The Best Meal I Never Did Cook
The back door was propped open, but the wind just didn't want to push through the screen and offer relief on this warmer-than-average day in mid-June. Wait, hold that thought. It wasn't warm, it was hot and downright sticky like high noon in August, a classic summer day in D.C., and my jangled nerves only contributed to the sweat trickling down the small of my back.
There was a man coming for dinner, and I liked him. Shucks, just a few days earlier, I gave him a piece of my fried chicken, so I knew I wasn't imagining this thing I was feeling. But girl, it was all wrong. The boxes in the front part of the house, stacked on top of one another to the ceiling and waiting for their overseas shipping labels, told a different story. I was about to leave the country. And get married.
He wasn't exactly walking on solid ground, either, separated from his wife, wounded, cynical and considering the emotional salvation of a big-screen television and leather couch in a nondescript high-rise studio.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Let's just chalk it up to a harmless flirtation, a nice life-is-wonderful passing interlude and be on our way, shall we?
But I pressed on, and there were bananas and mangoes to prep, and the time was ticking much more quickly than I expected. Did I have time for a quick rinse in the shower? I poured a rum and tossed it back quickly.
He would be here in 20 minutes. I scanned my mise en place, and everything was indeed in place. (Well, everything in the kitchen.)
The sky began to darken, a sign that Mother Nature would soon offer some relief from the sultry heat, and then I heard the knock on the door.
There he was, looking as nervous and excited as I felt, and I pecked him on the cheek, leading him into the kitchen where I fixed him a drink, a Mount Gay and tonic with lime.
The sky began to rumble, and there was some nervous banter about the impending storm as he found a seat on the stool next to my work table. He asked about the ingredients lined up in their various prep bowls, and I obliged, giving him an overview of the dish I was about to prepare, but omitting the part about how it was kind of a test, to gauge his reaction not only to my cooking, but to the food of my heart. He had passed the fried chicken test, and now it was time for the mango, one of my top three all-time favorite foods (and, in my opinon, the secret to world peace). It would be a sultry melange of flavors, an island kind of thing, with bananas, rum, the heat of chiles and of course, the mango. If he didn't get this dish, I thought, he might not last, and then of course, I'd have my escape hatch and my steeple of boxes destined for the other side of the world and my so-called new life.
We slurped on our drinks, looking at each other tentatively,sizing the other up, and I remember ice clinking, and the wind picking up gusto, finally making its way indoors. I think I leaned in and kissed him first, but he'd probably argue it was the other way around.
Thunder and lightning ensued, literally and interbody-galatically. The mango-banana chicken would just have to wait. It would become one of the finest meals I never did cook.
And mango-banana chicken guy? Well, I decided he could stick around. And I decided to stick around, too.
Share your tales of romantic cooked (and uncooked) feasts in the comments below. The famous yet-to-be cooked chicken recipe follows, below the jump. One last thing: Happy Valentine's Day.
Indies-Style Chicken With Mango, Bananas, Coffee Beans and Rum
From "Chicken" by Elaine Corn
1 large, ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic - about 3-4 cloves
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
2 whole (attached, heart-shaped) boneless chicken breasts, skin on (alternatively, 4 unattached breast halves)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cinnamon stick
1teaspoon dark-roast coffee beans (9 or 10)
2 tablespoons dark or light molasses or brown sugar
1/3 cup rum
1/2 cup Kahlua or other coffee flavored liqueur (KOD note: I found this be optional; don't sweat it if you don't have any on hand or don't feel like spending the money)
fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, combine tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno and bananas. Set aside.
Peel, pet and dice the mango and place in another bowl.
Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels.
In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, salt, allspice and both peppers. Dredge chicken in seasoned flour, shaking off excess.
Melt butter in a large heavy ovenproof sautÃ© pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down and sautÃ©, turning once, until well browned, 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove and reserve on a plate.
Add tomato-banana mixture, cinnamon stick and coffee beans to the pan and cook over medium heat about five minutes. Stir in molasses or sugar.
Increase heat to high, add rum and ignite with a match. When flame dies out, add mango, return chicken to the pan and spoon sauce over the pieces. Cover, transfer to the oven and bake until cooked through, 10-15 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a cutting board to catch juices. Return juices to sautÃ© pan and bring remaining juices up to a boil for about 30 seconds to thicken.
Add the Kahlua and stir. Remove sauce from the heat; it should be thick and bananas will be broken up.
Slice chicken on diagonal and top with sauce. Serve with rice. Makes four servings.
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