Saturday, 18 January 2014

Turn on the Sour

Pollo in Agrodolce al Anrancia & Aceto di Vino Rosso, con Verdure Miste & Puré di Patate al Timo
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Orange and Red Wine Vinegar, with Mixed Vegetables on Thyme-Infused Mashed Potatoes

As the weather gets colder, the food gets more and more comforting in my kitchen in order to keep me warm, cosy and contented, no matter how low the temperatures may drop. That being said, it was a beautiful day here in Frankfurt today, so my mood was already good when I got home from a long afternoon at the market and in and around town. Yes, life was good today- but we can always make it better...

Some simple flavors, such as carrots, onion and celery, the basis of so many dishes in the kitchen, are all that you need when putting together a meal- they give the sweet, savory and and rich components that will make a dish work- the balance that can make or break your meal can be found right there. And speaking of balance... well, that is what it all about when it comes to sweet and sour dishes! Two opposite ends of the flavor spectrum meeting half-way and creating something nuanced, balanced and at the same time exciting...

This is a simple dish- simple in its ingredients and also very simple to make! For this single serving, apart from the chicken thigh, all that I needed was a half of a carrot and a half of a stick of celery. Seasoning came in the form of salt, pepper, orange zest and juice, a little garlic, a sprig or two of thyme, a little cinnamon and a little honey... and those are all things that we usually have at home- no?

Ok- so you needn't worry about the ingredients- let me tell you how I made it and then you not have to worry about that either...

I started off by lifting the skin slightly from the chicken thigh and by sliding a little  thyme beneath the surface- you can add finely sliced garlic if you are that way inclined- and this would be the best way to get plenty of flavor into the meat... well... almost!

The important thing for me to do in this particular preparation was to STEAM the chicken before finishing it off in the oven. Not only did the high temperature of the steam cook the chicken, it also coaxed a lot of flavor out of those herbs and into the chicken.

In the meantime, I got busy making the super-tasty puré. To make that, I used a method very similar to Heston Blumenthal's: I washed three potatoes thoroughly and peeled them. The peel went into a small saucepan with a sprig of thyme, a clove of garlic and about 3 mugs full of milk. I brought the milk up to the boil, added a small bay leaf and let is gently simmer for the next 5-6 minutes, then turned off the heat and let the milk soak up all of the good flavor of the potato (from the peel) and especially the fragrance and rich flavor of the garlic and thyme.

After the chicken had steamed for around 10 minutes, I added a half stick of celery, a half of a carrot and a shallot to the steamer. The carrot was cut into sticks, the celery into diagonals and the shallot, simply into quarters.I let the vegetables steam for a further 5 minutes and then transferred everything- chicken and vegetables, to a non-stick frying pan, to which I added a drizzle of olive oil and a small pat of butter. 


On went the heat and as soon as things began to sizzle, in went the zest of half of an orange and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. After 4-5 minutes, the chicken and vegetables began to smell terrific- but the pan began to look very dry- so this was the right time to deglaze it with a cupful of red wine vinegar, a cupful of water and the juice of half an orange. I stirred everything through to pick up the good flavors from the base of the frying pan and then transferred it to the oven, which I had pre-heated to 350°F, for around 15-20 minutes. 

In the meantime, I was able to drain-off and mash the potatoes and to add the flavor infused milk, before taking a whisk to them and seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Rather than adding butter, I added olive oil, to keep the flavors more mediterranean- it didn't take much more than a tablespoon to make them rich and creamy and delicious!

Back to the chicken and vegetables... and time to add a nice drizzle of honey and to turn on the broiler for a final 3-4 minutes to give everything a nice, golden brown finish. I served up the chicken and vegetables on a bed of mashed potato and added the juices on top, which by now had reduced right down... there wasn't very much there- but what WAS there was wonderfully rich and tasty!

A final grind of pepper and  a sprinkle of fresh thyme and zest was the finishing touch to this rich and rustic meal... perfect on a cold, Winter's night and I would claim, guaranteed to comfort and please one and all! Give it a try and see if it doesn't become one of your new family favorites... I know it is one of mine from now on!

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