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Cooking with Citrus: Spicy Chicken with Clementines

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Earlier this week I was in the local co-op experiencing a bit of a conundrum regarding planning this week’s meals. After seemingly months of rich, holiday foods followed by a few days of delicious – but somewhat drab – field peas, winter greens, and cornbread, I felt ready for something bright, clean, and fresh. This time of year that trifecta can be hard to come by – it’s not exactly the description that comes to mind when thinking of bitter greens and earthy root vegetables. Citrus, however, is all those things, which led me to this recipe for Spicy Chicken with Clementines. Cooking with citrus is a great way to blow away the winter blahs. Problem solved!

spicy baked chicken with citrus on www.virginiawillis.com

My Spicy Chicken with Clementines was inspired by a beautiful dish from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by my friend and colleague Amelia Saltsman.  It’s an absolutely splendid book and explores Jewish food beyond the deli and matzo ball soup. The recipes are modern, seasonal, and ingredient-driven. While it’s a book based on traditional Jewish recipes, you most certainly don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy them. It’s a fantastic book and everything I’ve tried has been stellar. I highly recommend it.

The original version of this dish, made with whole chicken, is a lovely combination of flavors and textures. The tangy citrus, spicy heat, and salty olives are fresh, bright, and clean. I liked it so much I wanted to adapt it to a quick weeknight dinner. My go-to protein for a quick dinner are boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They are moister than breasts and I knew they would be great for cooking with citrus. The clementines, left in large pieces, cook until they are meltingly soft and  toothsome, at the same time.

Spicy Baked Chicken with Clementines on www.virginiawillis.com

Ten Tips for Cooking with Citrus

Cooking with clementines may seem unusual. Most of us are accustomed to cooking with lemon, but there’s so much more! The tangy, sweet, vibrant flavors of tangerines, clementines, kumquats, limes, grapefruit, and oranges add life and lightness to nearly any dish.

1. Cook with large chunks of citrus fruit, skin and all, for big bursts of flavor (just make sure to remove the seeds.)

2. Add citrus juice to a sauce at the end of cooking, to make the flavors pop, but not early on in cooking as that can make the sauce taste bitter.

3. Be careful when adding citrus juice to dairy; the acid may cause it to curdle.

4. Citrus pairs nicely with salty flavors like olives, capers, and anchovies.

5. Charring citrus tones down the acidity, brings out a pleasant bitterness, and elevates the sweetness. Heat some oil in a heavy-duty pan and sear the fruit cut-side down. (Just be careful, the juice can make the oil pop.)

6. The outer part of the citrus rind is called zest and contains flavorful aromatic oils. The white layer underneath is pith, which is bitter. Make sure to only remove the  zest for the best flavor.

7. Fine-toothed rasps (the best known brand is Microplane) are indispensable for zesting, but consider other tools for zesting citrus fruit for a variety of textures. Try a box grater, pronged-zester, and even a vegetable peeler to mix things up.

8. Want to add citrus flavor to vegetables? Use the zest, not the juice for the best flavor without discoloring the dish. The acidity of the lemon juice will turn green vegetables yucky, army-green.

9. Trying to cut back on salt? Use citrus juice instead. Acidity, like saltiness, also leads to an increase in salivation, literally make food more mouth-watering.

10. Citrus can be kept at room temperature, but for longer storage keep the fruit in the refrigerator.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy my tips and recipes for cooking with citrus. There are lots and lots of great things on the horizon. To keep up with me let’s connect on Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

Spicy Baked Chicken with Clementines on www.virginiawillis.com

Spicy Chicken with Clementines

Serves 4 to 6

I assembled this dish in the morning so it marinated all day and I just popped it in the oven at the end of the day, serving it with whole grain couscous and a celery salad. Bright, clean, and fresh – along with healthy, easy, and most of all delicious – the best of weeknight cooking. Many thanks to Amelia for the inspiration.

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
4 clementines, cut into the eighths
3 small onions, quartered
1/4 cup black olives
2 tablespoons harissa, or to taste (or in a pinch, you could use sriracha)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the chicken, clementines, onions, olives, harissa, and agave in a sealable container. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate to marinate at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours. (I quickly put it together in the morning and let it marinate all day while I am at work.)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and transfer to a shallow baking dish. Set aside for 10 or so minutes to take the chill off. Transfer to the heated oven and bake until the juices run clear when pierced with the tip of a knife and the temperature registers about 160°  when tested with an instant read thermometer, about 20 minutes. Change the oven setting to broil and cook until slightly charred and blistered, about 5 minutes depending on the strength of your broiler. This will also take the internal temperature of the chicken up to the FDA-recommended 165°F.

Photography by Virginia Willis

(Cover of The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen by Stacy Valentine.)

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.)

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has made chocolate chip cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and beguiled celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Bill Clinton, and Julie Chrisley with her cooking -- but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Virginia is a chef instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen and author of Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network's Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of "Seven Food Writers You Need to Know." Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and follow her traveling exploits at www.virginiawillis.com.

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