Two dogs, two chicken breasts, two chutneys

Posted on August 26, 2013

“I’m going to let the chicken rest for a bit before we sit down to eat,” John announced as he deposited the tray of plump grilled breasts onto the plywood board that currently serves us as a countertop. It’s hot work, grilling as he does over long-burning hard wood coals, and he needed the rest as much as the meat did. He left the kitchen for the den and the den’s window fan and the golf match that was reaching its end on tv. I took my glass of wine and joined him.

Soon, though, the smell of charred meat reached us at the front of the house. “The chicken smells really good,” I said. Earlier, I had put eight breasts into a covered dish along with several good glugs of olive oil, a fistful of fresh parsley leaves, and some chopped garlic, and the air was redolent with all of these plus a generous amount of wood smoke. “Delicious.”

“Yes,” John agreed.

We made no move for the table, though, choosing instead to let the aroma work its magic on our appetites. Minutes passed. The golf game wound down: the leader finished, many of the remaining golfers missed crucial shots on their final holes. We agreed the bunker shots and bogies weren’t fun to watch but sitting felt nice after a stint at the hot grill, after an afternoon of standing at the hot stove preparing the side dishes. I said a silent “thank you” for the quiet of the moment and started to bring the wine glass to my lips. Then stopped.

The quiet of the moment?

“Where are the dogs?” I wondered aloud. As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I discovered where the dogs were: in there, eating chicken.

The aroma of garlic and the charred crust on each chicken breast had tempted the dogs’ appetites as well but, unlike us, they had no interest in that very human concept known as delayed gratification. Dogs like chicken. If they can get chicken, they will eat it, lots of it, and in this newly reconfigured kitchen, they can get it. Spy, the oldest but still agile for her eleven years, braced her hind legs on an arm of one of the comfy chairs. Up that high, her front legs could reach over to the plywood and her mouth could reach the chicken resting on its tray. The not-quite-year-old pup stood beneath the bridge Spy’s body made, ready to receive whatever morsels she dropped to him. When I walked in on them, he was finishing those morsels and licking his lips for more. Spy was going in for chicken breast number three. I whisked the tray away just in time.

Clearly we still have some training to do, but it is difficult to get angry at dogs being dogs when human error has placed the temptation in their paths. Lesson learned: In the future we keep the food off the counter. Also, maybe a little furniture rearrangement is in order. After a few minutes of dog wrangling and taking a food safety precaution (here’s where I give thanks to the hard wood coals that stay hot – really hot – for hours, and for the husband willing to go back and stand over them), we upright walkers were ready to eat. There were, after all, six pieces of chicken waiting and we had worked hard for it, for the food as well as for the privilege of enjoying this meal – no matter how crazy or chaotic – at home.

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Two Chutneys

Simply grilled herb-flecked chicken breasts always taste great to me on a sunny summer day, and I’m quite happy to eat them unadorned, with just salads or grilled vegetables on the side. But adding a different chutney or relish or even acidic salsa alongside the chicken each time you serve it spices up the plate for those among us who find chicken bland and in need of a flavor boost. At this point in the summer, with so many ripe fruits available, I like to make quick chutneys to serve with chicken. Both sweet and sour, chutneys have great depth and balance. Plus, they are super easy to make. These two were particularly popular last week and this.

Ground Cherry and Golden Plum Chutney

The ground cherry, A.K.A. husk tomato and dwarf Cape gooseberry, is not a cherry or berry at all. Related to the potato, eggplant, and tomatillo, the ground cherry looks most like a golden cherry tomato that has decided to wear a tomatillo’s papery husk.

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Edible raw, either out of hand or tossed in salads and salsas, the ground cherry is equally wonderful cooked in jams, preserves, and pies. Their natural balance of sweetness and acidity lends itself makes these a natural in a sweet and acidic chutney. Golden plums stew down as the chutney simmers and lend a silky, slippery texture.

Ground cherries are ready to work with only after the berries are fully ripened and bright yellow with a firm and glossy skin.

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  • 1 good-sized shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 pint ground cherries, husks removed and washed (about 1/2 cup ground cherries after husking)
  • 2 golden plums, pitted and cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Toss the shallot, ground cherries, chopped plums, agave, and vinegar together in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, bring the fruit mixture to a gentle boil. When boiling, reduce the heat just enough to maintain a steady simmer. Continue to stir the mixture occasionally to prevent scorching and sticking. Cook the fruits until the syrup begins to thicken and reduce a bit.

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Once the chutney reaches the consistency of loose and chunky jam, remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Let the chutney cool a bit before turning into a small serving bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Peach, Dried Tart Cherry, and Ginger Chutney

  • 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped finely
  • 3 ripe peaches (or nectarines), chopped into chunks
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries (or raisins)
  • a 1-1/2 inch length of ginger, peeled and grated
  • zest of 1 lime
  • scant cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup unfiltered apple cider
  • salt and pepper to taste

Toss the onion, peach chunks, dried cherries, ginger and lime zest together in a medium saucepan.

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Add the sugar and vinegar and stir to combine everything. Set the pan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, bring the fruit mixture to a gentle boil. When boiling, reduce the heat just enough to maintain a steady simmer. Continue to stir the mixture occasionally to prevent scorching and sticking. Cook the fruits until the syrup begins to thicken and reduce a bit. Once the chutney reaches the consistency of loose and chunky jam, remove the pan from the heat.

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Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Let the chutney cool a bit before turning into a small serving bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. Spoon over grilled chicken breasts to serve.

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©2013  Jane A. Ward