Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Happily married: blood oranges and Bauchant

Some things are just meant to be together.  For me, lately, it's been a combination of chilaquiles and heartburn.  But some things are really meant to be together, and they live happily ever after.  I'm thinking of a beautiful spring day and an off-dry rose, for instance.  Recently, on a particularly gorgeous, sunny afternoon, I opened a bottle of Carmela Benegas 2010 (Argentina) and luxuriated in the aroma of strawberry blossoms, tasted a smooth, creamy mouthful of strawberries and then the deep, sophisticated and silky finish.  I love this rose, made of Cabernet Franc, also one of my favorite reds. 

The wine is named for the winemaker's daughter and, as you can see for yourself, there's a very seductive pose on the label:

I don't know if this is an actual representation of Carmela Benegas, but I can tell you that it provides more than a hint of what's inside.  Deepest pink blush, vibrant youthfulness and seductive sensuality come rushing into your glass and the wine is so beautiful you want to touch it.  If it had a texture you could feel with your fingertips, I'm convinced that it would be like velveteen.  This wine is absolutely full of fruit and cream and the smell of spring-about-to-turn-summer.  What's best, it's very affordable.  Anytime I can find it, I bring it home.  It's that delicious.  And it's getting harder to find, so you might want to check the internet for supplies.  Don't bother with asking your wine guy at Spec's--it's gone.  Carmela has a lot of admirers.

I often let wine dictate and influence what I will cook for dinner.  Remember, for instance, my little episode with rioja and black pepper?  Well, it could have been a disaster, but I'd like to believe that The Muse protects me from such things.  As I enjoyed the wine, I was also enjoying how lushly beautiful it was in the tropical Taj Mahal my husband had created for us.  I noticed especially how many fragrant blossoms were blooming.  Jasmine, honeysuckle and brugmansia all made a spectacular showing.  They were as pretty as bridesmaids.

But how would I know?  I didn't have any!  I have seen pictures of bridesmaids, however, and aside from Melissa McCarthy, one of my favorite comediennes, they all looked like frilly, delicate little flowers.  I imagined hundreds of bridesmaids in every color dress imaginable, all congregated in my garden, twittering amongst themselves. 

Oh my.  I think I have a headache.

Brugmansia, or Angel's Trumpet

Luckily, on this particular afternoon, it was only a quiet riot of bougainvillea, Betty Boop roses, Valentine roses and salvia, no bridesmaids.  The back yard was an immense floral choreography.  Suddenly, the image of flamenco dancers rose up before me.  Sultry, pouting flamenco dancers, stamping their feet, fists on hips.  They were hungry! 

I needed to think about what I could cook that would go with the wine I was sipping, what would be aromatic and fresh, and most importantly, what would appease the hungry flamenco dancers.  I thought of Spain and Argentina.  I thought of fruit and flowers.  I thought again about those flamenco dancers, stamping their feet.  But the stamping merely turned out to be my husband, hammering, in the middle of constructing his next project.  The flamenco dancers, like the bridesmaids, suddenly evaporated.  They left me in the backyard with a hungry husband and the reality that it was time to cook dinner.

Once I was in the kitchen, I thought oranges, butter and a little orange liqueur (along with a little more Carmela) might work some magic with the boneless chicken breasts I was planning to serve.  I had a couple of blood oranges, some shallots and some leftover jasmine rice.  I had plenty of butter and plenty of inspiration.  Carmela was guiding me, whispering in my ear.

Yes, I admit it.  I hear voices.  But only when I cook.  I believe that the psychiatric profession refers to this as a situation-dependent hallucination, sort of like the LSD flashback that only happens when you're listening to The Beatles' "The White Album."  

Not that I would know.

A slice of blood orange
I pounded the chicken breasts to flatten them (this evens out and speeds up the cooking time as well), then seasoned them generously with kosher salt and pepper.  Butter and a little olive oil were heating in the saute pan as I finely minced a large shallot.  I sauteed the chicken breasts until caramelized, then removed them to plate and covered them to keep them warm.  Into the pan went the shallot and after it was well-caramelized, the pan was deglazed with a little dry sherry.  I added the juice from the blood oranges to the pan (just a little of the zest went into another small, covered pan along with the leftover rice, some butter, salt and a little water), reduced it a little, then added a healthy glug of Bauchant to the saute pan.  I reduced the sauce until it was just a bit syrupy, then added a pinch of kosher salt, some ground white pepper and a little more butter for sheen.

In hindsight, cutting the rind off the blood oranges then slicing them to add to the saute pan (instead of just the juice) would have been lovely.  But there's always a next time!  The aromatic rice, along with a simple green salad, dressed with Mustard Vinaigrette, and another glass of Carmela Benegas, was a match made in heaven.  I hope you enjoy the wedding as much as we did!

Chicken Breasts with a Shallot, Blood Orange and Bauchant Reduction

2 Tbs. EVOO
2 Tbs. butter
2 chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded to about 3/8 inch thickness
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1 large shallot, minced 
2 blood oranges, juiced (or peel away skin and pith with a sharp knife and cut into slices)
2 Tbs. chicken broth or water (optional)
2 Tbs. Bauchant (or other orange liqueur)
kosher salt
freshly ground white pepper
1 Tbs. butter 

1.)  Heat EVOO and butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until butter is foamy.
2.)  Season chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper.
3.)  Saute chicken breasts until caramelized on both sides; remove to a plate, cover and keep warm.
4.)  Deglaze saute pan with sherry, scraping up any brown bits.
5.)  Add shallot and saute until caramelized.
6.)  Add blood orange juice and reduce sauce by half.  If using orange slices instead of juice, add them now along with the chicken broth or water.
7.)  Add Bauchant and reduce by half.
8.)  Taste sauce and add salt and white pepper.
9.)  Add the final tablespoon of butter and stir well until melted. 
10.)  Return chicken breasts to pan and spoon sauce over breasts.
11.)  Serve immediately with sauce.  Serves 2. 

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