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     August 24, 2016      #63-236 a2z
 
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Fruity and nutty chicken: Glaze with strawberries or peaches.
Fruity and nutty chicken: Glaze with strawberries or peaches

Deb Terrill

Bill and I pick peaches every year at Jollay Orchards in Coloma, Mich. We generally spend the night, especially if it is the first weekend of the month and we can go to Antiques on the Bluff on Sunday morning. We love perusing the vendors who line the sidewalk for blocks, and watching the ships sailing below us on the lake.

Another thing we love is the tower of onions rings at Clementine's Too in St. Joe. I love a good onion ring (pssst ... Carlo's has the best here), and I'm fussy about them. Too much breading and I'll send them back. Onion not cooked through? Forget about it. They need to be crispy, light, golden and sweet, with a real slice of onion that is cooked well enough not to come out in one piece when you bite into the ring. Is that too much to ask?

I would love to say all of the food is good at Clementine's, but it is just average. Known for fresh lake perch, they sell thousands of pounds of it, but I wanted to try something different this time. I ordered the Red Rooster, a chicken breast with a strawberry glaze, walnuts and feta cheese with rice pilaf and broccoli.

The rice pilaf was good, and the broccoli was excellent, but the chicken dish was all kinds of wrong. The boneless breast was cooked hard and the strawberry glaze was an ordinary commissary gel, similar to what you would expect in a cheap, fresh strawberry pie. The walnuts were whole halves that were hard to maneuver onto a fork and the tiny crumbs of cold cheese were tasteless.

I sat there nudging it around and explaining to Bill how I would have done it. He never tires of hearing these grumpy little tirades. I had imagined the glaze as a sticky, red brown, actual glaze with elements of strawberry, balsamic vinegar and maybe something smoky such as harissa or chipotle.

The nuts, I explained, should be small enough to cling to the glaze and not huge chunks that fall off the fork and can't be stabbed. Who does this? And the cheese should have been blue, either a Roquefort or Gorgonzola. I would just need to take this up at home and make a good idea into a great dish.

I would start by not overcooking the chicken. I also decided peaches would serve the dish far better than strawberries. It was peach season in Michigan, wasn't it? And we had picked plenty of them.

It turns out we actually liked my strawberry glaze better than the peach glaze simply because it had stronger flavor. We also went very lightly on the walnuts and cheese. They should be there, but not in such proportion they overpower the glaze. We plated the chicken with steamed broccoli and my own rice pilaf, which I had not made in years.

Rice pilaf was a restaurant staple in the '70s, appearing as a side with every imaginable meat entrée. It is probably Turkish, but there isn't a culture that doesn't do some variation of it. Quite simply, it is rice, and often grains, cooked in a meat broth.

From there, it can be made in any style, with fruit and nuts, with vegetables or with bits of meat in the dish. I like the version I came to know in restaurants, made with chicken stock and bits of carrot, celery and onions. I often add sliced (not slivered — never slivered) almonds, too.

The cooking method is a two step process that starts out stovetop and ends in the oven. I like it because it is almost impossible to burn it, and it gives me time to finish my meal on the stovetop without taking up space and attention. When you take it out, it is important to let it continue cooking with the trapped steam for that lovely, soft body. Just set it aside, and let it be.

STRAWBERRY GLAZE FOR CHICKEN

1 pint fresh, ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (Or another smoky chili product, like harissa.)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and smash with a bean masher or potato masher until the fruit is just bits. Cook down for 5 minutes, stirring frequently and bottle for use later.

FRESH PEACH GLAZE FOR CHICKEN

2 fresh peaches, skinned and sliced

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (Or another smoky chili product, like harissa.)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and smash with a bean masher or potato masher until the fruit is just bits. Cook down for 5 minutes, stirring frequently and bottle for use later.

TO MAKE THE CHICKEN

2 large chicken breasts, no skin or bones

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 recipe glaze

Walnuts

Gorgonzola cheese

Cut the chicken in half lengthwise to make two palm sized cutlets from each breast, or have your meat cutter do this. In a large, non stick skillet, heat the oil and saute the chicken, browning lightly on both sides. Pour half of the glaze into the pan and let it bubble up. Always take care, when using sauces and glazes with meat, to use one spoon to drop it onto the meat and another to spread it. You don't want meat juices getting into the jar of glaze. Then turn the chicken to coat it with the glaze. Serve the remaining glaze under each chicken serving. Top lightly with the walnuts and cheese.

DEB'S RICE PILAF

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 stalks celery, very finely chopped

1 carrot, grated on large holes of box grater

½ small onion, finely diced

Pinch of saffron threads

2 cups long grain rice (I use a brown rice medley from Trader Joe's)

3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock) (not low sodium)

¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large skillet with a lid, one that can go into the oven, melt the butter and oil. Saute the vegetables over low heat, with the lid on, until they are soft. Add the saffron, rice and chicken stock and bring it all up to a boil. Turn off the stove, add the lid and place it in the preheated oven. Let it bake for 30 to 40 minutes, checking it at 30. If there is still liquid under the rice, let it go another 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and set it aside, keeping the lid on to trap the steam. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving and top with sliced almonds.

Note: If you don't have an ovenproof skillet with a lid, use a glass 13 by 9 baking dish and cover with foil.

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