Here’s to High Hopes & Caramelized Ginger Chicken

Caramelized Ginger ChickenFirst I must make a confession — I made this chicken a while ago. It’s just now making an appearance because I couldn’t decide what to write about it. Honestly, I can still look at these pictures and be confused. I enjoyed eating it, but was it something I’d ever make again? Would I recommend it to someone? Would I recommend it to someone I like? Am I bitter at Food & Wine? I don’t know. I have never felt so torn about a recipe before.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Back in September, I flipped to this recipe for Caramelized Ginger Chicken in the most recent issue of Food & Wine and stopped in my tracks. The picture that accompanied the recipe looked perfect — tantalizingly drool-worthy, both sticky and succulent. I mean really, go to this link and ogle the picture up close. That chicken is so saucy that it practically looks lacquered.

But even though I couldn’t get the recipe out of my head, I managed to wait a month or so to let some other people try it out first. I’m a little obsessed with reading recipe reviews so if the “guinea pigs” discover a problem, I can make adjustments accordingly. The first review I found for this recipe was from Garrett of Noodle Therapy who had clearly been just as seduced by the picture as I had been.

What I read made me nervous. He reported that the flavor was good with a nice hint of fish sauce and the chicken was tender, but the final result looked nothing like the picture, even though he followed all of the directions. WTF? The picture was the best part!

But even with that knowledge, I couldn’t let it go. Finally in mid-December, deciding it still sounded too good to pass up, I bought some chicken legs and got to work.

And things started off well:

Caramelized Ginger Chicken Sauce

The sauce — lots of soy, honey, brown sugar and fish sauce

Minced ginger, garlic and chiles for caramelized ginger chicken

Plus minced ginger, garlic and chiles

But after that, things got a little weird — bake the thighs for 15 minutes and then remove the skin? Um, okay…not so appealing but still, I had faith.

Making Caramelized Ginger Chicken Sauce

Kind of creepy looking par-cooked chicken thighs about to be de-skinned

The directions then instruct you to “nestle the legs in the sauce in the casserole…simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, basting the chicken a few times, until cooked through; add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce gets too thick and dark.”

Right. Let’s just say the possibility of the sauce becoming “too thick and dark” was nonexistent — there was just way too much liquid. The legs were not getting sticky, they were just getting over-cooked. So I took out half of the sauce and put it in a separate pot to boil away. Once it was reduced, I used that to baste the chicken. It seemed to help and quite honestly, it’s the only way I can imagine even getting close to the glaze that the chicken in the magazine has.

Caramelized Ginger Chicken

Still not looking like the picture…

On the upside, if you didn’t know what it was supposed to look like, this dish manged to come out looking pretty damn good. And it was tasty. There was plenty of flavor, plus a good kick from the ginger and chiles and the sauce did get sticky so that each bite had bits of garlic and ginger clinging to it. In fact, it actually reminded me a bit of the fish sauce chicken wings from Pok Pok (the Portland “street food” Thai place that became so popular there is now a NY location).

Caramelized Ginger Chicken

Caramelized Ginger Chicken….the hard way

Close-Up Caramelized Ginger ChickenHowever, good flavor aside, I may be am still harboring some animosity over the experience. And even though it’s been a month since then, I still occasionally find myself searching for other reviews on this dish because I swear we’ve been duped. I feel like a newlywed whose mother-in-law gave her a recipe for a favorite dish but left out the key ingredient. I actually feel like Debra Barone which I find embarrassing (mainly because it shows how much crappy TV I’ve watched in my life).

Have you ever held onto lingering resentment over a recipe? I’d love to hear some stories to make me feel less crazy!

21 thoughts on “Here’s to High Hopes & Caramelized Ginger Chicken

  1. First off, they still look pretty good. But you’re certainly not the only one to be taken in by the F&W food porn bait and switch! Have you taken a look at this month’s succulent chicken cover shot, only to find out that they sneakily covered the chicken in what’s supposed to be one of two dipping sauces? I haven’t tried that recipe yet, but I sense frustration (and wiping my eye with chili/garlic fingers and going half blind) in my near future! Great post!!!

    • Yeah I saw that! I’m glad you get where I’m coming from! Often times, my food comes out pretty similar to the pics, and if it doesn’t I usually don’t care. But this time? This time I REALLY wanted what was in the picture. It was the chicken legs that dreams are made of. Thanks for commenting! You made me feel less nuts. =)

  2. It’s called food styling and some of it doesn’t even involve real food! You can’t believe much of what you see when it comes to pictures in magazines, whether they are of people of food! Good for you for trying it! Don’t be discouraged AT ALL about what it looks like. If you haven’t already, watch a documentary on food styling some day! It will change your mind about your food’s appearance.

    • Oh man, I know all about mashed potatoes made to look as if they are ice cream and usually I can let go of my preconceived idea of how a recipe should look. This one just looked SO good and I was SO excited about it, like really really dying to make it. And I really thought with enough tinkering, I could pull it off! I am arrogant that way…However, I will take your rec at watching a documentary on food styling because that sounds pretty fascinating. Thanks for reading and sympathizing!

    • That’s one of the parts of this recipe that perplexed me so much! Chicken skin basted in brown sugar, soy and fish sauce is so delicious. Why would you throw that away? I’m glad I’m not the only one confused by this!

  3. No, it’s not a “cheap” post (referencing a previous poster, scoldin) When you see something you want to duplicate, and you are experienced, like Jess is, and is just add up…you are wondering when something is amiss. Chicken skin in trash???

    • Thanks for appreciating my frustration and recognizing the most awful part of this whole saga — that I actually threw out the chicken skin! It could have been seared until dark brown and crispy, covered in soy sauce and garlic. *sigh* I’m pretty sure that is a sin in the kitchen. Next time I’ll know better!

  4. If anything I made looked anything like the picture on the recipe, I’d be shocked. That said, I hear what you say about being disappointed. The picture was WHY you made the recipe. Just the same, you went further than most in figuring out you should remove part of the sauce and boil it down. I say your dish looks derned delish:-) And the only difference between your photo? Lighting and camera tricks.

    • Thanks for the encouraging words. =) I tried to just appreciate that it wasn’t such a disaster that I had to throw it out, but the whole cooking experience was frustrating. One of those dishes where you struggle with following the directions or just going rogue!

  5. Making frostings scares the shit out of me. I read the recipes and honestly, most of them are sugary messes. I always have to have extra ingredients on hand so that I can tweak the recipe. I haven’t made a frosting recipe that hasn’t deviated from the original I found.

    At least the flavor was good on your chicken legs!!

      • You’re welcome 🙂

        Seriously they are! I make sure to only post recipes for frostings that I know are a sure hit!! Ooh really? I think I’m still acquiring a taste for buttercream. Oftentimes it’s way too sweet for me.

  6. Pingback: A Story of Redemption: Magazine Chicken Done Right | Attempts in Domesticity

  7. Pingback: Kitchen comebacks are almost as easy as renaming a cheese | Attempts in Domesticity

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