Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Inspiration on Demand

I was looking for inspiration for dinner the other night and I didn’t have to dig too far into my memory to come up with one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten…

…It was a birthday meal about 2 months ago at a great little restaurant in Madison called Jacs Dining and Taphouse. I ordered the pan seared duck breast over a blackberry balsamic sauce, it came with roasted Brussels sprouts and sage barley. I had only eaten duck one other time that I could recall, and had never tried the sprouts before so I was excited for this meal. It lived up to every expectation; the duck was a perfect medium rare, the sprouts were roasted such that they had a delicious char on the outer leaves, and the sage barley was a wonderful match to the dish. All that being said, the real star of this dish was the sauce. It was sweet and tangy, and the perfect compliment to the duck…

…so back to the dinner in question, I began to recall this birthday dinner and wondered if I could recreate something similar in my own kitchen. Having chicken breasts readily available I opted to go with those rather than duck. I also happened to have quinoa on hand so that would be the barely. The sprouts I was fairly confident I could pull together, although my experience working with them is limited. I’m providing the recipe I created due to my overall satisfaction with how this recreation experiment turned out.

*The recipe is fairly extensive with different cooking methods and times. In order to ensure that all the pieces of the meal finish together read the entire recipe prior to starting. I recommend starting the sprouts and quinoa at the same time and about halfway through the cooking time for those items start the chicken.

Blackberry Balsamic Sauce over Lemon Marinated Chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Quinoa.

4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, stem ends removed and halved lengthwise
1c. Quinoa
2 c. Chicken broth
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Lemon (1 tbs. zest + juice)
2 Scallions, chopped
½ c. Blackberries
½ c. Balsamic vinegar
¼ c. Water
1 tbs. Sugar or raw honey
½ c. Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 Sprig Rosemary, chopped
Olive Oil
Salt (1tsp. + extra to taste)
Pepper (1/4 tsp. + extra to taste)

Marinade: In a large zip-top bag or mixing bowl add zest and juice from lemon, rosemary, garlic, 1/4c. olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and add chicken to bag, or pour over chicken in a shallow dish to ensure complete coverage. Let chicken marinate for 20-30 minutes. *This marinade is highly acidic and could begin to ‘cook’ the chicken, if you see the exterior of the chicken beginning to turn white; it’s time to get them in the pan.

Sprouts: Preheat oven to 400*F. Arrange Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan flat side down. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for approx. 20-30 minutes or until leaves begin to become charred, stirring occasionally. *I tend to keep reserved bacon drippings in the fridge and will apply some to the pan in an application like this.

Quinoa: In a medium sauce pan add quinoa, chicken broth, ½ tsp. salt and a few turns of pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med/low and cover for 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, stir in scallions and parsley, and cover. Fluff with fork prior to serving.

Chicken: Place a heavy bottom or cast iron pan over med/high heat on the stove top and add a few rounds of olive oil. Remove chicken from marinade and add to pan, cooking for approx 15 minutes or until cooked through, turning once.

Blackberry sauce: In a small sauce pan add blackberries, vinegar, sugar/honey and water. Bring contents to a slow simmer, reduce heat and cover for 15 minutes. Break down blackberries in mixture (I usually use a potato masher for this). Strain mixture through sieve or fine mesh strainer reserving liquid and discarding the strained seeds and skin. Return the strained liquid to the pan and put over medium heat, reduce liquid by 50% or until sauce thickens. *If you find the sauce gets too thick, incorporate water a teaspoon at a time until desired thickness is achieved. Also, this sauce could be prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

Tips, tricks, suggestions:
Try this recipe with skin-on chicken thighs, start skin side down in the pan, turn once and let the cooking finish in the oven!
Toss the sprouts with minced garlic and bacon!
Add additional herbs to quinoa to boost the flavor!
Steeping the sauce with a teaspoon of minced ginger or a few whole cloves will bring in a hint of spice!

Again, as always, comments and criticisms welcome.  Enjoy!!

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