Improvisational Cooking—Elliott’s Spicy Mango Chicken

Photo of chicken in a crockpot

by Lynn S. Schwebach (with Elliott M. Schwebach)

Creative cooking combines spices, veggies, fruits and meats into delectable edibles in a way that hasn’t been done before, in a way that makes people swoon—because they haven’t tasted anything like it, ever.

This type of cooking leaves cookbooks on the shelf. My 23-year-old son, Elliott, is a creative cook. He sets taste buds sizzling.

Elliott cooks almost every day, never follows a recipe, and comes up with savory dishes that, in my opinion, deserve recognition. I stand with a pad of paper and try to quickly capture his process. He tosses spices together as a poet combines words and phrases. I often have to go on a scavenger hunt to a few different grocery stores to find his magic ingredients. It’s worth it.

Perhaps because he is also a jazz musician and used to improvising, he uses a part of his brain that lends itself to riffing with food.  Creativity experts study jazz musicians and their improvisational skills. Researchers state that flexibility in jazz—or any creative endeavor—is key. You must be willing to go out on a limb, to try new and different approaches. Of course, musicians base their flexibility on repeated practice and years of performing. Elliott cooks all the time, always building on past recipes—successful or not. He brings his improvisational brain into the kitchen.

As I prepared one of his crockpot chicken recipes this morning, I actually started improvising myself. I based my changes on the many ways I learned to cook chicken over the years. I am less judgmental when I improvise because I haven’t “failed” at a recipe.

Here is Elliott’s recent chicken dish. Amounts are not exact because Elliott will say “a bit of marjoram or enough juice to cover the chicken.” This leaves many creative decisions in your hands. But try it. Creative cooking is well worth your time, and in the end, you will not only be helping your stomach, but your brain as well.

Mango Crockpot Chicken

This recipe is ideal for the crockpot, but you could also cook this on the stovetop, slowly. 

Use any type of chicken pieces. I used 4 chicken wings, 4 chicken legs and 1 large chicken breast, which will feed about four. It depends on how many people you are feeding.

As for quantities of ingredients, Elliott doesn’t measure and so I didn’t measure either. I guessed at the quantity to give you some idea. Use your instinct and imagination.

In a bowl, mix together:

Minced shallot (I used about one large shallot.)

Garlic (I used a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic, which equals about four or five or six garlic cloves.)

Thai Red Peppers or other hot peppers (I cut up two hot red peppers, but we like our food spicy. You could add less or not add at all.)

Soy Sauce (I used a splatter, which probably equates to about four tablespoons.)

Vinegar (I used about 1/3 of a cup of Red Wine Vinegar, but Elliott said you can use any flavored vinegar. Use what you prefer.)

Orange Juice (I used about 1/2 cup.) Sesame Oil. (I used about 1/3 cup.)

Mango Juice (I used Lakewood Organic 2.0 Cold Pressed Nectar, Not from Concentrate. Out of a 32 ounce bottle, I used about 3/4 of the bottle. If you have more chicken, use more.)

Cumin (I used a pinch.)

Brown Mustard Seed (I used about two large pinches. I like this spice, so I was generous.)

Coriander Seed (I used just a dash.)

Marjoram. (I used a dash.)

One Bay Leaf

Ground Bhut Jolokia—Ghost Pepper (Small small dash. CAUTION: This is one of the hottest peppers in the world. You can find it whole or buy it ground in a specialty spice shop. Elliott likes his food much hotter, so he would use more of this. I cannot tolerate too much of this spice as it is HOT. You can make this dish without this spice!)Picture of Ghost Pepper Spice by Savory

Salt and Black Pepper (Elliott doesn’t use salt or black pepper but I added just a dash of each.)

Separately, chop one whole onion into medium-sized pieces and lay at bottom of crockpot. I used a white onion.

Place in Crockpot

Put the chicken pieces into the crockpot over the chopped onion and pour over the mixture. I improvised and first browned the chicken pieces in a wok. I used a mixture of Olive and Sesame Oils. I didn’t cook the pieces long, only long enough to get the skin slightly brown. If you are watching calories and/or fat content, you don’t need to brown the chicken. Cook on slow for 8 to 10 hours.

I serve this dish with its delicious mango/spicey gravy over white rice. Pair it with a salad, and you have a complete, creative meal at the end of the work day—or for a Saturday night dinner with friends.

Let me know if you add/subtract/riff on any ingredients and what you discover you like the best!!!

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