I’m not really sure what made me gravitate toward this because it’s so unlike anything I typically cook. Possibly it was the fact that I made a huge pan of Baked Ziti earlier this week, so we’ve been eating it for leftovers and lunches the last three days, and I really needed something different.
That’s probably it.
Whatever the case, I rushed out to the grocery store and picked up a bag of dried apricots… All this, knowing full well my spouse hates apricots.
Hey, there’s extra Ziti in the fridge…
Surprisingly, this turned out well — and the fact that the spouse ate everything on his plate, apricot sauce included, was especially satisfying. This is another one of those dishes where the different components don’t stand up on their own, but together they make a great dish. You can imagine how worried I was when I tasted the sauce by itself and thought it was rather bland. Together, however, this was a neat little dish.
Chicken Breasts with Apricot-Onion Pan Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
3 1/2 ounces dried apricots
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (9 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
The original recipe selects skin-on boneless chicken breasts, and I opted for skinless. Because there’s less fat going into the sauce, I added 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch to the pan when adding the chicken stock.
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a bowl, cover the apricots with hot water and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes; drain.
Meanwhile, dry the chicken with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a stainless steel skillet, heat the oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown, 5 minutes. Flip and cook about 3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and roast for about 14 – 20 minutes.
My chicken breasts were pretty thick, so I used a thermometer and ended up roasting them for around 20 minutes.
Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf to the skillet. Season with salt and cook over moderate heat until the onion is tender.
Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, scraping up the browned bits in the skillet.
In a bowl, whisk the cornstarch and chicken broth until smooth. Add the stock mixture, apricots and apricot preserves and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat until the sauce thickens.
Off the heat, swirl in the butter until melted. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to plates, spoon the sauce on top and serve.
Now, the verdict: This was a pleasant dish. It wasn’t rockin’, but it was nice and refreshing. Despite my misconception about the sauce being sweet and syrupy, it wasn’t. The sauce was actually quite mild and all of the flavors came through and balanced each other out; it wasn’t a spotlight on apricots. Alone, the sauce was quite odd, like it was missing something — which it definitely was: With the seasoned chicken breasts, it was actually quite nice. Like I said, my spouse even ate the whole thing, and I nearly fell off my chair when he reached for additional sauce. This isn’t something I would make again, but I’m not sorry for cooking it up. If you’re in the mood for something light with just a hint of sweetness and pepper, this would be a fun one to try.
High marks for the weeknight cooking segment because it’s fast and light and, aside from the dried apricots, I had all of the ingredients in my pantry to make it. The regular cooking rating, on the other hand, isn’t so great, because if I ordered this at a nice restaurant I wouldn’t be happy. The flavors were just too casual.
I served this alongside a baby spinach and arugula salad with sourdough croutons… and, of course, my husband’s jumbo jar of McCormick Salad Toppins.
Hey, I had to make some concession for serving up apricots. You know how it goes.
Weeknight Cooking: B+
Overall Cooking: C+