Tuesday, May 12, 2009

sautéed chicken with olives, capers and roasted lemons

About four months ago, I experimented with something called the Miracle Berry. I say that as if you don't already know what it is, which is unlikely, given that the Miracle Berry has become a cult phenomenon of late. Here’s how it works: Miraculin, the active ingredient, temporarily blocks certain taste receptors in the mouth, eliminating any sour or bitter qualities in food. In other words, for about 30 minutes, it will make anything you eat taste sweet.

Vinegar tastes like golden syrup. Tomatoes taste like nectarines. And lemons yield a citrus flavor sweeter and more delicious than Minute Maid could ever conceive.

In my Miraculin-altered state, I consumed approximately seven raw lemons, chewing the rinds to squeeze out every last bit of sweet juice. When the berries wore off, my mouth was raw and chapped, and my stomach was close to mutiny. As much as I enjoyed my victory over the lemons' natural defenses, I thought it dangerous to repeat.

Roasting lemons certainly can never duplicate the sweet effects of Miraculin. But it's another way to appreciate the lemon in its whole form. Combined with capers and olives, the lemons create a seriously potent sauce for chicken—at once salty, sweet and sour. (It’s the Italian lemon-caper combination, taken to the max.)

Occasionally the results are lip puckering—when you encounter a particularly pungent burst of caper juice, for instance. But most pleasure comes with a little pain. If you can’t handle it, pop some Miracle Berries beforehand—this dish will probably taste like Fruit Loops.

Sautéed Chicken with Olives, Capers and Roasted Lemons
Adapted from Food & Wine

Be careful not to overcook the chicken breasts in the browning stage. The flour should help achieve the desired color, but if they’re still not golden after six minutes, I’d move on. On a whim, I added about 2 tablespoons of plumped golden raisins when preparing the spinach, which provided a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the dish. Were I to make this again, I'd add some to the caper-olive mixture as well.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 lemons, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Two 5-ounce bags baby spinach
2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup pitted green Sicilian or Spanish olives, sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil on the parchment, then arrange the lemon slices in a single layer. Drizzle the lemons lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the lemons begin to brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, heat a large, deep skillet. Add the spinach and cook over high heat, tossing, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a strainer; press out the liquid. Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in it. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until toasted, 2 minutes. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.

In a deep medium skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with the flour, shaking off the excess. Cook the chicken over high heat, turning once, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the olives, capers, and stock and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat until the stock is reduced by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted lemons, butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper and simmer just until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.

Transfer the chicken to plates and spoon the sauce on top. Serve the spinach on the side.

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