Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Chicken tenders and red grapes

For some reason I was remembering a woman I knew when I was barely into my 20s. I don't even remember her name, but I remember her small apartment in New York City with large, multi-paned windows. And I remember sitting down to a dinner of chicken and green grapes on rice. At the time I thought it was the most sophisticated dish I had ever seen come out of a friend's kitchen. I had never seen such a pairing before, and certainly had never eaten anything that had cooked grapes in it. It obviously made a deep impression, because all these years later, I found myself longing for chicken with grapes.

I knew I wasn't going to re-create that dinner of so many years ago, but a fond memory does strange things. It lures you into exploring avenues you might have otherwise passed by. And memory, because it's so faulty at best, gives you creative license. Was that fennel she used? Did she have tarragon in the dish? I have no idea, so I made a dish up with the help of epicurious.

Now, you have to understand how I use epicurious, as well as how I use cookbooks in general. I will decide that I want to make chicken, for instance. and I will look for recipes containing chicken. Sometimes I have a "direction" in mind - say, Greek, or Thai for instance. Sometimes not. This time it was an ingredient which became essential -- the grapes. After looking through several recipes for chicken salad with grapes, one for chicken cooked with muscat grapes, and a recipe for pork with black grapes and balsamic vinegar, my head was filled with the raw material I needed. I walked away from the computer and into the kitchen. The ideas began to simmer in my mind and slowly, like the lovely reduction I saw emerge from the cast iron pot on my stove, my recipe bubbled up and onto this site. Unlike many of my own recipes I've written about in the past, this time I actually measured after chopping and halving, so I have a fairly decent approximation of what I did. I opened the package of organic, free-range chicken breast tenders I had splurged on in Trader Joe's, poured myself a glass of pinot noir and began.

5 chicken breast tenders
1/2 C chopped red onion
3-4 TBS olive oil
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1/2 C chicken broth
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
sprig of rosemary
several dashes of thyme (or fresh sprig)

Lay chicken breast tenders on a plate, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper
Dice red onion
Rinse, dry and halve grapes
Heat a heavy pan and pour in about 1 1/2 TBS olive oil
Place chicken tenders in pan on medium high heat and cook, turning once so both sides are browned.
Remove chicken tenders to a plate.
In same pan, heat another 1 1/2 TBS olive oil
Add the onions and the grapes and cook until onions are tan - about 8-10 minutes
Add sugar and cook until it carmelizes. This will take about 30-45 seconds
Add broth and vinegar and bring to a boil
Reduce heat slightly and simmer until liquid reduces to about half
Add herbs and cook for another 30 seconds
Add chicken, cover and reduce heat. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Note to self:

I will try once again to grow tarragon in my garden. This dish turned out even better than I had imagined it might. I'd love to try it with tarragon instead of rosemary and thyme, though I can't really complain. While the sauce was reducing, I got to go for a walk and pick fresh rosemary which is growing about 4 blocks away. Still, the sweetness of the tarragon might be interesting.

I find that I agree with Ina Garten - kosher salt is somehow better for flavoring meats before cooking.

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Chris said...

Toni, this looks so tasty! I will have to try this. I used grapes a couple of months ago with salmon. It was great!

Toni said...

Chris - Never thought of them with salmon, but it makes sense. This was actually quite good....

Anonymous said...

Toni--what a nice remembrance of an old friend and a meal. I have similar food moments that stick in my memory.

You and I approach epicurious and cookbooks [and food blogs, for that matter] very much the same way--as jumping off points for our own explorations. Part of the evolution of cooking experience. I do, on occasion, follow recipes faithfully. But then I incorporate what I've learned from the new dish into my own improvisations.

Delicious sounding dish and great photo, by the way.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I haven't had chicken with grapes for years, but I have gone the salmon-and-grapes route with a balsamic glaze. Recipes are really just suggestions, a jumping-off point, and the mark of a good cook is the ability to take a recipe and run with it. Lovely recipe and photo!

Anonymous said...

I wish you remembered where that apartment was (so I could rent it of course, and at a 20-year-ago rate). It sounds gorgeous!
As does this dish. I'm utterly intrigued by the idea of mixing chicken, grapes and something anisey, be it fennel or tarragon. Now you've given me something to muse on!
Thanks Toni!

Toni said...

Terry - Perhaps that's why I love your blog and look forward to Wednesdays! I've been known to follow recipes faithfully when I bake, but seldom when I cook.

Lydia - Now that you and Chris have both mentioned salmon with grapes, I'm going to have to try it!

Ann - My alleged memory tells me it was in Chelsea, but don't bet the baby on it! I look forward to seeing what you come up with from your musings...

Stella said...

wow! this sounds utterly delicious! I've never thought of including grapes in my savoury dishes:)

Toni said...

Valentina - both Chris and Lydia inspire me to try them with salmon!

Unknown said...

This is the sort of post that resonates with me, because my memory zooms in on stuff like that, too. I love the taste contrast of grapes with chicken, and I prefer red, too.

TerryB's comments are spot on - as usual.

Parisbreakfasts said...

This sounds YUM...
but would you please write about your WholeFoods Chocolate with cherries and hazelnuts?
Will you take cash or a check?

Toni said...

Mimi - It's one of the reasons I love reading your posts. And yes, Terry B's comments are always spot-on.

Carol - Thanks for the comment! Wish I could find that stuff again. I've been scouring the Whole Foods shelves for it, but at the moment they're not carrying it. Perhaps it's more of a "holiday" thing.

Parisbreakfasts said...

That was me!
How could you forget!!
I even have the grocery receipt from that meal...
hint hint

Carolyn T said...

As soon as I read the title I was taken back to about 1973 when a family moved a few doors down, having just come back to the States from Pakistan. She invited us to dinner and prepared chicken with CANNED green grapes. It seemed kind of a French method to me, but I was quite impressed. I haven't made it in at least 20 years, but if you're interested I'll find the recipe and post it to your comments.

Susan G said...

More memories: chicken veronique was my wedding meal, no doubt inspired by early Julia Child PBS shows -- http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/103267
google "veronique recipes" for French style with grapes type recipes. Now I'd rather put them in salads.