The joys of menu planning are fairly new to me. Menu planning isn’t new to me, but having it work out nicely really is.
I have tried planning menus in the past, repeatedly. Until this week, something has always happened to derail the plans. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Guh, I don’t want to cook” and sometimes it’s been as complicated as the person or people I’m cooking for changing the plans, realizing they had other plans, etc. Given that, it’s amazing that this week has worked out perfectly, especially with slight changes in plans every day.
We were, originally, planning to make this meal Thursday night. Then our friend Jessie was coming over Thursday night, so we made the Beef Daube instead, since she doesn’t like chicken thighs (and it’s only supposed to make enough for two people, not three). I had everything ready for the stew anyway, so we moved this to Monday night. We switched it up again when 1) we decided we didn’t want to dedicate so much of our Sunday to cooking, 2) Jessie stated she’d been craving lasagna for weeks and 3) plans were made for her to visit Monday night.
This dish was a little sweet, but we found it to be quite tasty. I used a shallot instead of an onion, and I wonder if that would have helped.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1 small onion, sliced (I used a large shallot, since that’s what we had on hand.)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 14-oz can low sodium chicken broth (I used 14 oz of homemade, since I had it in the practically bulging freezer.)
12 dried apricots, quartered
12 dried prunes, quartered
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar.)
1/8 tsp salt (I forgot this.)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t include that.)
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the chicken thighs and cook until they’re golden brown (~2 min/side). Add onion and garlic and then cook until the onion is softened. Add broth, apricots, prunes and vinegar, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer until the chicken is done (juices run clear; ~6 min). Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Then increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, and boil until the sauce is slightly thickened (~5 min). Season with salt & pepper. Then serve the chicken topped with sauce and garnished with parsley.
Cooking and Consumption Notes
Dried prunes are super sticky, so cutting them is a bit of a pain. I’ve read that the best way to chop dried fruits is actually with kitchen shears. This may have been true for the dried apricots, but I can imagine the prunes jamming the shears but good. My knives were recently sharpened, and they worked fabulously. So, my suggestion for chopping prunes? A very sharp knife.
This is a LOT of oil to cook the chicken in. If I were to make this dish again, I think I’d divide the oil in half or so and only cook the chicken in 1 tbsp of oil. The recipe calls for the chicken to become “golden brown”, but that’s not going to happen very well in tons of fat. This is something I learned from my cooking classes at For the Love of Food back when I lived in Baltimore. I can still hear Chef Diane reminding us that sautéing requires “high heat, low fat”. While this is not a sauté, specifically, the idea still seems to be to get a nice golden crust on the chicken, with lots of tasty frond on the pan. The oil, however, prevented sticking so much that we basically just got the look of “cooked dark meat chicken” . Promises of tastiness, but not quite “it”. Once the chicken was golden and delicious on both sides, I’d put it off to one side, pour in the rest of the oil, and then add the garlic and onion and cook in the oil until softened. I think that’d work best to produce maximal tastiness.
One thing I wouldn’t do if I make this again, however, is realize too late that my chicken thighs are not quite thawed all the way through. My fridge, for whatever reason, is about the world’s coldest fridge. When we first moved in, things would freeze in the back of the fridge. I’ve turned it down repeatedly in the two or so months we’ve lived here, and things still freeze in the back or don’t thaw (if they moved from freezer to fridge) in the front. I had a pound of ground beef in there for two days, and it still didn’t thaw.
Thawing food quickly is actually fairly easy, I just didn’t keep at it long enough. The bone in the thighs really threw me. But, in case you’re wondering, just fill a bowl or pan or something with cold water from the tap, submerge the package to be thawed in it, and let the tap run into the bowl at the smallest trickle you can get out of it. Super fast thawing!
Because I unwittingly started cooking thighs that weren’t fully thawed (don’t do that, it’s a total food safety no-no), the chicken had to cook a great deal longer than listed in directions. The book suggests the chicken will need to be at low for about 6 minutes, and mine probably cooked for at least 30 minutes. How much of that is the partially frozen meat and how much is the fact that my stove occasionally seems to have a higher “high” setting and a lower “low” setting than most cookbook recipes mean, I’ll never know. Unfortunately, what I do suspect happened in having to cook so long is that most of the vinegar boiled off, and that’s part of why the overly sweet nature of the meal.
The book suggests serving this with a variety of things, including whole wheat couscous. We decided to serve with that, and it was delicious. I made the couscous in homemade chicken broth, making it extra super.
As I previously mentioned, we both found this dish a touch on the sweet side. I’m not sure if it really was the longer cook time, though that’s my current suspicion, or if there needs to be a bit of adjustment of the recipe. When I was learning at “For the Love of Food”, one thing Chef Diane really made clear is that every dish needs a touch of all the major flavors, sweet, bitter, sour and salty, but it’s fine to let one dominate. I wonder if this recipe doesn’t need an undercurrent of some bitter going on. However, I never did learn how to tell when a recipe is missing one of the four flavors (that’s just not going to come in a 6 week course, I think), so it may not need anything at all. Or, perhaps the (potentially) missing flavor would have been supplied by the onion, since shallots are kind of onion’s sweeter cousins.
Oh, and not forgetting the salt would have helped. Tremendously, I’d imagine, recalling my cooking classes.
Cooking so long did damage the integrity of the prunes, but the apricots held up quite nicely. Indeed, part of the reason I didn’t hesitate to just keep cooking when the chicken wasn’t done was simply because most of these fruits can reconstitute just fine in a long, slow, wet cook. Glad to know I was right.
Finally, this dish made a LOT of sauce. I suspect that throwing in an extra chicken thigh (to make it for three people) would not harm it in the slightest, and everyone would still get plenty of delicious food. In fact, Bill did finish his serving, but mine was a bit too much for me.
All in all, I’d say this was a middle of the road dish. Fairly tasty, we’ll likely make it again, but it didn’t really wow us. If we had a star rating system, it’d be 1 – 5 stars (or maybe 0 – 4 stars, because Bill is a computer guy), and on a 1 – 5 system, this would be a solid 3.