Housewarming Cooking: Towering Above

Apologies for the respite. I'm back, and did enough cooking last Friday for our housewarming party to feed a small army. Too bad we only invited half an army. But in all seriousness, the food was fun to make and share, but all the friends and family that showed up really made it special, no matter the food. Over the next few entries, I'll take my time and try to carefully explain the culinary festivities. I won't post the pictures until the end though, so that I can proceed topically as opposed to geographically without giving anything away.

Part 1: Chicken Skewer Tower

I'm engaged to a vegetarian. I don't cook meat all that often. So when I do, I like to make it count. I made three meat dishes for our party, and in their own ways, all brought something festive and special to the event.

This chicken skewer tower was my pride and joy, my own star of the show. I decided early on I wanted to make skewers and then remembered the idea for “towering” them that I had once seen at a Middle Eastern restaurant. My strategy was to build them up vertically in the round by crosshatching the ends of the skewers in the center of my big round serving platter. It was visually pretty stunning and added some much needed height to my display that was able to really draw the guests in.

The chicken itself was a play on a classic wing flavor. To make 40 generous skewers (5+ chunks per skewer) I knifed my way through over 4 pounds of boneless chicken breasts and 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs (for some dark meat). I tried to make neat pieces that were very much bite sized. I marinated all of the pieces overnight in the fridge in a single bowl, as I wanted the dark meat interspersed with the white.

The marinade itself was simple and I did it on the fly. I used one bottle of onion chili sauce that I bought at the Crystal City farmer's market after sampling it and being quite impressed. It had a subtle “wing” vibe to it but had a very deep flavor that was delicious. I added to this, one Corona beer, the juice of a lemon, a splash of red wine vinegar, a dollop of Dijon mustard and generous pinches of salt and pepper. After mixing the marinade well through all of the chicken, it was completely covering the chicken in my large bowl. I covered with plastic wrap and placed it at the bottom of the fridge overnight.

The next afternoon I soaked my bamboo skewers in cold water for an hour and then carefully removed the marinating chicken from the chill and began carefully threading pieces of chicken onto each skewer so that the pieces were all touching, but left room on the ends of each one. I laid the skewers out on some baking sheets and, two sheets at a time, broiled the skewers for 6 minutes on each side, carefully turning the skewers. The chicken was perfectly cooked after 12 minutes but also incredibly tender and moist. I tried a chunk to see how the marinade did and was floored. It was perfect: a little tangy, a little spicy, full of flavor, and SO MOIST. I couldn't stop eating and ate a full skewer right then and there!

I covered the skewers with foil to keep them warm and let them rest. Then, the hour before the party (along with some of the other hot food I made earlier in the day) I put the skewers back in a 250 degree oven for ten minutes or so, to get the temperature back up. When done, I carefully arranged the skewers on the platter to create my special tower of skewers. It was definitely MY favorite dish, though the fan favorite dish will be coming tomorrow with all the rest. For me, the skewers towered above all else, so I'm selfishly putting them first.

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