As mentioned in last week’s blog, my old friend, chicken baked with dried fruit and olives, in which all take delight, actually got jilted, because I ran out of olives. (Let’s not discuss the Wednesday night fridge raid that must have taken place evidenced by a tidy pile of mounded pits that were discovered when I came down to cook Thursday morning.)
So, necessity being the mother of invention, I looked around the kitchen and spied my little container of dates, and thought, Hmmmm…what can I introduce you to? Dates are naturally very sweet. Chicken goes well with sweet, but needs something to balance the flavour to create that symphony, that when hit upon, is an instantly recognizable classic.
I wandered over to the pantry to see what was in cold storage. My local supply of garlic ran out before Chanuka and I really don’t like buying the garlic from China which is all that seems to be available at the market.
In 2008, Trader Joe’s stopped selling garlic and other “single-ingredient” foods from China. When I looked into it, I learned a few unsettling facts. The bulk of the world’s garlic is produced in China and the hat trick that did me in was;
1. it can be doused in chemicals to stop sprouting,
2. it is whitened using bleach, and
3. it can be grown in untreated sewage.
I use peeled fresh garlic from California, under the brand of Christopher Ranch, which is sold in the refrigerated section. It is a little more expensive, but I am a true believer in the power of the bulb, so I don’t mind. So I was delighted when Pat the Produce Man showed me that they are now carrying fresh bulb garlic from this same California source alongside the usual Chinese stock. Garlic is going in everything these days, now that flu season is upon us. I don’t know if it’s the powers of garlic keeping everyone away, or its immune boosting properties that keep the germs at bay, but its liberal use is perfuming the kitchen the way caramelized onions do in the fall.
Now I have plenty of garlic in the larder. But last week I didn’t. What I had last week was shallots, which is a French kissing cousin to garlic and onions (they are a little more delicate), wonderful either finely minced and paired with mushrooms, or roasted halved. Providing the perfect counterpoint to the dates, rounded out by the spicy notes of a little fresh ginger and cinnamon, bathed in a little honey and lightened with a little lemon juice, it truly was a dish fit for the New Year of the tree.
Spiced Chicken with Shallots and Dates
2 whole chickens, cut into eigths
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 Tablespoons peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup chicken stock or water
250 grams or ½ cup pitted dates
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the oil in a sauté pan and brown the chicken pieces lightly.
Transfer to a baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add the shallots and brown. Add the ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock while scraping up the browned bits left from the chicken.
Add the shallots and cooking liquid to the baking dish. Scatter the dates and drizzle the honey over the chicken.
Cover with a tight fitting lid (ideally), or tin foil, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
Remove the cover and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is browned.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the dish before serving.
Please join Rabbi Heber, COR’s director of Community Kosher, and myself at the Village Shul for a very special series entitled Mashgiach @ Home on Tuesday nights, Feb. 12, 19 and 26. These classes are designed for those who have been keeping kosher for years and, also, for those who are considering keeping kosher, by educating in very practical terms how we apply the laws of Kashruth in our own kitchens.
There will be recipe handouts, follow-up fun quizzes after each class and a completion certificate for you to proudly display.
Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada