Saturday, September 1, 2012

"It's the Berries!" - Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey

Date I made this recipe:  August 26, 2012

It’s the Berries!  - Exotic &Common Recipes by Liz Anton & Beth Dooley
Published by:  A Garden Way Publishing Book; Storey Communications, Inc.
© 1988
Recipe:  Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey – p. 39; Strawberry Vinegar recipe p. 142

If last week’s problem with blog posting was procrastination (i.e. having too much time on my hands), this week’s problem was a concerted lack of time.  I could not carve out even a second or two to write this thing and that was frustrating because this dish is delicious and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. And it’s also redemption for the sad meal I made the week before.

I’d love to say that summer is the period where I stock up on fresh (and seasonal) fruit and vegetables but alas, I do not.  I have yet to visit a farmer’s market, operating under my own, personal premise that “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” and I basically ignore everything in my grocery store that screams “Seasonal!”  It’s not that I don’t love fruits and veggies, I do, but it’s just not something that comes to my first thing in the morning.  Coffee comes to mind first thing in the morning, followed by nap, followed by….

Until this past week, that is.  I recently purchased this book, It’s the Berries!, from Arc’s Value Village Thrift Store and while putting it away in my stack, I thought “Huh, maybe this would be a good time to make something from this book.”  I was not wrong.

But I will say that finding the right recipe was a challenge.  Several recipes contained cranberries and it is way too early in the season for that.  I don’t like fruit soups (personal preference) and dessert seemed so clichéd.  But then I spotted it.  Strawberry chicken!  With honey! Strawberry chicken AND honey!  Sweet!  (Pun intended).

And so I made it and so it was good and so I was happy.  I served this up with couscous and asparagus and my oh my, what a fun meal I had. (Well, I overcooked the asparagus but these are the things we must deal with in life.  I ate it anyway.)

BUT.  Let me be clear that should you make this dish (and you should), do not, I repeat, do not use those craptastic things in the grocery store that masquerade as strawberries.  To do so is an insult to the real deal and your dish won’t be as flavorful.  Because folks, the way strawberries are genetically engineered these days robs them of their flavor.  Bite into one and it’s like biting into colored Styrofoam but that is just this gal’s opinion.

I say this to you because people, I’ve had the “Real Deal.”  My parents had a fruit and vegetable garden and all summer long, we feasted on earthly delights such as raspberries and strawberries.  Compared to today’s gigonzo strawberries, our little garden ones seemed so anemic yet they were loaded with flavor.  We had strawberry jam, strawberry compote and frozen strawberries to last us a lifetime.  Ah, such sweet memories!

At any rate, I bought my strawberries at Trader Joe’s and while larger than I liked, they were close enough to the “Real Deal” for me to buy them.  Plus, they were reasonably priced and so that made me feel all the better about skipping out on a farmer’s market excursion to find something comparable to what I had as a child.  So there!

So the order of appearance in this recipe is that you make the strawberry vinegar first and then…uh oh…let it steep for a month, and then use the vinegar in the recipe.  Well I can assure you that didn’t happen!  But I am happy to report that this was no big deal.  In fact, instead of straining the vinegar, I threw some of the mashed strawberries from the vinegar mixture into the skillet and the result was yummy.

As to the authors, Minnesota cook book collectors might recognize Beth Dooley’s name from a couple cookbook s as well as a byline in the Mpls St. Paul Magazine.  Beth’s newest cookbook, The Northern Heartland Kitchen, focuses on seasonal cuisine in this neck of the woods but I first knew Beth when she teamed up with local chef and restaurant owner (and my hero), Lucia Watson, to write one of my favorite books in my entire collection (1,463 and growing) – Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland.   This book also focuses on local cuisine and features the same type of food that is regularly featured as Lucia’s restaurant called, appropriately, Lucia’s in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. (  Beth wrote this cookbook, It’s the Berries, with her mother, Liz Anton and I think it is very cool that mother and daughter got along well enough to put pen to paper to create this cookbook; my sister-in-law loves a photo of me and my mother arguing in the kitchen at Christmastime, 1996.  So there you have it.

As we are now on the doorstep of Labor Day, I urge you to get going and make this recipe!  And get “Real Deal” strawberries and don’t think I’m kidding.  You will thank me later.

Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey – serves 8
4 pounds of chicken, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons clarified butter *see notes below
2 tablespoons peanut oil, plus some to sauté shallots
4 shallots, minced
½ cup strawberry vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 cup strawberries, hulled and rinsed or if frozen drained and thawed, sliced

For the strawberry vinegar – makes 5 cups
2 cups strawberries
1 cup of champagne and 1 cup for later (optional)
2 cups white wine vinegar
8 whole black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon sugar

To make the vinegar:
Mash strawberries.  Heat the champagne, wine vinegar, peppercorns and sugar together.  Pour over strawberries in sterile jar.  Cool, cover and place in a dark place for a 1 month.  Stir occasionally.  Press out strawberry flesh between double cheesecloth, discard the fruit.  Add the second cup of champagne to the vinegar mixture.  Stir to release the carbonation.  Allow to rest in a dark place for 1 month.

Ann’s Note:  I pretty much ignored everything above, some of it intentionally, some of it not.  I mashed the berries, skipped the vinegar and skipped the cheesecloth portion of our program and for sure did NOT let it sit for a month but it was still tasty.  I also cut down the portion size to equal one cup (or so) and it worked fine although I added a little bit more sugar than was called for but that was to satisfy my own personal taste.

To make the dish:
Rinse and dry chicken.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Combine butter and oil in large skillet, add chicken and brown.  (Do not crowd pieces.)  When chicken has been browned, remove to a warm platter with pan juices.  Skim fat.  Sauté shallots in a small amount of oil until translucent.  Add strawberry vinegar and honey to pan and simmer.  Return chicken, cook until partially covered for about 20 minutes.  Baste often to glaze chicken.  Toss in strawberries just before serving.

Ann’s Note:  I used boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half, so there wasn’t any fat to skim.  I also added a bit more oil to the pan as well as more honey and more strawberry vinegar (with mashed strawberries) as the sauce was looking like it might stick and burn.  And then I tossed in the strawberries with about 5 minutes left just because I like to go rogue.  The result was phenomenal!


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