52 Foods Week Eighteen: Raisins

What can I say about raisins? They are delicious and ubiquitous. Once, in Kindergarden or maybe earlier, we made raisins by setting grapes out in the sun in the morning. By the end of school, we had raisins. I can’t recall anything about how they tasted, but I distinctly remember being impressed both by the sun’s capacity to transform a grape into a raisin while I learned to enumerate barnyard animals and by the ability, as a child, to make food.

So raisins might be the first thing that got me cooking. That’s fitting in a way, because I continue to be impressed by all that raisins can do. I put raisins in my oatmeal. I’ve used them to stuff a turkey. One of my favorite uses of raisins is in Moroccan Tagine Chicken, where they come together with honey and at least a half-dozen spices for a spicy and sweet dish. I adapted this for this for grilling by using the sauce as a marinade for thin, quick-cooking pieces of chicken.

To make the marinade, I began with golden raisins from Neufeld Farms Dried Fruits, in Kingsburg, a Farmers’ Market mainstay that offers dried versions of nearly every fruit imaginable. Their raisin selection alone has five or six options. I covered 1 cup of raisins with 2 cups of water, and cooked them in saucepan
over medium heat.

Cooking Raisins

While the raisins cooked, I pounded chicken breasts—four pounds of them— to a thickness of about 1/2″.

Pounded Chicken

After the raisins had plumped some and the water was reduced by about half, I puréed the raisins with the water in a food processor.

Raisins in Food Processor

I then returned the mixture to the saucepan and prepared a Moroccan spice mix (Ras-el-hanout) of salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. I started with this recipe, but added additional cayenne, cumin, black pepper and coriander.

Spice Mix

I mixed the spices into the raisin purée, then added another cup of water and an additional 1/4 cup of whole raisins.

Adding a Few Whole Raisins

I let this cook over low heat for about 30 minutes before stirring in a two tablespoons of olive oil and leaving it to cool for another 20 minutes or so. I poured it over the chicken, making sure each piece was well covered.

Chicken in Marinade

I let the chicken marinate for about two hours, before cooking it on a hot grill, about five minutes on each side.

On the Grill

It came out tender, slightly sweet and richly spiced, with a nice kick from the cayenne. All four pounds were devoured very quickly.

Grilled Moroccan Chicken:

4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 1/4 cup
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground clove
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cups water

Cook 1 cup raisins and 2 cups water over medium heat until raisins are plump and water is reduced by about half. Purée raisins and water, then return to saucepan. Add spices to raisin purée with additional 1/4 cup raisins and 1 cup water. Cook approximately 30 minutes. Add olive oil and let cool.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/2″ thickness. Cover with marinade. Let sit 2 hours. Grill over high heat for 5 minutes each side.

Grilled Moroccan Chicken

More photos are here.

52 Foods Week Three: Chicken

The French are, in a word, sérieux about where things come from. Whether it’s wine, cheese or lentils, there are rules—sorry, laws—and they must be heeded. I like rules. Rules are good. Rules beget constraints and constraints beget challenges and challenges beget intrigue. I like intrigue, too.

Calvinball is an example of what’s great about rules. Calvin Ball is fun, intriguing if you will, not because any action is possible, but because any rule is possible. Changing the rules changes the game, and infinite rules provide infinite possibility.

At last week’s Farmer’s Market, I was hipped to another rule the French have. It concerns chicken, namely the Poulet de Bresse. The Poulet de Bresse has blue feet and is the only chicken with AOC status. It is raised in one region under strict guidelines. The appellation is protected to the point that one is forbidden from removing the live birds, their eggs or even dressed birds from the country. What does this have to do with California?

Poulet Bleu is an American equivalent to the Poulet de Bresse. It was bred in British Columbia in collaboration with California producers, and introduced in 2004. We purchased one from Cache Creek Meat Co., where they are raised as free roaming animals. Ours weighed about two and a half pounds without the head and feet. It’s a slightly slenderer bird than a typical U.S. chicken, with the characteristic blue coloring visible on the tips of the drumsticks.

Poulet Bleu Ready to Roast

We were cautioned that indelicate cooking might dry the bird out, so I selected a recipe I was confident would maintain plenty of moisture. Turning to the Silver Spoon, I noted their recipe for Pollo Arrosto, which calls for cooking the whole bird in a large pot atop a layer of carrots, onion, celery and rosemary.

Fresh Rosemary

I followed their recipe quite faithfully, with only the addition of a Meyer lemon in the bird’s cavity and a little white wine in the pot along with the vegetables.

The recipe calls for searing the bird on all sides before reducing the heat to cook it slowly. In the future, I’ll try to use a little more oil, because the skin stuck and tore a bit. It didn’t impact the final product in the least, but for appearances sake, intact skin would be nice.

Seared Bird

Speaking of the final product, this was one tasty, tasty bird. I’m usually 100% dark meat when it comes to my poultry preferences, but the white meat on the Poulet Bleu was absolutely transcendent—light, juicy and flavorful. We will definitely return to the Poulet Bleu in the future.

We served the bird alongside some butter roasted orange cauliflower and carrots.

Carrots and Cauliflower with Butter

Please check out all the pictures.