One Sauce, Two Dishes
|Right Food for the Season - Late Winter|
|Written by Jane Ward|
February is the home stretch of what feels like, to me, a long winter season. And yet this shortest month often feels like the longest and makes me itchy for spring. We have been eating wintered over, cold-storage root vegetables for so long that I almost forget what a fresh pea tastes like. And boy, do I want to taste a fresh pea again!
Cooking can be a challenge in these winter months. Finding a lighter and brighter tasting dish to serve in between all the heavier stews and braises is a real struggle. More so if you are the person responsible for putting a meal on the table every night of the week. If that is you, or if you’d just like to expand your mealtime options, say hello to my secret weapon: the orange juice-balsamic vinegar reduction.
Having recipes for a few quick and different pan sauces under your belt will help you to change up your go-to chicken breasts enough to stave off cooking and dining boredom. This sauce in particular gives me just what I’m looking for in the dead of winter: orange juice offers the hit of warm sunshine I crave while the vinegar cuts the richness of a dish. Good with proteins such as chicken and fish, and with all kinds of produce, this sauce is a versatile – and easy – gem.
My family has a love-hate relationship with chicken thighs – I love them; no one else really does. Still I persevere with trying to get everyone to see (and eat) things my way. My arguments? The thigh meat has so much flavor; when skinless, thighs are low in fat; and this cut is inexpensive. Last week, I had a breakthrough. The following preparation made everyone happy, due at least in part to the great pan sauce made with orange juice, balsamic vinegar, cumin and lots and lots of garlic.
Chicken with Olives
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, opened out flat like a cutlet (breasts can be substituted if you absolutely have to, but the meat won’t be as succulently moist)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced thinly
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice (or fresh squeezed from a carton)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup-1 cup assorted pitted olives (I used a combination of green and Kalamata; use what you like, and in the amount that suits your taste)
Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Working with 4 pieces at a time, brown the chicken on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with foil and set in a warm (150-170 degree) oven. Repeat with second batch.
When all chicken is browned and keeping warm, lower heat under skillet to medium. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté, stirring, until it begins to turn pale gold. Add the onion and sauté this with the garlic until the onion softens. Add the cumin and cayenne pepper and stir these around to toast them a bit, then add orange juice and vinegar. Stir to deglaze browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, then turn the heat up a bit and let sauce start to bubble and reduce by about a third. You want this to look thickened and slightly syrupy.
Return chicken to the pan, add the olives, and stir everything together with the sauce. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste if needed. This was very nice over turmeric rice flavored with a sachet of coriander seeds.
In this next recipe, orange juice and balsamic vinegar are combined in equal amounts and allowed to reduce down to something resembling molasses. It jazzes up the salmon or arctic char that we seem to eat a lot of in this house, raising it above the level of ho-hum. I’d opt for the char first if you can find it; it’s the sustainable choice.
Pan-seared Arctic Char with Fennel and Onions
1-2 small to medium-sized fennel bulbs, cut into large slivers (green stalks and fronds trimmed and saved for another use like soup)
1 good-sized yellow onion, cut into large slivers
2 Tbsp.olive oil
¾ cup orange juice
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
1 ¼ - 1 ½ lbs arctic char fillets (farm-raised are a good choice here), thinnest tail end trimmed, remaining fish cut into 4-6 pieces, depending on your appetite
some kind of citrus-pepper seasoning, or seasoning of your choice
salt to taste
Trim and cut fish. Sprinkle flesh side with seasoning (I use Penzey’s Florida Seasoning, which is a lemon-orange-black pepper blend) and a little salt and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Add olive oil to hot steel pan. When heated add onions and fennel to pan and sauté over medium-high heat until brown spots start to appear on the vegetables. Remove vegetables from pan to a cutting board in a single layer so they don’t steam.
In the pan where you cooked the vegetables, add the juice and vinegar. Bring to bubbly simmer and cook liquids down over medium to medium-high heat until reduced to syrupy consistency, reducing by at least one-half, maybe more. Syrup should look like thin dark molasses without being burned. Reserve a couple of teaspoons of the syrup, and set the pan with remaining sauce on a back burner.
Heat a second steel pan that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over medium-high (emphasis high) heat. Add the fish skin side down, if you like crispy fish skin (and I have a couple of fish skin fans here; cooking the skin first keeps it from steaming when you place the fish in the oven to finish), and cook for 4 minutes. Flip fish in pan to flesh side down, and place pan in your preheated oven to cook for another 4-6 minutes. Char is not very thick and doesn’t require much time, but home ranges and ovens can vary in intensity. Use your best judgment for doneness.
While fish is finishing in the oven, add the vegetables back to the first sauté pan with the orange juice-vinegar reduction, toss with remaining syrup to coat, and set aside over lowest heat to warm through and keep warm.
When fish is done, plate some of the vegetables and slide a piece of fish on top, skin side up. Drizzle plate and/or fillet with the reserved syrup and serve.