Freestyling

Sunday evening, Alex and I had a cooking date. Upon our arrival at Bi-Rite, we had only the most loosely formulated plan about what, exactly, we’d cook. A. suggested farro with chickpeas, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice, to be served alongside Moroccan-spiced chicken, which sounded totally enjoyable to me.

When I’m hungry, I have difficulty navigating even the shittiest Safeway without accumulating impulse items as I go; by extension, empty-stomach browsing at Bi-Rite is the purest torture because everything smells so good and is so delicately arranged. I managed not to get too many non-necessary items, though I did, at the last minute, snag a packet of Brazilian Honey Cakes (Kika’s Treats). Alex was more on task, gathering lemons and currants, garlic bulbs and canned garbanzos, and a bunch of rainbow chard the size of my torso.

As we placed our order for chicken thighs, the butcher asked what we were making.

“Moroccan-spiced chicken,” Alex said. “With farro.”

“How are you preparing it?” the butcher furthered.

We met this question with silence; the plan, to this point, had been to bake the chicken and make a farro-chickpea-salad-sidedish-thing, but the butcher had a better idea: sear the chicken in a heavy pot, deglaze the pan with broth, cook the farro in said broth, and reintroduce the chicken as the farro cooked. Bittman corroborates this preparation method, and we were sold on this impromptu one-pot meal.

It’s difficult for me to recount the preparation process because that process was helter-skelter. I spent an ungodly amount of time trying to clean the thighs and, finding that the fat was just too dispersed to effectively be removed, started chopping mint. (I used a different cutting board and knife, OBVS.) Alex created a spice blend (feat. cumin, salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron, among other things), then seared the chicken, and then steeped currants in a glass of hot water to rinse them of sand. We were everywhere all at once, taking pauses only to sip wine, flip the record, or snack on Marcona almonds. Madness!

I apologize, then, that this “recipe” is so vague, but to replicate this meal, trust your gut and your seasoning preferences. You won’t be let down.

Freestyle Moroccan Chicken & Farro Stew (serves…many)

Ingredients

  • One pound chicken thighs, cleaned and rinsed, bones removed
  • One bag of farro (see? The imprecision starts here. We got a smallish bag of farro and used the whole thing, but depending on how much grain you want, you could use half a bag or a quarter of a bag…)
  • Special Spice Blend: cumin, salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, saffron, cardamom, some very finely chopped mint, + whatever else you find complementary
  • Fresh mint, finely chopped
  • Approximately 1/2 cup thin-sliced almonds (toasted, if you like)
  • Approximately 1.25 loosely packed cups of shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • Approximately 2/3 cup currants, cleaned and drained
  • One yellow onion, roughly chopped and caramelized
  • Olive oil (doi)
  • Chicken or vegetable broth (again, the necessary amount depends on your preferences — it’s all about YOU!)
  • Fresh lemon juice (approximately 1.5 lemons’ worth)

Method

  1. First, prepare your spice blend. Taste your blend as you go, making sure it’s balanced and to your liking. Once you’ve created a satisfactory mixture, transfer spices to a pie pan or shallow bowl and coat your chicken thighs with the spices.
  2. Pour olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot; heat oil; sear chicken thighs. Once thighs are seared, remove them from pot and set aside.
  3. Now, start your farro. Add stock to the pot in which you’ve just cooked your chicken. Scrape the caramelized fat from the pot’s bottom, integrating it into the liquid. Add the farro, making sure that the grains are fully covered with liquid. Let the farro simmer for a while before adding back your chicken thighs.
  4. After some time — ten minutes? (hard to say) — add your other ingredients. Sprinkle in a goodly amount of mint and stir it in. Add your mushrooms, your almonds, your currants, your garbanzo beans, and your pre-caramelized onions. Squeeze in lemon juice. Again, let the stew simmer.
  5. Taste as you go! This applies to most (all?) recipes, but is especially critical here. Early in the cooking process, Alex and I thought this dish was going to be BLAND CITY; had we not tasted as we worked, we maybe would have overspiced it and gotten cranky. (I’ll speak for myself only: I would have gotten cranky.) The point is this: taste, taste, taste, and add more of what’s lacking.
  6. The stew is done when the farro hits its target texture. What is the target texture? Well, how do you like your farro? If you like it crunchy — or you just can’t wait to eat — your stew will have a substantially shorter cooking time. Serve with additional lemon juice and salt (if needed).

And that’s it. Looking back, this was a fairly simple dinner; it didn’t seem so at the time because we were inventing the recipe as we went, but it seems to me now that this dish would be easily replicable (on a weeknight, even! Or rather, on a weeknight during which you’re OK with busting out your mortar & pestle). I know the picture I’ve included doesn’t speak to the stew’s glory,* but don’t allow my photographic laziness prevent you from trying this dish: no! Farro ain’t pretty — and, for that matter, neither are chicken thighs — but it’s nutritious and sustaining. That, and it makes for rad leftovers: triple win.

***

*Though I’m fond of this picture and its vague architectural qualities.

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