Summer’s bounty has disappeared from produce shelves. Berries, apricots, peaches and plums, have been supplanted by a sea of apples, pears, and more apples. But in another section of the store, you’ll find many of your summer favorites in a long-lasting, shelf stable form: dried. When dried, apricots, grapes, plums, and more provide chewy, flavor-intense snacks to be enjoyed as is. Add them to a savory braise, though, and they achieve a whole new level. They plump up and soften. Flavors mellow and blend.
Raisins, scorned by many in oatmeal and oatmeal cookies (both excellent uses for them), figure in many Middle Eastern and North African savory dishes. Golden raisins add a nice brightness to Moroccan Braised Beef. Dried currants do the same for the spicy, cumin-powered rice that accompanies this Indian-style chicken dish. And dried plums – prunes – show up in meat dishes from Morocco to Belgium, Italy, France, and all points in between.
For this braised chicken dish, prunes are combined with onions, sage, bay leaf, garlic, and apple juice. It’s given a bright hit at the end with a little sherry vinegar. I served it with white rice, spooning the onion/prune mixture over the rice. The prunes absorb more flavor than they impart, taking on almost a mellow root vegetable quality, but still offering up a hint of summer fruit as you bite into them.
Chicken with Prunes and Onions
Serves 4 or more
1 cup pitted prunes, about 20
2/3 cup apple juice, divided
4 each, chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin-on, bone-in
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
2 cups sliced onions, about 2 medium
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1-1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
cooked white rice (optional)
1. In a small sauce pan, combine prunes with half of the apple juice. Bring to a boil and cook until almost all the juice is absorbed. Cover and set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a sauté pan large enough to hold chicken in a single layer. Let the pan get good and hot, then brown chicken on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Do this in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding chicken. It will brown better this way. When you’re braising it later, crowding isn’t an issue. Transfer browned chicken to a plate and set aside.
2. Spoon off all but 2 to 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Reduce heat to medium and cook onions until they’re translucent and beginning to soften, stirring frequently, about 3 to 5 minutes. If pan seems dry, drizzle in a little more oil. Create a hole in the center and add garlic and half the sage. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Pour in the rest of the apple juice and cook until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits in the pan.
3. Add the prunes with any liquid, the broth and the bay leaf. Nestle chicken pieces in among the prunes and onions. Sprinkle remaining sage over the pan, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil. Stir vinegar into cooking liquid and reduce until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard bay leaf, taste sauce, and adjust seasonings. Serve chicken with rice, if desired, spooning the prunes, onions and sauce over both.
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