Food Buzz, a cooking website for all chefs to enjoy, has a monthly Royal Food Joust, a cooking contest where contestants can only use three ingredients chosen by the previous month's winner. This month's deadline was extended to noon, January 3rd, 2010. Always looking for an opportunity to show folks that you can cook with a solar oven in the middle of winter, I had sunny skies, high winds and it was 30-degrees F. Perfect -- and I almost knew just what to make.
But, first, I had to address the problem of high winds and how to keep my solar oven in my back yard. Long ago, I built a wooden base for the solar oven for when the wind got too frisky, along with some steadying shims for the telescoping back leg. Today, two 30-inch bungee cords did the job, just hooking one end over the top edge of the solar oven and bringing it down under the box and back up to hook on the other side. The open reflectors stayed put without a wiggle from the oven during the whole cooking process.
Recipe Contest Requires Using Champagne, Mushrooms and Oranges
Back to the contest. This month's trio is champagne (or, white bubbly grape juice), mushrooms, and oranges. You could use other ingredients but the recipe had to include those three items. I had some American Champagne from North Carolina's Duplin Winery that would be just right. They also make a wonderful Raspberry Delight Champagne and a Vinter's Almondage, both of which I love but didn't want the flavors controlling my dish.
Chicken would be my protein, pearl barley for carbs, and something green for color balance. I decided to use my adaptation of sous vide cooking for the chicken and made an herbed butter for the vacuum bag: put 1/2 cup butter in the blender and added 4 orange slices, 1 Tablespoon each of Raspberry-Fig Jam, minced carrots, apricots, raisins, ginger; 1/4 teaspoon each of ground fennel seed, sumac, thyme, cardamom and cinnamon. I divided the blended herb butter in half and put each half in a quart-sized vacuum bag, then 'mushed' it flat. (The plastic would easily come away from the top side because of the high butter content, so there wouldn't be any problems when I added the chicken.) The American Champagne would be added to a gravy made from the juices.
Using two leg quarters, I removed the backbone section to make stock for the barley risotto and gravy.
After washing both quarters, and patting them dry with paper towels, I seared them in a skillet before placing them in the vacuum bag and adding the balance of the oranges. After sealing, mini-food thermometers set for 165 degrees* were inserted into the fattest part of each chicken thigh. Since it was so cold, I decided to use the SolarWear(tm) Heating Bag, too, to help the solar oven along.
SolarWear(tm) Carrier Set over the heating bag and I went back inside to finish the stock and prepare ingredients for the Mushroom Barley Risotto. The garden still yielded some onions and carrots, so these were cleaned and divided -- larger pieces for the stock and small minced pieces for the Risotto. These were added to the chicken backs, along with a stick of celery cut into small pieces, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover the chicken by at least an inch. I wanted enough for both the Risotto and the gravy.
At 1:30pm, I checked the chicken in the solar oven and the internal temperature of both pieces had reached 165F. On a cold, windy, winter day, my chicken was cooked in just under 2-1/2 hours. Very nice result.
Brought the chicken inside to rest before removing juices for the gravy.
Sunny Champagne Orange Chicken, Mushroom Barley Risotto, and Asparagus Tomato Salad
When the chicken had rested for ten minutes, I cut off one corner of the vacuum bag and poured the juices into a saucepan set on medium high heat. When all began to bubble, I added the balance of the chicken stock-wine mixture and let it reduce to half. Another taste test and I decided the meal was a little heavy and needed to be lightened up with a cold but colorful salad. There were still a few cherry tomatoes on hand and, when I went looking through the cabinets, my eyes fell on the asparagus. Green! Great! Sliced the asparagus spears into thirds and the tomatoes in lengthwise quarters. Used 1/8 cup of American Champagne with a touch of minced ginger and orange juice and lightly brushed this mixture over the spears.
For plating, I put a Tablespoon of gravy on a warm plate and an ice cream scoop of Mushroom Barley Risotto on top. The chicken leg was leaned atop the risotto and given a line of gravy along the length of the thigh. The cold Asparagus Tomato Salad was arranged to meet the inside of the leg and two orange slices filled the gap, linking the flavors throughout the dish. Enjoy.
*Jan 9, 2010 - Just wanted to add a note here, after a discussion with my sister, about internal temperature. I have been cooking my chicken to 180-degrees for the better part of my life and recently found websites proclaiming 165-degrees as the internal temperature favorite. I found the final chicken result to be much pinker near the bone than I care for and would suggest that you use 170-degree as a happy medium. But, as I said a few days ago, it's all opinion.