It’s New Year’s Eve Day, I’m in Miami, Florida where I have traveled with my pets for a little 45-day snowbirding experience (and possibly the subconscious desire to travel to the source and unravel some deep seeded and complicated emotions I have been carrying for far too long). It’s currently 80 degrees and I’m in my swimsuit outside by the pool near the beach with my pets. I have a sweet little menu prepared for a dinner tonight and was just lollygagging a bit when I got a text asking me for the recipe for that cold weather chicken congee I made during the recent artic chill. You remember, the congee recipe that I had labeled one of my best dishes. The one I was supposed to have posted the recipe for already, the one I keep getting asked for. Here you go. I’ll warn you, my congee recipe is a little different. But what do I know, I had never made congee before. But different is who I am and what I do and staying authentic to who I am is a constant goal, New Year or not.
I make really good moles, and I don’t think it’s because of my connection to Latin America. Despite the fact that I learned a lot of my flavors in my travels there starting even before I traveled there at 10 years old. I think it’s because, as a cook, I embody what a mole really is: a melting pot of ideas and concepts that continuously evolves. It has no real recipe, no real beginning, and no real ending. I cook, like a mole is. My first mole was a Cherry & Duck Mole for a special Taco Party event at my old cooking school in Brooklyn. From there I went on to create such masterpieces as my Passion Fruit Pork Mole, which came to be while I lived in Ecuador where passion fruit practically dropped from the sky. That recipe is also where I came to use carrots as a source of natural sweetness and a thickening agent (moles generally use a myriad of ingredients as thickeners). I even make mole cocktails and once made a recipe for a Cherry Mole Manhattan. The mole-making process delivers immense pleasure for me and reminds me of the importance of openness in cooking. It reminds me that even in what most consider traditional and culturally specific there is diversity.
As you are probably aware, brining helps create a more succulent meat. I am a big fan of the dry brine when it comes to cooking a turkey or even a chicken. The dry brine is easier and less messy than wet, and it delivers moist meat and a crispy and flavorful skin, which I happen to be a fan of. Adding herbs and spices to a dry brine (salt) adds flavor, texture, and a joie de vivre by creating an aromatic and flavorful experience customized to your palate. The salt on the skin draws moisture from the turkey and then comingles with the herbs, spices and salt and gets re-absorbed back into the turkey, creating flavorful, succulent and juicy meat. The salt and air dries out the skin which allows it to become extra crispy when roasted, and the herbs and spices add extra flavor as they cook and get embedded into the chicken skin by means of chicken fat. If you are lucky enough to get a jar of my Chipotle Cranberry Mezcal Herbal Brine in time for Thanksgiving, you will need to know how to use it. And if you didn’t get one (which is likely because I made limited quantities this fall), you can still make one using the same formula.