quinoa "arancini" with sneaky-whiskey chicken

So, quinoa is kind of a weird word, right?  To start, it’s pronounced “keen-whaaaaa”. It sounds silly, like “vegan” or “smelt”.  Have you ever noticed it sounds almost, well, dirty?

Nope, I never did either.  Get your mind out of the gutter, geez!  My Grandmareads this blog.  God.

Anyway- moving on to more saintly thoughts…  the other night I spent a good twenty minutes just staring into my pantry like it held the answers to all of life’s questions.  I had no idea what to make.  Until I spied a box of red quinoa in the corner and my mind began turning…

See, ever since Spain I haven’t been able to get croquetas out of my mind.  The Big Man and I ate our way through the country while we were there, and nearly every day we had the fried béchamel treats croquetas, sometimes with Manchego cheese, sometimes shot through with jamon or poached chicken.  I could easily eat about fifty in a sitting and walk away from the table with zero guilt.  That box of quinoa led me for whatever reason to thoughts of croquetas, which naturally led to thinking about other starchy fried balls (I see you all nodding your heads, thinking, “yes, naturally that’s where your mind goes, of course.”  Also, please re: minds out of the gutter, thanks.)   I thought of things like potato croquettes and arancini- the Italian dish of day old risotto tossed in breadcrumbs and fried crispy.  This, naturally, after all that staring into the cupboard until my eyes wanted to fall out, led to Quinoa “Arancini” with Whiskey-Poached Chicken.  And unlike boring old plain quinoa, that just sounds like a good Saturday night.  Can I get an Amen?

The Big Man won’t be thrilled when he realizes that the first time I tested this recipe I did in fact use one of the “special” whiskies that he got as a gift to poach with (Ha!  Geddit?  I poached his whiskey so I could poach chicken!?  Oh, never mind).  I asked for permission the next time around and just used the end of a bottle of plain Dewars, but being as I woke this morning to find half the container of arancinis devoured I think I’ll have his forgiveness for originally using the nice stuff.  Call it research.

Even if you don’t have whiskey to poach the chicken with, any kind of good spirit will do, since it’s only a base to the total poaching liquid.  A good craft beer or a tannin-y red wine would work just as well.   What matters is getting a malty, fermented undertone to the chicken before it’s diced and rolled up with the quinoa.  Stick to a light coating for the fry, and something cool and refreshing to dip them in (I love to combine Greek yogurt with some fresh lemon juice) and you’re good to go.  Just make sure you say your prayers before digging in.

(print this recipe!)

Quinoa “Arancini” with Whiskey-Poached Chicken

Makes about ten to twelve 2-inch balls

When rolling the balls it’s very important to have wet hands and warm mixture, or the balls will fall apart when they are rolled in the breadcrumbs.  Grab the mixture and form into a round patty, then shape into a ball- this packs it together a bit more before the frying.  If the mixture starts to cool, heat it in small batches in the microwave.

4-5 pounds bone-in chicken parts (thighs and breasts, or a whole chicken cut up)

1 cup raw quinoa

1 medium to large sweet onion, minced

4 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying

1/3 cup whiskey

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup liquid whey (tap water is perfectly fine as a substitution)

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

in three separate bowls:

1/3 cup white all-purpose flour

2-3 large eggs, whisked

1/3 cup fine ground breadcrumbs


Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium to high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken, skin side down first, and brown on all sides.  Bring the heat to low and set the chicken aside.  Deglaze the pan with the whiskey, scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan as you go.  Add the onion and cook until soft.  Add the chicken, salt, chicken stock and whey/water.  Cover and poach chicken about fifteen minutes, or until the juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the pan, reserving 2 cups of the poaching liquid with the onion.  If there isn’t enough for two cups, add water until you get the sufficient amount.  Set the chicken out on a baking sheet or plates, leaving room between the pieces so it can cool a bit.  Combine the reserved liquid and onion with the quinoa in a saucepot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, about 15 minutes, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones.  Dice the meat and combine with the quinoa in a large bowl.

Heat the remaining oil, 1/2 a cup, in a non-stick pan until shimmering.  Roll the quinoa and chicken mixture into balls (see headnote) and roll in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.  Fry in the oil until crispy and brown on all sides and then place on a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Optional: mix the juice of one lemon and about 1/2 cup of Greek Yogurt for a nice dip on the side.

xo omeletta


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