Monday, January 8, 2018

Chicken with Dried Apricots, Green Olives & Almonds

Over the weekend a friend asked me what kinds of things I was cooking and what I was hungry for right now. We had been discussing my blog…and what I might be posting next. My first thought was that I wasn’t doing too much in the way of cooking at all. There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m tired from the busy season. I’m spending a lot of time catching up with friends (many of whom—including the friend who asked the question—work in my industry and are also coming up for air at the moment). This means I am eating out more than usual. I have also spent the first few days of the year digging myself out from under piles of paperwork and other things that got pushed to the side during the busy season. And I admit that I am plowing through all of this stuff at a rather leisurely pace… By the time dinner rolls around I am relying on the simple…and the tried & true (single ingredient pastas, soups, sandwiches, grain pilafs)—all things that I have already posted…or that are so simple and basic they don’t’ require a recipe.

My next thought was about the things I am truly hungry for this time of year. And it’s probably the same thing most of us are hungry for: rich braises and stews, slow roasts, hearty casseroles, all-day bean soups.... Foods that fill the house all afternoon with their good smells…and then warm you down to your toes when you finally sit down to the table. Foods like this are not difficult, but they do take a bit of advance planning….and my weekend was already well underway when I was having this conversation. 

As I was thinking about all these things, an image popped into my mind—a picture of a Moroccan-inspired chicken dish that I made a few years ago. (It must have been hovering there near the forefront of my mind after all the time I had spent going through some old pictures on my computer….) 

The recipe as I had made it was adapted only very slightly from the original in a winter issue of Martha Stewart Living. It is likely that I chose to make it the first time because it was a perfect intersection of the things I just described: It is simple and easy to make…and at the same time has the feel of the hearty and richly flavored foods I tend to crave during the early days of winter. 

Inspired by my conversation, I made it for dinner last night. I am happy to report that it was just as simple to make as I remembered. If you like Mediterranean flavors, you probably have the apricots, olives, almonds and spices on hand. If you cook regularly, it is also likely you have the carrots, onions and garlic at the ready. You might even have the chicken in your freezer (in which case, this would make a perfect snow day dinner!). As it happened, I did not have any chicken in my freezer, so I stopped on my way home from my coffee date with my friend and got some. And just as I remembered, once the ingredients were assembled, it was ready for the table in no time at all (…or in about an hour and fifteen minutes, to be more exact).

I have to admit that I find it difficult to believe that something that comes together so quickly can have such a rich flavor and unctuous texture. But it does. How great is that? And if you are craving this kind of dish—but just haven’t had the time to invest in a rich braise…or hearty casserole—I highly recommend that you add this one to your menu plans for some evening very soon.  

Chicken with Dried Apricots, Green Olives & Almonds

3 to 4 lbs chicken thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
Olive oil 
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced 
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb. carrots, topped, tailed, peeled and cut on a long bias into 3-inch pieces (about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick)
1 1/2 t. ground ginger 
3/4 t. ground cinnamon 
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth 
Zest of 1 orange
A generous pinch of saffron threads 
3/4 c. whole almonds, lightly toasted
3/4 c. dried apricots, halved crosswise if very large
1/2 c. green olives, pitted
1/2 c. lightly packed cilantro leaves, sliced into a rough chiffonade
Harissa, optional

Season chicken with salt and pepper (if time, do this up 12 to 24 hours ahead, cover loosely and store in the refrigerator). Heat a braiser pan or deep straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat; add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan (1 to 2 T.). Add the chicken, skin side down, and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but a tablespoon or so of fat from the pan. 

Reduce heat to medium; add onion, garlic, and carrots. Season lightly with salt (be careful, the olives will add a lot of salt). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in ginger and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Stir in broth, orange zest and saffron, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Return chicken and accumulated juices to pan. Add the almonds, apricots and olives. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh (without touching bone) reads 180 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and correct the seasoning. You may stir the cilantro in, or scatter it over the finished dish. Serve with couscous or rice. Pass harissa if you like. Serves 6 

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

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