This dish was really rich and tasty. The chicken was juicy and soft (on account of being poached) while the filling was a bit more honeyed and crunchy in texture, being filled with apricot, dates, and almonds. The sauce was also the poaching liquid: a creamy spiced broth teeming with saffron. All of these individually strong flavors paired together in a surprisingly harmonious way.
This dish was kind of a hodgepodge of ingredients–after making rugelach, I had some ingredients on hand that I normally don’t (apricot preserves, dates) and I just felt compelled to use them for something completely different. Once I got out of the dessert frame of mind, I came up with this. Describing the dish to my wife ahead of time was greeted with skepticism: there were a lot of flavors and many of them were sweet (she has a thing against sweet and meat). I was also feeling a little nervous, but it still seemed oddly cohesive, so what the hell, right?
Making this wasn’t without its hiccups (e.g. my roulades fell apart, which I took as foreshadowing of a bad meal), but the end result was amazing (and my wife agreed!). The color on both the sauce and the chicken was muted and attractive and the taste was really complex–sweet, but surprisingly well suited to chicken; rich, but light; honeyed, but creamy. All of the flavors in the sauce were kind of light, but the cinnamon provided a really solid backbone (my reason for entering in this month’s Think Spice over at Sunita’s World) that gave it body without having that overwhelming cinnamon taste you’d normally find in something like an apple pie. It wasn’t quite perfect and I would make a few minor changes next time (e.g. make better roulades, don’t bother with cilantro, consider adding dried apricots to the filling for a little additional texture), but there will definitely be a next time. This was a hit, and now that I finally used up all of the dates in the fridge, I went out and bought more. 😉
Also, in case you’re wondering about what else is going on in the above photo: I paired this dish with cranberry rice. I thought having something tart would add a nice contrast, but it didn’t really do anything for me. The objects atop the chicken are a poached date and a poached (dried) mission fig–not the sexiest garnish in the world, but they went really nicely. Given how well the fig paired with the chicken, in the future, I’d opt for a side dish that showcased figs somehow.
- 1.5 lbs chicken breast
- 16 dates
- 1 cup apricot preserves
- large handful of cilantro leaves (I wouldn’t bother with this next time)
- 1 Tbsp almond slivers
- Poaching liquid/sauce
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot
- knob of butter
- olive oil
- 1.5 cups of broth
- 1 cup cream
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 6 cardamom pods
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp (or so) of saffron
- dash of nutmeg
- 2 tsp honey
- ground black pepper
While your knife is clean, we might as well get some of the prep out of the way. Begin by dicing up your almonds somewhat finely (not to a powder, just not large chunks). Pit and dice the dates, and if you include cilantro (I don’t think its worth the trouble), dice this up as well. Also take this time to chop up the garlic and shallot for your sauce later and set this aside.
So now, prepare the chicken. Trim any excess fat, loosely wrap the chicken in plastic wrap, and hammer it thinly with a meat mallet (or slice it thinly–just make it big and thin).
With your chicken laid out like this, slather each piece with apricot preserves. Then, spread the diced dates, chopped almonds, and cilantro, as if making some sort of horrible misinterpretation of a pizza. Now, carefully try to roll each piece of chicken up as tightly as you can to make a roulade with all of these items packaged snugly inside.
I opted to add a little color to the outside of the chicken by cooking them briefly (like 2-3 minutes per side) in a pan with some olive oil. I also thought this would help keep my roulades together, but I did a poor wrap job and they were beyond saving. 😉 Anyways, after browning, remove from the pan and set these aside.
So now, on to the poaching liquid. I think poaching is an interesting way of cooking–boiling things normally equates to bland food in my mind, but poaching is different. Rather than throwing something in plain, boiling water, you instead make a really flavorful solution, boil it to get the flavors mixed up, and then let it cool off to just barely simmering, at which point you then start cooking whatever it is you want to cook. This is a great way to cook meat that ensures the meat stays juicy and tender, and you can then (usually) transform the poaching liquid into a sauce to serve with the meal.
So first, sautee the garlic and shallot you chopped up earlier in butter and olive oil in a saucepan. After about 3-5 minutes, add in all of the remaining sauce ingredients (except for the honey and black pepper), mix, and get things up the boil. Once boiling, drop the heat down to low-medium/medium so as to get the sauce down to a very slow, gentle simmer. This will be creamy, savory, and have that sweet aroma and seductive color of saffron.
Once there, carefully place the chicken roulades in, doing your best to ensure that they are all entirely submerged in liquid. Do not cover the saucepan with a lid as that will raise the pressure and therefore the temperature. A common thing to do during poaching is to instead cut a round of parchment paper and press that against the surface of the liquid, thereby keeping things moist without raising the temperature.
After about 25 minutes (if you browned it–if not, say 30-35), the chicken should be done poaching. Carefully remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and set aside. Then, pour all of the poaching liquid through a strainer back into a saucepan and then add the honey and ground black pepper. Get the liquid back up to a boil and simmer on medium heat uncovered for about 10 minutes or until it has reached a sauce consistency that you’re happy with. I added my garnishes (dried figs and dates) into the liquid at this point as well to soften them up a bit.
Once the sauce is done, plate the chicken, ladle some sauce over it, and arrange the garnish in some attractive looking way. Enjoy!