Coconut-Braised Chicken and Rice with Collard Greens
I take inspiration from cuisines that use lots of spices and herbs; after all, deep, bold, worldly flavors are the new comfort food. At first glance, this one-pot dinner recipe may seem like just another humble oven-to-table casserole—crispy chicken resting upon a bed of tender rice and hearty greens. But this recipe is all about employing techniques that build complexity in a dish. It’s the perfect combination of simplicity and bold flavor that captivates your senses as you’re cooking.
It all starts with a simple paste of serrano chiles, ginger, and garlic made in a mortar and pestle. Though you may be tempted to get out your food processor, don’t. The act of pounding and grinding the aromatic ingredients against the mortar reveals a depth far beyond that of a blade’s pulverizing motion. They’re bruised and mashed, unleashing the essence of their flavors.
One of the takeaway techniques I learned in culinary school is the importance of toasting spices. I was taught to roll the whole seeds around in a dry pan over a low flame until they’ve perfumed the room and taken on a darker tinge. But I’ve since realized there are other ways to do it, too. Here the spices are toasted in the hot coconut oil and chicken drippings, along with the other aromatic ingredients.
It’s always a good idea to finish a dish by repeating the same flavors and textures in a different way; in this case, with sliced chiles and crispy coconut flakes. It adds complexity and also freshness in contrast to the chile paste and coconut milk that were cooked in the pot. And as always, a pile of fresh herbs enlivens it all.
My go-to wine for heavily spiced dishes is a dry sparkling Vouvray. Chenin blanc—the grape of the Vouvray region—is one of the more fascinating white wines to begin to explore if you’re unfamiliar. Its nutty, fruity quality proves a worthy partner to toasted spices and richly flavored foods, and the bubbles work to cleanse a coconut-coated palate. With this dish, I’m particularly fond of François Pinon’s Vouvray Brut Non Dosé. It’s the perfect partner to transform your one-pot-wonder into a surprisingly special supper.