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!
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.
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!
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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