Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Classic Dilemma

Time again to magically produce something where there is apparently an abundance of nothing. But, it’s a dilemma of my own making.

Poor planning on my part, not to mention some high school sports events that went until after 10 pm in the evening, had left no time for cooking in the last few days. Let alone for shopping. No meals. No leftovers. An empty fridge! Everyone had to scrounge for what they could find. Survival of the quickest!

So, tonight, I wanted to sort of atone for the last few days. Make something, if not directly special, at least substantial and flavorful. Maybe atone is the wrong word. I just wanted people to not be able to complain anymore. Because their mouths were full of food.

Chicken breasts, figs and lots of wine. Plus a few onions. That was it. Most herbs in the fridge had finally given up the ghost. Except for the thyme, and miraculously the sage (go figure!).

In thinking about the possibilities to combine these into a meal (that people here would eat!), I drew a blank. Nothing tried and true seemed to be close enough to modify for the ingredients on hand. And the classic preparations rarely call for figs. Which is too bad, as they are not only delicious, but versatile.

My first thought was a sort of stew. Chicken breasts, browned, then stewed with the figs. A broth based primarily on red wine. As I had no white wine or chicken broth. But I also had no other veggies to go in it. And besides, carrots and figs? Hmmm.

I kept it simple.

In retrospect, the dish came tantalizingly close to the classic Coq au Vin.

Except that I had no mushrooms. Instead, figs. An improvement, in my opinion!

And I had no whole chicken. Just the breasts. Lightly floured and browned, they would be fine. But we were definitely giving up some of the flavor of the whole chicken for a low fat alternative. Everyone but me would be happy with that.

And I had no small onions. Not even an ersatz small onion. I did add a bit of lime juice as an acid to balance the figs’ sweetness, again mainly because that’s what I had on hand. I think here I could have used some balsamic vinegar instead. Next time!

Plus, as mentioned, I didn’t even have celery for a mire poix. Carrots alone didn’t seem to fit. So the thyme and bay would have to fill in the foundation here.

But, all that not withstanding, chicken and figs braised in red wine, with thyme and bay leaf, started to sound pretty good, again considering the starting point!

The last question was what to put in on. We could have added some rice to the stew, but I had promised TeenBoy some roasted garlic mashed potatoes since forever, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go with that. Until I opened the bag of potatoes, and promptly threw the contents out.

Polenta was the back-up plan. Creamy polenta with parmesan. TeenBoy was not directly mad, but definitely unhappy. TeenGirl, on the other hand, was in heaven. Hard to tell if it was because of the polenta, or because TeenBoy didn’t get his mashed potatoes.

The now ruby red chicken was tender as butter. The figs, balanced with the lime, lusciously rich.

All in all, I think the polenta was a better choice. The fig sauce was not heavy and fatty, but thick and rich. The polenta was a nice clean counterpoint to that heady rich flavor.

This one will get made again. That’s for sure!

And as we were done, that’s when it occurred to me that this was not soooo far from the classic Coq au Vin dish. Maybe not completely up to the level of the classic dish, but certainly a nice treat for a hectic Monday!

Chicken and Figs Braised in Red Wine over Parmesan Polenta
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

3 pounds chicken breasts (if very large, cut in half lengthwise)
1 cup flour
salt pepper
olive oil
2 onions, cut into eighths
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pints small black figs, ends trimmed, cut in half, reserving 4-8 of them whole for garnish
2-3 tsp fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 bottle dry red wine
1 lime, juiced
2-3 tbsp honey
Parmesan Polenta (recipe follows)
Parsley, chopped, for garnish, if desired

Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, shaking off the excess.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Brown the chicken breasts on both sides, removing them to a plate as they are done.

In the same skillet, add additional olive oil, if necessary, and sautee the onions over medium heat, stirring, until they begin to soften. Add the fig halves and garlic stirring gently, and sautee for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add the wine to the pan, and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil, scraping any brown bits clinging to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the chicken breasts, stirring (if necessary, transfer mixture to a large, heavy pot). Bring to a very gentle simmer, cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove the chicken and figs from the pan, discarding the bay leaves, and any thyme stems. Boil the remaining liquid until it is reduced by about ½, and has thickened somewhat. Transfer about half the figs and onions to a food processor, and puree them with the reduced liquid. Return the sauce to the pan. Stir in the lime juice and the honey to taste. Add the chicken and remaining figs and onions, and heat through over medium heat.

Serve the chicken, figs and onions on top of the polenta, spooning some of the sauce over the top. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped parsley, and one of the reserved figs, cut decoratively, if desired. Enjoy!

Parmesan Polenta
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

3 cups whole milk
3 cups water
1 ½ cups polenta
1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese (depends how cheesy you like it!)

Bring the milk and water to a simmer over medium high heat – watching carefully as it will boil over at the last second! Slowly whisk in the polenta and salt. Continue to whisk as the polenta thickens. If it starts to boil, turn down the heat a bit. Let it thicken to the point that it is hard to move the whisk. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese. Serve.

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