It may be disgustingly cold in Portland right now, but my mind is fast-forwarding to the pleasures of spring. Just when I think I can’t handle any more winter, I know it’ll soon be over and the sun will warm up the city. And when that happens, there will be trips to the river, the park, the coast or down into Oregon’s wine country. And when there are trips like that, picnics are a given!
Last summer I tried out pressed sandwiches for my rather infamous picnic in Newport, OR. I’ve already decided that when spring hits, I’ll be packing this chicken. And I won’t make promises about sharing with any of my picnic-partaking partners. It’s so good, they might have to fend for themselves.
This recipe is, as they would call it in the movie biz, a sleeper hit. It is greater than the sum of its parts, but if it came down to it, it’s the agrodolce that takes it above and beyond. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s an Italian version of sweet and sour, usually made with a combination of vinegar and sugar, similar to the French gastrique.
And it is fabulous. I’ve tasted agrodolce in several different forms — coating onions, lacquered over wild boar ribs and even as a sticky, finger-licking sauce on turkey wings. But this relish could be one of my favorites. The grapes were like little jewels and the onion was almost candied, but the bite of the vinegar was still very present and the pine nuts rounded everything out with a hint of buttery flavor. It’s the perfect topping for any meat, though it perfectly complements this chicken.
But let’s back up for a moment and cover the basics. The recipe for this dish is from a 2010 issue of Food & Wine and has a title that matches its extensive instructions: Roasted, Brined and Spiced Chicken with Raisin and Pine Nut Agrodolce. It’s got 3 hours of “active” time plus 8 hours of brining time. There are also three separate recipes making up this one dish: one for the brine, another for the spice rub and another for the sauce. It’s certainly not difficult to execute, it just requires planning — so don’t wait until the day you want to eat this to start prepping for it!
In fact, I almost skipped the brining step, but then figured if I was going to make this, I should do it right. And while I won’t say brining is necessary, I will say that my chicken came out well-seasoned, moist and very juicy. So yeah, brine!
The spice mixture is made mainly of toasted fennel, coriander and chile powder. It smelled fantastic and once the chicken was done roasting, it gave it this gorgeous hue:
The agrodolce was the next step and it’s easy to make, but it does take time. You need to reduce the vinegar and sugar mixture for nearly half an hour then cool completely. And, of course, as is the case with things of this nature — it will get better if it sits for a while, so it’s best if you can make this a day ahead of time.
In fact, the idea of flavors getting better with time is pretty much why this chicken is begging to go on a picnic. Much like the picnic cliché of fried chicken, this whole dish tastes best room temperature. I was so hungry that I ate a good portion the night that I cooked it, but let me tell you, it was out-of-this-world amazing for lunch the next day. The chicken skin won’t be as crispy but the flavors that develop in the agrodolce will be worth the sacrifice.