Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for April, and it brings together 150 easy, affordable recipes from restaurants' "family meals"—what the staff eats before they serve you. Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt promises this cookbook brings "pizzazz and new pleasures."
Food carts all over New York City feature chicken or lamb seasoned with a Middle Eastern spice mix, seared on a griddle, and then stuffed into warm pitas or served over rice. Because the carts often stay open for business well past midnight, it was probably inevitable that a cook, inspired by his late-night snack, would create a similar version for family meal. The key is to use a heavy cast-iron skillet over high heat—and to give the pieces of chicken some breathing room, because if they’re crowded, they’ll steam instead of browning.
Just like its street-corner predecessor, this chicken is short on looks but long on flavor. Some of the pieces of chicken will char, some will brown. Then mix them with lime juice, salt, and sugar and let them sit briefly, and the spices will combine with the juices to form a delicious seasoning. Serve like the original, in warm pitas or over rice.
For the spice paste
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1½ teaspoons onion powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut lengthwise into thirds
- ¹?³ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
TO MAKE THE SPICE PASTE: In a large bowl, combine all the spices, the tomato paste, and olive oil, mixing well with a rubber spatula.
Add the chicken pieces to the spice paste and stir well to coat. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Mix the lime juice with the salt and sugar in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
TO COOK THE CHICKEN: In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the chicken, loosening and turning the pieces as they brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to the lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Once all the chicken is cooked, let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the lime juice mingles with the spice coating to make a sauce.
Remove the chicken from the lime juice mixture and serve.