Japan Eats

Recipe: Tangy Pantry Chicken

Kupa Hokianga prepares a delicious Valentines dish

I recently took the opportunity to clean out my kitchen pantry. The TV was on in the background, tuned to a Discovery Channel show about waste reduction and simple low-budget eco ideas. The discarded pantry items were on the table waiting to be disposed of, but after listening to the TV program, I began to feel a little guilty. Surely I could do something with this food.

I want to share just one of the recipes I made that day: a B-class gourmet chicken breast glazed in rosemary, marmalade, and chilli-infused honey; a perfect Valentine’s meal for two.

Unsure what to do with that leftover marmalade or honey? Combine with chilli to make a glaze.

You will love it. It’s a simple, inexpensive recipe using basic ingredients you may find in the fridge at home, takes only minutes to prepare, and looks and tastes fantastic.

Chicken is an inexpensive meat in Japan. I generally find it’s great value and, when prepared well, versatile, moist, and tasty. In my pantry, I found a jar of honey that had crystallized, cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, and several almost empty jars of  jam and marmalade.

Here’s my really simple recipe for Tangy Pantry Chicken

The good thing is that any ingredient can be substituted with whatever your have. The objective is to get a sweet glaze syrup.
Chilli and honey balance really well and I actually use them in yogurt desserts; rosemary and honey also pair perfectly with chicken, but sage or thyme would also do.

I used three chicken breasts, but any chicken cut will be fine.

Check your cupboards for:

  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of marmalade (or any sweet fruit jam or cranberry sauce)
  • 1 dry or fresh chilli
  • 1 lemon or any citrus fruit
  • Fresh rosemary or a woody herb
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (if you have it)
  • Seasoning and olive oil or vegetable oil

(Quantities may vary depending on the viscosity of your ingredients.)

Preparing the chicken:

  • After removing the retail wrapping, it’s best to reduce the moisture from the meat. I usually do this by placing the cuts, lightly salted, on a draining rack and leave them in the fridge for 2 – 3 hours, but if you’re in a hurry, just dab them with a paper towel.
  • Place the chicken in a large bowl, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and drizzle on a little oil. Grab the fresh rosemary and massage the chicken using your hands. Allow it to rest while you prepare the oven and glaze.

Next preheat your oven and roasting dish to 190°C (about 375°F). A heavy-based pan works best.

The Glaze:

  • In a small pot on a low heat, spoon in the honey, fine chop the chilli and infuse the honey with it. (You could also use any citrus zest.) Heat and stir for 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Next, spoon in the marmalade or jam and continue to heat the mixture for one or two minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat before it begins to boil or caramelize. You just want a free-flowing combined mixture.

Warning: Do not be tempted to put your fingers into the honey mixture. It will burn you.

  • Drain any blood or moisture that the chicken has released from the bowl, then pour about 70% of the hot glaze mixture over your chicken. Using a spoon or tongs, toss your chicken so the glaze covers all the surfaces. Allow it to sit for a few minutes.
  • When the oven is hot, drop in your glazed chicken – skin side up – and set a timer for ten minutes. After ten minutes, use a spoon or a pastry brush to coat or baste the chicken with the pan juices. Repeat every five minutes until the meat juices run clear.
  • Finally, reheat the remaining honey glaze in the small pot and stir in a table spoon of brown sugar (or soy sauce), reducing it so it becomes a thick syrup. Take the roasting dish from the oven and remove any watery pan juices so only the cooked chicken is left. Coat the chicken with the honey and brown sugar glaze and roast it for 2 – 3 minutes or until the surface caramelizes.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven, cover it, and rest it on a pre-warmed plate for five minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little zest, then serve it hot, drizzled with pan jus, or wrap it and have it cold in a fresh mint and pineapple salad the next day.

A jam and honey glaze can be made up in advance and kept for weeks in your fridge. Enjoy it on sliced grilled ham, pork chops, or grilled sausages, even on char-grilled slices of fruit such as nashi, apples, pineapples, or peaches – the possibilities are endless.

Review: Bar Vita, Fukuoka

Our man in Fukuoka, Kupa Hokianga, visits Bar Vita in Nakasu.

In Nakasu, just ten minutes’ walk toward the canal from the Tenjin Business Center, is the chic Italian restaurant Bar Vita, presented by ORTO cafe. My good friend Mat suggested we have lunch there, as Bar Vita is one of only a few non-smoking restaurants in Tenjin.

We arrived just after 12 p.m., greeted by the clatter of plates and the hum of conversation from a relaxed lunchtime crowd. You could tell most were regulars and the staff gestured to the free seating with one hand while holding a stack of white plates and utensils in the other.

An exposed ceiling and dark wood veneer tables dominate the decor. Even on a overcast winter’s day, loads of natural light comes in through the floor to ceiling windows at the front entrance and along one side. A generously proportioned bar with seating runs the length of the exterior window with more tables located in the center floor space. The design really appealed to me and, in fact, Bar Vita would not be out of place on Sydney’s Circular Quay waterfront.

The blackboard lunch menu changes regularly. On the day of our visit we could choose from a choice of spaghetti, pasta, curry, or spaghetti bolognese  for 900 yen. Included in that price was an unlimited selection of fresh breads, salad, soup, and beverages at the service bar in the center of the floor.

I ordered the spaghetti and we found a seat at the bar looking out onto the street. Reading from some printed information, it explained that the bread and sauces are prepared daily at their off site kitchen and bakery in Kego – using only premium ingredients – and delivered to the restaurant each morning. The pasta, along with any additional requests, is cooked to order in the restaurant kitchen. I counted ten different breads available at the salad bar, warmed and replenished by an attentive staff. There were at least six dressings and vinaigrettes to go with the two garden salads. There were several other foods to choose from, including a consomme soup with croutons. This was certainly a step above your average salad bar.

The spaghetti order arrived. My main criticism being that, with the attention to detail everywhere else, I would have liked to have seen a greater attempt to serve the spaghetti al dente and a little hotter. It was not a taste stand-out. My personal preference is for a rustic earthiness in Italian food, but for a city clientele at lunch, loads of garlic at this time of the day may not be wise.

Mat and I spent two hours catching up on gossip with regular trips back to the salad bar for fresh bread, mini pizza slices, and freshly brewed Illy coffee.

I will certainly be going back to Bar Vita and can recommend it to anyone visiting Fukuoka. Overall a 7.5/10: service was wonderful, food presentation faultless, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients, and it was, at 900 yen, fantastic value. The selection of breads and the coffee were my highlights. If they just got a bit more adventurous with the sauce it would have sealed the deal for me.

The serving counter has baskets containing loaves of fresh bread for purchase.

Bar Vita is located on 1F 5.6.25 Hakata-ku, Nakasu. Its open for lunch and dinner, and is non-smoking at lunch time only. Bar Vita is licensed. www.bar-vita.com

Cafe Review: Artisan Coffee, Fukuoka

Kupa Hokianga reviews Artisan Coffee in Fukuoka

Recently, a friend of mine took one of his colleagues to a cafe I recommended for its excellent macchiato.
The coffee arrived at their table, the ham-handed colleague managed to spill his before tasting it. My friend offered to order another, but the guest responded, “Ah, doesn’t matter; I’m more a Starbucks kind of guy.”

My heart sunk when told. I’m not sure what the moral is here, something about a horse and water.

Artisan's Rocket espresso machine in action (Photo: Neil Witkin)

My wife’s friend recommended I try Artisan Coffee, a 12-seat, slightly bohemian cafe in Hirao (Fukuoka). It’s off my normal route, but the sample of their beans I received suggested it was worth a visit.

Takamiya-dori is a busy road in a prosperous residential part of town. When we arrived, the small cafe, which could be described in a 1980 Vogue magazine as “shabby chic”, was empty of customers. I ordered an espresso and my wife selected a caramel latte.

While making polite conversation with friends, I watched the barista out of the corner of my eye as he calibrated the grinder setting one notch to the right before a quick test into the palm of his hand, then fresh ground a dose of dark roasted beans before effortlessly swiping the port-a-filler level; a gentle tamp and tap and a few seconds later the extraction had started. My demitasse arrived with a perfectly proportioned warmed spoon on the side.

The espresso was near faultless – the crema maintained structure, the temperature was perfect, and the caramel sweetness from the bean came through with just a hint of bitterness. The macchiato I ordered next was excellent and is now my coffee of choice.

I cannot comment on my wife’s afternoon caramel latte as that drink at that time of day goes against everything I believe in. I took her word for it when she said it tasted fantastic and the rabbit face latte art was kawaii.

Artisan Coffee is a must-do, mainly because they consistently get the coffee basics right and to a high standard and the starchy Japanese cafe culture is tossed out the window.

The barista critique and my coffee snobbery aside, if you just want nice coffee and don’t mind mismatched decor, grab your favorite magazine, turn off your phone and enjoy this small indulgence. You will not be disappointed. The cappuccinos are creamy, the macchiato is full-bodied and the barista is working on his flat white.

Food selection is limited, so don’t arrive hungry, but there’s a relaxed, informal ambiance and outdoor smoking tables. Coffee prices start at 380 yen, which is exceptional value. Surprisingly seating always seems to be available. Their primary bean is Fidalgo Bay (organic shade grown), the espresso machine is a single-head Rocket.

This article has been edited. The original version misspelled Fidalgo. This has now been corrected.

Artisan Coffee is located on Takamiya dori. If accessing from Hirao station, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk on the right as you head towards Yakuin station. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., six days a week. No website.