April 22, 2024


Built General Tough

This Is My All-Time Favorite Chicken Recipe

On my last trip to the Bay Area, I landed at SFO and went right to La Guerrera’s Kitchen in Oakland, their famous tamales on my brain. But by the time I arrived, just after noon on a Sunday, they had sold out. Lucky for me, chef Ofelia Barajas and her daughter Reyna Maldonado were both working behind the counter of the airy, open kitchen, and they recommended I try the chicken mole instead. It was just cool enough on the patio that by the time I settled into a picnic table with my paper plate of chicken, draped in a velvety red sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, I was grateful for the accompanying stack of fresh tortillas, made with fresh-ground masa. One swipe of the mole sauce, smoky and warming, shook off my jet lag. Later, Barajas shared that the mole was her grandmother Jovita Vargas’ recipe from her restaurant in Guerrero, Mexico. Vargas, fiercely protective of her mole, never wrote the recipe down, making it only from taste and memory. Barajas spent years cooking by her grandmother’s side and mastered the dish the same way. With Maldonado’s help translating, Barajas shared the recipe for the first time, along with some advice: As you fry the individual ingredients, smell and taste them, including the chiles, to create a connection with each—and to learn how to build the layered, complex flavors that make a great mole. —Mary-Frances Heck

AT NARI IN SAN FRANCISCO, most of chef Pim Techamuanvivit’s menu is delicately presented, inviting a polite approach. And then there’s the gaeng rawaeng, a whole Cornish game hen submerged in a deeply savory golden curry redolent with spices. When the bird arrives, flanked by impossibly flaky roti for sopping, you’ve got to be all in, tearing the juicy meat from the bone and swiping the bread through the rich and spicy sauce, table manners be damned. Techamuanvivit told me that Thai food should be fiery but not burn you, and this dish demonstrates what she means: A mix of green Thai chiles, serranos, and jalapeños yields just the right balance of heat. It is so delicious that if you make it at home to share, be warned: You’ll be fighting for that last drop of curry sauce. —Andrea Nguyen

LAST JUNE, after spending three months quarantining with family in Chicago, I returned to New York to pack up my apartment. Before doing anything else, I ditched my suitcase in my studio and walked over to Vic’s, an Italian restaurant in NoHo, to pick up a post-plane lunch. I had been craving chef Hillary Sterling’s roast chicken since the last time I had eaten it, in February 2020; I ended up having it twice during the two days I was in NYC. Part of what makes Sterling’s chicken so good is that it comes on a bed of what I affectionately call “goop:” a mix of charred broccoli, onions, and fingerling potatoes, fiery from the chiles and fresh from the basil, with a sour kick of red wine vinegar. The chicken itself is juicy and spicy, a combination Sterling achieves by brining the bird and then applying a marinade of sharp mustard and roasted garlic. As I ate the chicken alone in my boxed-up apartment, I was flooded with memories of nights spent with friends at my go-to spot, where I’d celebrated birthdays and lamented over breakups, always with a roast chicken in the middle of the table. —Nina Friend

MY GO-TO TAKEOUT FOOD is the kung pao chicken from Birds of a Feather in Brooklyn. It’s a well-rounded dish, with a heavy dose of spice that’s balanced with a bit of sweetness. There are tons of peanuts involved, and they play especially well with the vibrant Szechuan peppercorns and crunchy bits of garlic. I usually have leftovers because Birds of a Feather’s portions are quite generous, but that’s entirely fine by me because this chicken is a total chameleon; it works just as well on top of egg noodles as it does stuffed inside a crispy tortilla with a bit of rice and chile crisp. Anything I have in the fridge, chances are, this chicken works with it. Lastly, the sauce isn’t too overpowering and doesn’t feel sticky or syrupy, which really just clinches my whole love affair with this dish. Birds of a Feather’s chef, Ziqiang Lu, likes pouring any leftover sauce over steamed white rice and eating it just like that. When it comes to making the sauce at home, Lu recommends browning the dried chile peppers until well toasted. This helps tease out their aroma and leaves you with a warming mouthfeel that lingers. —Oset Babür

I DON’T OFTEN REPEAT RESTAURANTS—it’s a hazard of my job as a restaurant editor. I have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of stomach space. But Hardena in Philadelphia is one of my few exceptions. I stop in every time I’m in town if I can. It’s a charming family-run spot belonging to two sisters, Diana and Maylia Widjojo, and all of their food feels like a blanket for the soul. It makes you feel good, and it’s always what you want. I am particularly fond of the soto ayam, a soup made with shredded chicken, turmeric, vermicelli noodles, cabbage, and a hard-boiled egg. It’s the perfect one-bowl meal. I love Indonesian food because it’s at the crossroads of so many cuisines I love: Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian. I find the flavors in this dish to be nostalgic and comforting. Chicken in soups can be dry and over- cooked, but the chicken in this soto ayam is so tender. The hard-boiled egg is a nice touch, too—it always makes me laugh when there’s a chicken and an egg together in a dish. —Khushbu Shah