- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Poultry, wrote the 19th-century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “is to the cook what canvas is to the painter.” Begging the forgiveness of Brillat-Savarin, allow me to change the word poultry to chicken — or more specifically, to chicken breast.

I can’t imagine what Brillat-Savarin would say if he lived in the 21st century. In just chicken breast alone, our choices involve skin-on, skinless, bone-in and boneless, not to mention chicken thighs, legs, wings and various other forms of the whole bird: halved, quartered, cut up and whole.

No doubt about it, chicken breast offers a wide range of eating solutions, no matter what the season, but chicken versatility is only part of the story. Chicken, and the breast meat in particular, is easy to prepare, nutritious, relatively low in fat, quite economical and cooks quickly.

Remember, when handling chicken always rinse it first in cold water. Then cut off excess fat, jagged ends and extra skin with a pair of kitchen or poultry shears.

I often soak chicken in a combination of 1 quart cold water and cup kosher salt for 10 to 20 minutes before cooking.

This is something my mother did to sweeten the taste. Today it’s called “brining.” I find it results in chicken that is juicy and succulent, not dry and cottony. Finally, always wash your hands, cutting board and all utensils with hot soapy water after handling or coming in contact with raw chicken.

With the following simple main dish of quickly cooked chicken breast seasoned with rosemary and topped with a red wine vinegar glaze, serve wilted spinach and baked rice with raisins. For dessert, make an apple crisp that conveniently bakes in the oven at the same temperature as the rice.

Rosemary chicken with red wine vinegar and wilted fresh spinach

4 boneless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each), skin-on

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

teaspoon sugar

1 16-ounce bag fresh spinach leaves, stems trimmed

1 garlic clove, sliced thin

Place chicken breasts on a large plate; sprinkle evenly with rosemary, salt and pepper, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn to coat. Let stand about 15 minutes.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Add chicken to the hot skillet, skin side down. Cook over medium-low heat until skin is golden, about 8 minutes. Turn chicken over, pour any juices left on the platter over the chicken. Cover and cook until cooked though, about 3 minutes.

Place spinach in a colander and rinse with cold water; shake off excess. Transfer spinach to a large broad saucepan; cover and cook with just the water left clinging to the leaves just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer wilted spinach to the colander. Wipe out saucepan and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic. Heat oil over low heat just until garlic begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add wilted spinach to garlic oil and toss to coat. Set aside.

When chicken is cooked remove to a serving dish. Add remaining 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and sugar to skillet and boil over high heat, scrapping browned bits from bottom of pan until the vinegar is syrupy, about 1 minute. Tuck spinach between the chicken breasts. Drizzle red wine glaze over chicken and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Oven-baked rice with raisins

1 cup long-grain (basmati) rice

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or water, boiling

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

cup raisins

Combine rice, boiling broth or water and salt in a 1- to 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake in 350-degree oven until liquid is absorbed, 25 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with raisins. Cover and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Apple crisp

The apple crisp and baked rice can be baked in the oven at the same time.

4 large Golden Delicious apples, quartered, cored and cut into thin wedges

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, plus 1 cups

teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal

⅓ cup flour

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

cup finely chopped walnuts, optional

Toss apples, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and cinnamon in a pie plate or other shallow baking dish. Spread in an even layer. Combine remaining brown sugar, oatmeal and flour in a bowl; stir to blend. Drizzle with melted butter. Blend together with a fork or fingertips until mixture is crumbly. Add walnuts, if using. Sprinkle evenly over fruit. Bake in 350-degree oven until the top is browned and the apples are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

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