Thursday, August 16, 2007


Spicy Baked Chicken with White Peach

It is really too hot to do much in the kitchen these days (even with air conditioning in the house), but I can only eat so many salad and noodle dishes. My angelheart Eric has a lower salad tolerance than I do. Being a foodie, scanning the pantry for what we have on hand and the fridge or freezer for what needs to be used for a quick-cooking and flavoursome meal usually yields an interesting dish. Frankly, we probably have too many things that we have picked up on a whim or bought for only one recipe, leaving loads leftover. It seems such a waste to let things sit for too long, and most of us already know that some spices and dried herbs can lose their potentcy if unused within a year - give or take a few months.

I cannot remember for what particular recipe my angelheart Eric and I bought a bag of dried arból chiles. We do use them, but since we don't really eat especially spicy food (not because we can't take it, but mostly because I prefer to taste my food instead of being left with a numb tongue) we never seem to use more than one or two at a time. As usual, I turned to the Grand Bookcase for guidance. The lime green spine of Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday stood out, like sun rays bursting from behind a ominous and billowy clouds (this reminds me: I need to dust the Grand Bookcase). I spoke a little about this book in a recent meme, during which I was to randomly select seven cookery books. I hadn't read or used it since last summer, so rereading the book for the meme was quite nostalgic - the recipes are from the fourth season of the PBS show, "Mexico One Plate at a Time". I really wanted to reacquaint myself with Mr. Bayless.

The Salsa Roja de Chile de Arból is a traditional sauce used to dribble on top of tacos, tostadas, or any grilled goodies. For this recipe, however, it was being adapted as a sauce in which to bake chicken breasts, which typically need some pepping up. Furthermore, tomatillos are used in this salsa for their volume, brightness, and acidity. I didn't have four (or any, actually) on hand today, so I used two yellow tomatoes growing on the vine in the backyard in their place. I'm not saying this is always going to be an adequate substitution, for tomatillos are actually relatives of gooseberries, but the just properties I needed for this salsa could be achieved from using ripe tomatoes. Arból chiles rate between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville units on the heat index, placing them somewhere between fiery poblanos and incredibly hot habaneros. They remain red (the colour that is indicative of their maturity; they start out green) after the drying process. Remember to wash your hands after handling them.

The Salsa Roja de Chile de Arból makes approximately one cup, which is enough to cover 4 chicken breast halves or 8 chicken thighs. Please find in parentheses Mr. Bayless' suggestions.

Spicy Baked Chicken with White Peach
(closely followed in Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday)

2 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable oil)
16 dried arból chiles (or 2 dried guajillo chiles), stemmed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium sized tomatoes, cut in thirds (4 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut in half)
5 chicken breasts (from 2 1/2 breasts, but you could use up to 4 breasts - boneless, skinless is fine)
1 white peach, pitted and diced (3 peaches, which is far too many for my taste, or 1 mango, peeled and diced)
1 tablespoon runny honey

For the salsa:
1) Roll the arból chiles in your fingers to loosen the seeds.
2) Split the chiles so that the seeds fall out. Discard the seeds.
3) Put olive oil in a 10"/25cm skillet. Place over a medium heat.
4) Add chiles to the hot oil, turning constantly until fragrant and a change in colour occurs, approximately 30 seconds.
5) Use a slotted spoon to remove the chiles to a blender, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
6) Remove oil from skillet with a paper towel, then set over medium-high heat. Lay garlic and tomatoes in cut-side down.
7) Once tomatoes and garlic are well-browned, turn over to do the other side. Keep an eye on the garlic as it will brown all over before the tomatoes do. Move them to the blender as they are browned. The tomatoes should be well-browned in approximately 10 minutes.
8) Add 1/2 cup water to the chiles, tomatoes and garlic in the blender. Blitz until almost smooth.
9) Cool salsa in a dish. Taste and season with salt.

For the baked chicken:
1) Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C.
2) Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and lay them on a baking tray (skin-side up if not using boneless, skinless breasts).
3) Pour salsa over the chicken breasts. If you do not have 8 chicken breast halves, then do not use all of the salsa, which can be refrigerated for up to one week and used to spoon over anything you grill.
4) Dot the diced peach on top of the salsa in a single-layer.
5) Bake until cooked through, approximately 20-30 minutes depending on their thickness (30-40 minutes if using chicken thighs).
6) Remove the chicken to a serving platter.
7) With a spoon, try to remove as much fat from the pan as possible.
8) Add honey to the sauce and stir, squelching the now-soft diced peach as you go. Spoon over the chicken and serve.

The most time is spent deseeding the chiles, but after that step is taken care of, the rest of the recipe is a breeze to complete. The peach is necessary to take some of the edge off the chiles, allowing you to actually taste the sauce. Be sure to season the chicken breasts or else they could taste bland in the event that the sauce doesn't sufficiently penetrate during the baking process. This recipe certainly makes for a bold step away from plain salads (and, yes, I know that salads needn't be boring, but eating them every day almost reduces me to tears), which is just what my angelheart and I were looking for. And we got to use half of the bag of arból chiles in the process.

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Oh this is such a satisfying dish Shaun.
So glad you are enjoying white peaches, too, Shaun. I used them in my recent pie and generally prefer them over yellow. Pepper and peach is a good combo. Thanks for reminding me to use up some of my own many bags of dried chilies while the summer fruit is still around. You don't realize just how many different kinds of chilies there are until you collect them!
If I saw this when eating out I'd give it a go for sure, looks lovely to me :)

I'm not a big chilli eater and as such I have limited knowledge about the different varieties of chilli (if the packet says mild or medium that's ok!). Mexican food is for me more or less untouched, and it's a gap I should at least read up on, I had one of Rick's books on my wishlist, but took it off again - I'll put it back again and get reading.
My arbol chili plant is going bonkers, and I'm so glad you posted this recipe--it's another way to use my crop. I have a feeling I'm still going to have more chilies than I know what to do with. Who knew one little plant would be so productive?

Beautiful recipe. Beautiful post.

Just noticed you're reading The Namesake. I liked it, but not nearly as much as Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies. That is a LOVELY collection of short stories. The last one breaks my heart no matter how many times I read it. One of my favorites.
Cynthia - Indeed, this is a satisfying dish. It is playful on the palate, providing both heat and sweetness.

Susan, lovie - White peaches are ephemeral, so one has to grab them as soon as they are at their peak and are available. I think they are more subtle in their peachiness and not as cloying in their sweetness, which is why I often prefer them over other varieties of peaches. Combined with the chiles, they are perfect, and, yes, this is a great way to take care of many chiles in one go.

For a while, Eric and I were into buying various chile powders, and I think my favorite find in ancho chile powder, sweet and smokey.

Kelly-Jane - Spicy food isn't for everyone, but for this dish, you can scrape the spicy sauce off after roasting and serve with the peaches, which is what we did for Eric's mum. The chiles still penetrate but are not as overwhelming for sensitive palates.

I recommend this particular book, "Everyday Mexican", by Rick Bayless because it is approachable, informative, and useful for most cooks. There is nothing too labour intensive, though it may not always be possible to get the avocados and varities of chiles you need.

Christina - It is so great that you're growing your own arbol chiles! This recipe will help you get rid of quite a few and obviously opens intself up to adaptation. You could always dry them and turn them into a chile powder...

I really enjoyed "The Namesake," for my literary interest is often in marginalized narratives. The power of a name and the issues of identity raised in this book are informative and eye-opening.
I love the fruit/meat combo. I made a nice peach onion chutney recently that went great with pretty much anythign grilled.
Brilynn - Chutney is the epitome of fruit and meat combinations. I can't imagine not slathering cold beef or lamb with chutney before being placed between slices of fresh bread. The chiles, here, add a really hot and sweet hit.
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