Invite apricot chicken to next elegant dinner


Let me share one of my favorite treatments of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Sauteed apricot chicken with scallions is very simple to prepare yet elegant enough to grace the plates at a dressy dinner party -- but the kids will like it, too.

Skinless, boneless breast of chicken has taken on near-luxury status in most markets. The reasons are obvious: the meat cooks in minutes, yielding a fine-fleshed morsel with a mild and delicate flavor that marries so well with a whole range of other ingredients and seasonings. For good measure, the meat is high in protein, lean and fairly low in saturated fat. Darned tasty, too.

If you're a bargain-conscious cook like me, here's what I often do: purchase whole chickens and take a few minutes to cut them apart, remove and discard the bones and skin (or save them for stock, which can later be chilled and easily defatted) and set aside the breast halves for this dish.

Serve the chicken on steamed brown rice and spoon some of the sauce over the top. A tossed salad or a green vegetable rounds out the meal.

Care to dress it up a bit? Change the rice to a wild rice blend, dress up the plate with steamed asparagus tips or fresh string beans with buttered mushrooms.

Sauteed apricot chicken with scallions

Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (each 4 to 6 ounces)

4 to 8 scallions, including a small portion of the green tops, trimmed

all-purpose flour (enough to dredge chicken)

salt; freshly ground black pepper

optional: paprika, cayenne pepper

1 can (about 16 ounces) apricot halves (see notes)

2 to 3 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari

optional: drops of toasted sesame seed oil

corn oil or other vegetable oil

3 to 4 tablespoons cream sherry

steamed rice

garnishes: toasted sesame seeds; chopped fresh cilantro

Preliminary steps: Trim any tough connective tissue or deposits of fat from the chicken breasts. Place each breast half between sheets of plastic wrap and, using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the meat to flatten to about 1/2 -inch thickness. Cover and set aside until all meat is flattened.

Trim the scallions, eliminating most, but not all, of the green part. Chop into segments about 1/2 -inch long; set aside. Reserve the liquid from the apricots, combine it with soy sauce and drops of sesame oil and sherry. Combine flour with salt and pepper; you may wish to further season the flour with some paprika and a pinch or two of cayenne.

Procedure: Coat each breast half with flour mixture and set on a plate. Place a large, nonstick saute or frying pan over medium-high heat; add one to two tablespoons of oil and heat until oil is sizzling. Add scallions and saute until just browned; using a slotted spoon, remove them to a bowl. Add a little more oil if needed; when it resumes sizzling, add the chicken breasts and brown one side, then turn the meat. Drain any excess fat and reduce heat to medium-low.

Return the reserved scallion pieces to the pan along with the apricots, then drizzle in the syrup-sherry mixture. Cover and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, turning chicken to coat with liquid and for even cooking. Avoid overcooking; the chicken should be opaque, with no signs of pinkness near center.

Serve over or alongside steamed rice. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and chopped cilantro if desired.

Notes: Preliminary steps can be done up to two days in advance: cover and refrigerate everything, except dry ingredients, for easy last-minute assembly. You may need to increase cooking time slightly if ingredients are fully chilled. If you prefer the deeper fruit flavor of a sweeter, slightly thicker sauce, use apricots packed in heavy syrup; otherwise, use fruit packed in fruit juice for a lighter sauce and flavor. Recipe may be doubled.

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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