Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make This. Now.

I was going to write about the ongoing question of who Obama will pick to lead the USDA's (maybe, maybe not irradiation apologist Michael Osterholm), which Obama Foodarama has been covering somewhat, um, obsessively.

But then a bag of kumquats got in the way.

In case it isn't obvious from the shot selection on the Photos of the Day, I'm not a big fan of sweet stuff. A good piece of dark chocolate? Yum. Chocolate Blackout Orgasmic Explosion Cake? Blech. So when a bag of kumquats arrived in my CSA box last week, I knew I wanted to figure out something savory to do with them.

For the uninitiated (and those who avoid kumquats because of the vaguely dirty-sounding name--kumquat kumquat kumquat!), a kumquat (alternate spelling: kumquat--snerk) is a small citrus fruit that tastes like an inverted orange: Super-sweet skin, puckeringly sour interior. They originated in China, their season is from late fall to midwinter, and they look like this:

Photo by Flickr user CoCreatr

Cute, aren't they?

Anyway, trolling around the Internet for a suitably savory recipe (there aren't many out there, and neither Bittman nor Joy had any), I came across Gourmet's very '90s-haute recipe for "sauteed chicken over wilted spinach with kumquat sauce" at Epicurious. As I may have mentioned earlier, I'm pretty sure Gourmet can do no wrong, so despite my skepticism about that particular combination of flavors, I decided to give it a whirl.

And seriously? OMFG it was good. The sour kumquats married just perfectly with the bitter arugula (which I substituted for spinach--sauteed spinach just squicks me out) and piquant vinegar-based sauce, and the sauteed chicken (I used legs instead of the breasts called for) was a suitably savory but unobtrusive base. I can imagine this recipe working well with a bland, sturdy whitefish like halibut, too. Yum! Here's the recipe, with my changes noted.

3 kumquats (I had a large bag, and they were pretty small, so I used 5 or 6)
1 large shallot
2 boneless chicken breast halves with skin (I used whole legs, which take a little longer to cook)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar (I used a little less)
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
4 cups packed spinach leaves (I used arugula)


Cut kumquats and shallot crosswise into thin slices, discarding any kumquat seeds. Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a skillet heat butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides and sauté chicken, skin sides down, until skin is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook over moderate heat until just cooked through, about 5 minutes more. (Legs will take longer than this--I covered mine up once they were brown). Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm, covered.

Add shallot to fat remaining in skillet (I poured a lot of the fat into my chicken-fat jar and don't think the flavor suffered) and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over shallot and cook, undisturbed, until sugar is melted and golden. Immediately stir in kumquats, water, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stir in parsley and salt to taste and, if sauce is too liquid, simmer until thickened to desired consistency, about 1 minute.

Transfer two thirds sauce to a small bowl and to remainder add spinach (/arugula) and salt to taste, turning with tongs until just wilted.

Divide spinach between 2 plates and top with chicken. Spoon sauce over chicken.

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