Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sauteed chicken with wilted spinach and kumquat sauce

Another particularly great recipe from the blogosphere! A few days ago I made a recipe from chef-blogger Mark Tafoya. Chicken breasts are sauteed, then a pan sauce is made with kumquats, shallots, and sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. Kumquats, of course, are the miniature citrus fruits that you can eat whole (squeeze them a bit first, to get some juice into the tart rind) -- they're just sliced thin for this recipe. My version of the recipe is here.

A few comments on the recipe and the techniques...

I've been getting these organic free-range chicken breasts from the neighborhood Greek butcher. They're good, but they're insanely huge. Like, the size of turkey breasts. Pan-sauteeing them is a problem, since they overcook on the outside before the middle is done. I asked Mark Tafoya about pounding them flatter, and he recommended doing that. I've never pounded chicken breasts before, since most of them (except these organic ones!) are thin enough already, but I'll try it next time I saute chicken breasts.

Speaking of sauteeing, I used a particularly good technique from Mark Bittman that I think works better than the usual "4-5 minutes per side" approach. The problem with just sauteeing chicken breasts is that they tend to dry out. Bittman suggests to first sear them and then steam them. So, with a heavy saute pan with a lid, heat a tablespoon oil to pretty high heat, almost to the smoking point. Put salt and pepper on the chicken breasts, then put them in the pan, skin-side down. Cook on high for two minutes, until they start to brown, then cover the pan tightly and lower the heat to medium-low. The meat stays juicy, but is nicely browned on top.

(I may try a "scientific" experiment some day, trying various combinations of oversized vs normal chicken breasts, pounding vs. not pounding, and sauteeing vs. searing + steaming... You'll be the first to know the results, dear readers.)

One little thing is the step where the sugar starts to carmelize. I didn't scatter the sugar evenly, and there were some clumps that didn't even really melt. Since sugar looses its sweetness as it carmelizes, my version stayed sweeter than it should have been. Oops. You can do better than I can! Spread that sugar thinly so it melts and carmelizes evenly!

And lastly, I served the chicken with brown rice cooked as Deborah Madison suggests -- steamed with a bit of dried thyme, a bit of minced shallot, and a bit of butter. Adds a little richness to brown rice. And if you pack the rice into a half-cup measuring cup with a spoon, then invert it onto a plate, and put the spinach, chicken, and sauce next to it, it even looks like you went to cooking school... (Sorry, no pictures... I really ought to get a decent digital camera one of these days...)

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