Cooking for me is passion … and my passion is expressed in my cooking. It is also a very elemental process involving fire, water, and the fruits of the earth. And when I breathe these together, these elements are transformative.
I love the story of Persephone; it is a story of love, albeit a complicated love, and the love of a mother (Demeter) for her daughter. It is a beautiful story that gives us the seasons, the harvest, and the bounty of this world. And it is a myth that speaks of the transformative quality of a pomegranate seed to wed a goddess, a daughter, and a wife, to a dark world, itself a symbol of transformation.
So when I saw a pomegranate in January, I recalled this remarkable story, was reminded that pomegranates were now in season, and I knew my recipe of love would involve this fruit and its power to transform summer into winter … the perfect symbol, really for a February culinary story.
And as so often happens, one thought inspired another and before I knew it, I was thinking of the pomtini, a pomegranate infused martini: 1 part vodka, 1/2 part lime juice, and 2 parts pomegranate juice and some part sugar/syrup for sweetness. I thought, how good would that be as a glaze? Could I ‘deconstruct’ the pomtini and reassemble it on a chicken breast? How cool would that be, if I could pull it off?
Well, in the honour of the approaching St. Valentine’s Day, let me answer it this way: make this dish and your love will be very secure for another year (at least). This is a dish that has romance, passion, and a finger-tingling goodness all the way down your spine.
Cooking notes: If the flavours aren’t enough to make this an incredible dish, the fact that you can easily pull this off in about an hour definitely makes this a keeper. The only key to note is the location of the ingredients and, in particular, locating boneless chicken breasts with the skin-on. But have no fear, if you can’t locate these, my previous post on the subject provides step-by-step instructions on how to debone a chicken breast and leave the skin on which is key to preparing a perfectly moist breast for this meal. You’re also either going to need to locate pomegranate seeds (many grocery stores are now selling the seeds loose in the produce section) … or plan on a few more minutes to seed a pomegranate yourself. There is, however, a trick to avoiding what can be a horribly messy task: fill a clean sink with water, cut the pomegranate in half, and, working underwater, use your fingers to dig out the seeds — the seeds will fall to the bottom of the sink and the vegetative bits of the pomegranate will float to the top … and there will be no mess. Best of all, you can prep the chicken and the seeds the night before. You can even make the whole glaze hours ahead of time and just quickly reheat it when you’re ready.
Either way, only 60 minutes stand between you and the adoring eyes of your soul mate across the table as s/he takes that first bite and knows you truly love them back….
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Pomegranate and Vodka Glazed Chicken Breast
- 4 medium-sized chicken boneless chicken breasts, skin-on
→ see here how to debone your own chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons (30mL) avocado or olive oil
- 1/4 cup (65mL) pomegranate seeds (garnish)
- 2 tablespoons (30mL) fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) butter
- 1 large shallot (3-4 tablespoons), finely minced
- 1 cup (250mL) unsweetened pomegranate juice
- 1 lime, juiced (3-4 tablespoons; 50-60mL)
- 3 tablespoons (45mL) brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz or 60mL) vodka
- 1/2 teaspoon (2½ mL) kosher salt
Mandarin Spice Rub
- 1/2 teaspoon (2½ mL) ground coriander
- 1/8 teaspoon (½ mL) cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon (½ mL) ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon (2½ mL) kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon (½ mL) freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon (½ mL) finely zested mandarin/clementine orange zest
- To make the glaze, melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for roughly 3 minutes until lightly golden.
Deglaze the pan by adding the pomegranate juice and the lime juice (don’t worry about any pulp that gets added as well).
Simmer for 10 minutes letting the shallots cook down. Then, using either an immersion blender or transferring the sauce to small food processor, blend until completely smooth.
→ Careful you don’t splash yourself or anything with the very hot staining liquid.
Transfer back to the saucepan and add the brown sugar and salt and return to a simmer.
The brown sugar will add some richness back into the glaze as the sugars melt and start to caramelize.
Continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until glaze has reduced by half from the beginning, the colour is deep red, and when bubbles start to freely form during the simmer — this means that your glaze has achieved the right thickness.
Remove from heat. Hot glaze should easily coat a spoon and create droplets similar to the “jelly test” when making jam. Taste for sugar and salt. The glaze should have some tartness to it, but shouldn’t leave you puckering your mouth.
Stir in the vodka now … and avoid with all temptation your desire to drink the glaze now.
Let the glaze cool or stand while you prepare your chicken. It will continue to thicken as it cools and will look like warm jelly when done. Before using the glaze, heat it ever so slightly and it will get perfectly syrupy again.
- Meanwhile, prepare your dry rub by measuring out the spices and, using a fine rasp (microplane), zest 1/8 of teaspoon for mandarin/clementine orange zest and add it to the spices and mix well. Set aside.
- If preparing on your grill, preheat it and set it to 400ºF (200ºC). Otherwise, if doing this in a grill pan, you can wait for this step, but preheat your oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
- If you haven’t been able to find boneless skin-on chicken breasts, prepare them now. If you aren’t sure how to prepare these, follow step-by-step instructions provided here.
Lightly drizzle breasts with avocado or olive oil and rub this over both sides of breasts.
Evenly sprinkle all 4 breasts with the spice rub, top and bottom.
- If pan frying, heat your grill-pan now. Otherwise, once your grill has reached the right temperature, place the chicken breasts skin-side down on it now and grill for 3 minutes — then, give the breasts a quarter turn and grill for 3 minutes more.
→ Use this opportunity to reheat your glaze.
- Turn the breasts now and drop (don’t touch) a tablespoon of glaze onto each breast, then spread the glaze over the breast with the back of the spoon.
→ Important: Once the spoon has contacted the chicken, don’t put it back in the glaze because this is still uncooked chicken and you don’t want to transfer bacteria to your glaze which you’ll use in the final plating as well.
Continue grilling for a total of 6 minutes more on this side (time includes time to apply the glaze). If doing indoors, then once you’ve applied the glaze, place your pan in the oven for final 6 minutes.Remove chicken from grill/oven and let rest a few minutes while you prepare your plates.
- Garnish: Evenly spread a line of cilantro near the edge of each plate and place on it a chicken breast. Spoon another tablespoon of warm glaze on top of each breast. Sprinkle each breast with a tablespoon of fresh pomegranate seeds. Garnish with lime wedge and/or mandarin peel and serve immediately.