an experienced cook about an hour. But once you know what you are doing and have your ingredients ready to go, you can have supper on the table in 30 minutes.

Moreover, when you are finished cooking, you have something people want to eat. Our two kids like this dish, in part because its essential ingredient, chunks of chicken, closely resembles one of their favorite fast-foods, chicken nuggets.

My wife and I are fond of the dish because it has some zing. The peanut sauce also has cilantro, garlic, sesame oil, cayenne pepper, and my old favorite, cream. Before the chicken is cooked, it is rolled in a spicy Creole seasoning mixture. The recipe comes from Emeril Lagasse, a New Orleans chef and restaurant owner. I have mentioned his cookbook, "Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking" (William Morrow, $23), before, and I will probably mention it again. The book has good eats.

Cooking with this book, however, requires buying into the chef's system of seasoning. This means the first time we made made one of his dishes, we had to take the extra time to mix up a jar of dry seasonings. We did this on a weekend, when the pace of life slowed down, at least in the hours before supper. Once we made the seasoning we kept it in an airtight jar, and now whip it out to add some pizazz to weeknight meals.

Lagasse says the chicken dish hails from Indonesia. The Creole seasoning probably was added when the dish got to New Orleans. That is what happens with good recipes, they get tinkered with. For instance, the way my wife fixes this dish for leisurely weekend meals differs from the way she and I hurriedly made it the other weeknight for supper. On weekends, she follows the recipe exactly, using homemade chicken stock, and cooking the seasoned chicken bits on wooden skewers. But on weeknights when speed was more important than style, we used canned stock and let the chicken bits roam freely in the sizzlingly skillet. At the end of the meal, nary a piece of chicken or a peanut was left standing.

Creole seasoning

Makes 2/3 cup

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano

1 tablespoon dried leaf thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in airtight jar.

Chicken in peanut sauce

Serves 4

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1 to 2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 turns of freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound boned chicken breasts cut into 1/4 inch slices

8 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

8 skewers

In medium saucepan over high heat, combine stock, cream, peanuts, peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, cilantro, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Bring to boil, then simmer for 3 minutes.

Skewer chicken, 6 to 8 pieces per skewer. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning over each skewer, using hands to coat meat.

Heat a large, lightly oiled or non-stick skillet over high heat and sear the chicken until brown, for about 1 1/2 minutes on each of 4 sides, for a total of 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

To serve, spoon about 1/3 cup of sauce on each plate, arrange 2 skewers on top of sauce, and sprinkle with green onions.

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