Let me be clear. I love French food. Especially French food in France. I spent ten days literally eating nothing but croissant, baguette, cheese and chocolate and it was awesome. But also highly addictive. It has been a week since Mark and I came home from our dream honeymoon (roll your eyes if you wish, but it was wonderful and we enjoyed every moment of it) and my body is still craving butter and carbs on an hourly basis. For example: I’ve gone back to my greek yogurt breakfast regimen and every morning on the way to work my stomach seems to say, “What is this nonsense? You are planning on stopping for a croissant, right?”
But I digress. The point here is that, yes, I could easily spend another ten days – or ten years – eating Parisian food. But at the same time, after ten days of butter being the staple of my diet, I started to miss other flavors. Particularly big, obnoxious, in-your-face flavors.
And so in planning a menu for our first week back, I looked for something totally different. A recipe that was the opposite of what we had been eating and that would allow me to get back into the groove of trying new meals (in the weeks leading up to the wedding, we really started to rely on our go-to recipes to make life easier).
And so, while up early on Saturday morning – fighting off jetlag that told me it was well past sleeping time – I flipped through an old copy of Bon Appetit and found this: Pan-Roasted Chicken with Harissa Chickpeas.
Harissa, as Bon Appetit informed me, is “a spicy North African red chile paste.” Spicy. There was a word I had not heard in France. Done.
Plus, there was the added bonus that this was categorized as a “quick weeknight meal,” ensuring that my first trip back into new recipes wouldn’t be a marathon kitchen session.
The first part of the recipe was simple. Working in two batches, I browned the chicken thighs in the skillet. My usual chicken default choice is boneless, skinless breasts, so working with fatty, crispy skin was kinda fun. I did not have to worry about drying it out quickly, as I usually do.
With the chicken browned and sitting on the side, I sauteed the onion and garlic in some of the remaining chicken fat. The next step was to add the chickpeas, chicken broth and harissa. Bon Appetit had a clear warning at the top of the recipe, “Harrissa is a great shortcut ingredient to flavor, but no two jars (or tubes) are the same. Taste first – if it seems very spicy, use a bit less.”
I took the advice and put a small dollop on my finger. WHOA. A tiny dash on my tongue burned. And the recipe called for… a quarter cup???? They were suggesting I use a “bit” less. I started thinking a reduction of more than a bit was in order. I knew that the other ingredients would cool it down a bit, but not by much.
I started with an eighth of a cup mixed into the other ingredients and it still tasted pretty hot, so I doubled the chicken broth from a half cup to a whole cup (it was looking really dry anyway) and that helped. I crossed my fingers that the harrissa would calm down a bit more in the oven. Then I added the browned chicken back into the skillet and stuck the whole thing into the oven (have I said how much I love, love, love my new ovenproof skillets?).
Twenty-five minutes later, dinner was served. I plated the food, and Mark poured the wine. It was a French red. Let’s just say the croissant habit was easier to kick than the wine with dinner habit. (and the dessert habit… I see much baking in my future)
Well, it certainly looked pretty. The vibrant red of the harrissa with the green of the parsley made it look Bon Appetit ready. And it wasn’t French, so there was that. But what about the taste?
Mark and I were mixed on this one. I felt that while spicy, it wasn’t too bad. Mark felt it was a little spicier than it should be. In Mark’s defense, the primary taste of the entire meal was ‘hot,’ which wasn’t ideal. Both of us were afraid of what it would have tasted like if I had stayed true to the recipe. Either way, we agreed it was a good foray back into the wilds of non-French food and swift kick out of our butter addiction…sort of.
By the end of the meal we were both feeling a little nostalgic and wishing dinner had come with a basket of baguettes. Clearly we’re not done with Paris just yet.