This post marks the first of hopefully many weeknight recipes. Until now, I’ve cheatingly left the cooking for the weekends, which tend to be slower as far as work goes. But Luke and I just spent a wonderfully long weekend together in Petoskey, MI, celebrating our one-year anniversary. And while there was definitely a lot of food involved, absolutely none of it was cooked by me.
But boy did we eat. Let me brag just a little about the fine culinary offerings of Petoskey. First, there was the pizza at Papa Lou’s, which made its way into my personal pizza hall of fame with basil olive oil, grilled chicken, caramelized onion, bacon and so much cheese, my lactose-intolerant self had to pop double dairy pills. It was wonderful. Especially the part where they accidentally made us a large instead of a small. Then there were the buttery sandwiches and homemade bread at City Park Grill, a restaurant once frequented by the great Ernest Hemingway. Oh, and the slab of fudge from Killwins, literally dripping with caramel. And the humongous, technicolor, hippie made rice krispy treat made with cocoa puffs, fruit loops and golden grahams.
But the best of all came from the bed and breakfast we stayed in. I had Chicken Hemingway, which was covered in Michigan sour cherry sauce and truffled mushrooms, propped on creamy garlic mashed, and Luke had chicken marsala to melt for. All washed down with fabulous falltinis, a.k.a. liquid Christmas, made special by the owner, and finished with hazelnut crème Brule with caramelized sugar, scorched right at the table. Let me tell you, it was all deliciously worth casting our diets to the wayside for romance’s sake.
But it wasn’t all so glorious. Ironically, we drove home on Sunday, our actual anniversary, and stopped for dinner at, ahem, Arby’s. You know you’re really in love when you can stare dreamily into your husband’s eyes while stuffing your face with curly fries smothered in Arby’s sauce.
Anyway, Monday came all too quickly and before I knew it I was back to work and back in the kitchen. Well, the grocery store at least, where for at least 30 minutes, the only thing running through my head was, “Garam Masala! Garam Masala! Where are you? Actually, what are you?” as I foraged through every inch of the store for the mystery spice. It was late, my cart was already full of pancetta, tawny port, chicken, figs and our usual fare, and I think I looked desperate because after I passed the same employee for the tenth time, she joined in on the hunt. We searched the spice racks, the international food aisle, the organic section, and alas, I put up my white flag and sadly postponed the cooking.
Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband, who did his own search online the next morning and found a nearby Indian grocer. And boy, you wouldn’t believe the things they sell in there. Rice in dog-food size bags. Chickpea cans the size of your head. The owner actually opened the freezer for Luke and started hard-selling unrecognizable meat to him, in an unrecognizable language. But we got the stuff. And the stuff, I tell you, is glorious. Garam Masala means “hot mixture” (with “hot” referring to the spice’s intensity, not its heat), and is a beautiful blend of peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, bay leaves, star anise and coriander. Smells great, like Christmas in India.
So with all my ingredients finally in one place, the cooking began. Like always, I started with the prep. I mixed the dry rub, sliced the onion and pancetta and chopped the figs, parsley and thyme. By the way, thyme smells so good. Oddly reminds me of those scratch ‘n sniff pizza stickers, and at the same time, all the homegrown herbs and flowers my mom used to dry in our attic in Indiana when I was a kid. And it was going to take a strong whiff of nostalgia to get me through the next step.
The next step being the one thing I wasn’t looking forward to – removing all that fatty skin from the chicken thighs. I’ve only ever bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are ready to go, so this was something new. I’ll spare you the slimy details, but to say the least, the thighs were 50% smaller when I was done, and my garbage disposal had a hard time choking down all that fat. Gross.
After the prep, the rest of the cooking went well, and I really enjoyed it. I sautéed the onion and pancetta, set them aside, then sprinkled the dry rub on the chicken and browned them. It smelled so amazing sizzling in the pan with all those spices. And every time I added something new, the aroma just got better. First the port and vinegar, then the onions, pancetta and broth, and finally, the figs and herbs.
I served it over jasmine rice with glasses of the tawny port. The dish was great. Very different, but great. Luke was in love. We’re both big fans of Indian food, and while I’m not sure if this dish actually classifies as Indian, it definitely tasted like it. Sweet, juicy, saucy, and full of all those great spices. (Which, I may double next time.) And great texture, too, thanks to the figs and onion. It would have been perfect if we’d only had some warm naan to go with.
We made a toast, and I took a sip of the port and thought, wow, this is incredibly sweet and strong. A quick scan of the bottle and I realized that it was a dessert wine, made to go in those little fancy glasses for microscopic sipping, not the oversized goblets on our table. Eh, oh well. I’m sure our sesame dessert from the Indian store soaked it all up just fine.
Last night we had leftovers, which were even better, as most leftovers are. And mid-meal, Luke asked with pleading eyes if I'd make this meal again. So of course I turned to him and said, "I do."
Chicken with Pancetta and Figs
Yeild: 4 servings (serving size: 2 thighs and about 2/3 cup sauce)
Yeild: 4 servings (serving size: 2 thighs and about 2/3 cup sauce)
Pancetta--Italian unsmoked bacon found in the deli of many supermarkets--adds saltiness to this dish. If you can't find it, substitute lean cooked bacon. If fresh figs are available, stir them in just before serving, omitting the dried figs. Serve over basmati rice in rimmed soup bowls.
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup vertically sliced onion
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 pounds), skinned
1/4 cup tawny port
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
12 dried Calimyrna figs, quartered
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion and pancetta; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from pan.
Combine garam masala, sugar, salt, and pepper; sprinkle evenly over chicken. Add chicken to pan; cook over medium-high heat 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Add port and vinegar; cook 30 seconds, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add onion mixture and broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add figs; cover and simmer 8 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in parsley and chopped thyme. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.
Nutritional Info: Calories: 392 (26% from fat), Fat: 11.5g (sat 3.2g,mono 4.4g,poly 2.3g), Protein: 32.3g, Carbohydrate: 42.3g, Fiber: 8g, Cholesterol: 125mg, Iron: 3.5mg, Sodium: 594mg, Calcium:125mg. Source: Cooking Light Complete Cookbook, 2008.