CHICKEN WITH FIGS AND GRAPES

There's quite a trend in large chicken breasts these days. The breasts I used were about 10-12 ounces each. As long as they're not pumped full of hormones or antibiotics, I'm down with the size. So ask around. Try to get organic and free-range chicken. And if at all possible, avoid the pre-packaged pieces. Ideally, have them butchered right before your eyes. If the breasts are smaller than 9 ounces, you should check them for doneness after about 20 minutes instead of 25.

The fruit shrivels up a bit from the high heat and absorbs the chicken fat and sweet balsamic garlic anchovy marinade. As my friend Margi says: you can't go wrong when you mix carnage and fruit. If the fruit isn't as soft and jammy as you like, scoop it into a separate dish, paint it with a bit of goop from the bottom of the pan, and throw it back in the very hot oven for a few minutes while the chicken rests.


If you can't find figs, just use red seedless grapes. Or dried fruit like figs or apricots. Even prunes would be delicious (à la Chicken Marbella). If you use dried fruit, soak it first for an hour or so in warm orange juice, wine, or chicken stock. 


ingredients:
4 large chicken breasts, skin on/bone in
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
a few turns of black pepper 
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
1 tablespoon balsamic reduction*
2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
3 cups figs and/or red seedless grapes (or prunes, apricots, peaches, dried figs or apricots)
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1/3-1/2 cups chicken stock

directions:
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place chicken in a baking dish or cast iron pan (use a pan if you plan to make a sauce). Generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.


With a mortar and pestle, bash the garlic and anchovies until you have a smooth paste (this takes a few minutes, so be patient). Whisk  in balsamic, red wine, olive oil, brown sugar. Pour 3/4 of the marinade over the chicken. Use your hands or a pastry brush to coat every bit of the chicken. Turn skin up in the dish or pan.


If you're using figs, stem and halve them. Pick through your grapes. If you're using apricots or prunes, make sure they're pitted. Place whatever fruit you're using in a bowl. Toss the fruit with the remaining 1/3 of the marinade. Tuck the fruit in, around, and under the chicken. Crush the thyme sprigs in your hands and tuck them in as well. Place chicken into the preheated oven. After about 15 minutes, baste the chicken with a few splashes of chicken stock. If the pan is dry or the drippings are burning, use a bit more stock to loosen things up. I find that after about 22 minutes, the juices start to flow out of the chicken and the fruit. And by minute 25 the skin is a deep dark caramel color. At this point, remove the dish or pan from the oven. You have many options. You can set it on the counter and move on with your day. You can take the internal temperature and make sure it has reached a number you're comfortable with (at least 160°F for me). You can cut into the deepest part of the largest breast and take a peek. If it's still a bit raw, then throw it back in the oven. If it's just the tiniest bit pink and the juices are running clear, you're golden. 


If your oven doesn't deliver the beautiful color, don't fret. Just place it under the broiler until desired color is reached.


You can eat this right out of the pan as is. Or save it to expand into a bunch of future meals. Here are some ideas:


1. SORT OF A FANCY DINNERChicken With Mashed Potatoes. While the chicken is cooking, make some mashed potatoes. Scoop out the cooked chicken and fruit and place on a warm serving plate (leaving any juices behind). Cover with tin foil. Crank the heat under the chicken pan, add a finely diced shallot, and use a spatula to scrape up the goodies. Add 1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Reduce by half. Turn off the heat and taste. Adjust seasoning. Pour sauce over the warm chicken and fruit.  Serve immediately with the mashed potatoes and a garnish of chopped parsley. 


2. WHEN YOU HAVE 30 UNINTERRUPTED MINUTES TO SPARE (HA!) AT THE STOVE: Lemon Risotto with Chicken and Herbs. Take out two of the breasts and carefully cut the meat off the bone and then into cubes (the skin can be a bit invasive in a delicate risotto, so you might want to give it to the dog or your son or throw it right in your mouth). Make a classic risotto recipe. When you're adding your cheese at the end, stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, one more splash of warm chicken stock, and the cubed chicken. Cover for five minutes. Uncover and stir. Serve with additional parmesan. 

3. SIMPLE DINNER: Rice and Chicken Bowl: Toss cubed chicken (with the skin on this time) and cooked fruit into a pot of cooked brown or white rice. Garnish with chopped scallions. 

4. EASIEST DINNER EVERCheese Pizza with Chicken and Figs. Add cubed chicken (no skin) and cooked figs (don't use the grapes for this one) to a frozen cheese pizza. Follow baking instructions. Drizzle with balsamic reduction* and olive oil before serving. 

5. SOLO LUNCHRoasted Fruit and Goat Cheese Tartines. Scoop out the fruit (eat the chicken another time), top it with crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, broil until hot and nicely browned, press down onto grilled bread rubbed with garlic. 

6. QUICK HEALTHFUL PASTAPasta with Chicken, Sage, and Peas. Brown some butter, toss in a few leaves of chopped sage, turn off heat, and stir in cubed chicken (no skin, no fruit) and frozen peas (or massaged kale). Toss with cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water. Serve with olive oil and parmesan cheese. 

7. SANDWICH:  Chicken Breast, Bacon, Arugula, Avocado, and Garlic Confit Sandwich. Cook a few slices bacon to desired crispiness. Grill two slices of gooey sourdough bread. Spread one slice with mayonnaise and the other with garlic confit. Toss a handful of arugula with anchovy garlic vinaigrette. Layer the sandwich with sliced chicken breast (skin on this time), bacon, avocado slices, and dressed arugula. I highly advise eating this with sea salt and vinegar potato potato chips. For extra crunch and excitement, you might even want to tuck a few potato chips into the sandwich.

*I make balsamic reduction by boiling down inexpensive balsamic vinegar (usually, a 17-ounce bottle yields about 3/4 cup. Just store as you would any vinegar).


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