Photo: Vanilla Bourbon Chicken – Herbscapes.com 2023
Yesterday a neighbor gave me a small jar of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla she has been curing for about six months. The vanilla beans stood in a brown liquid of vanilla and bourbon. For some reason I immediately thought of chicken. I will definitely infuse this liquid gold into some dessert creations, but I happened to have three chicken filets in the fridge ready to make their culinary debut. I rinsed the filets under cold water and placed in a plastic bag. It occurred to me that if I poured too much of the vanilla bourbon into the bag, it would be absorbed by the filets and overtake the flavor, knocking out the fresh German thyme I planned to top on the cooked meal. In plain English: it would be too strong. I carefully dripped about an eighth of a teaspoon into the bag. It didn’t seem like much but knowing the strength of fresh vanilla I gambled that tiny little bit would add the flavor I was seeking. I sprinkled in a small shake or two of red crushed pepper, with the idea of balance, but I was also not looking for hot, spicy chicken. Just hints of vanilla bourbon and pepper. I placed the bag in the refrigerator and left it for about 4 hours before I started dinner. In case you might want your own Madagascar vanilla beans I found some on Amazon for a really great price:
Anxious to try this new, experimental dish I began dinner preparations by preheating the oven to 425. I used a small Pyrex dish where the three filets fit perfectly side by side, with room for a few whole, fresh carrots and a whole Roma tomato. I poured about a teaspoon of olive oil into the dish and carefully rotated it so the oil would also touch the edges of the cooking dish. I put about two table spoons of water in the dish so the meal would not dry out. I very lightly sprinkled some fresh ground cinnamon on the carrots – just a few dashes. I then placed the filets in the dish and poured the small amount of liquid from the bag into the dish as well. It should be remembered I thoroughly washed the filets under cold water prior to marinating. I decided there would be no need to add any more seasoning since the vanilla bourbon and small amount of crushed pepper should do the trick. I did place a few sprigs of German thyme on top of the chicken, and lightly sprinkled with black pepper. Everything was in, including tomato and carrots. I covered the dish tightly in foil and placed on an oven rack that was set in the middle – not to too close to the heat source. Since every entrée deserves a compliment I had already rinsed and started a pot of yellow lentils, bringing them to boil in an almost full tank of water because over the next hour and a half the liquid would reduce down. Per the advice of several experts I found on line, I did not add salt to the lentils because it can cause the husks to toughen. My plan was to reduce down to almost no bean hull, simply a soup. I did not cover the pot.
I let the chicken slowly bake for about an hour and a half. By this time the lentils were done and I was hungry, ready to try this new dish. I did not check on the chicken, just left it there to slowly bake, knowing an hour and a half should be plenty. Once I removed the dish from the oven and removed the foil, I placed two sprigs of the German thyme on top and let this sit while I ladled the yellow lentil soup into a bowl. The water had reduced down, leaving plenty of lentil liquid for a real soup. At this point I added a little salt and black pepper.
You know how when you eat one of your own creations (that turned out) you murmur yum, yum? Well, that’s what I did, happy that the gamble of a very small amount of the bourbon vanilla would subtly come through – and it did. The vanilla flavor did not jump out, and someone who did not know what I used might not immediately say vanilla. They would just know the chicken had a subtle, very slightly sweet flavor that was appealing and different. This is what I had been going for. The vanilla bourbon juices in chicken, with just a tad of crushed pepper bite and cinnamon carrots and German thyme tomato was delicious and so easy to prepare. No standing over the oven flipping and sloshing things around. Once the lentil soup was simmering there was nothing to do but stir it once in awhile, and there was nothing to do with the entrée once it was in the oven. Easy and flavorful cooking. Much thanks to my neighbor who stimulated this dinner with her now famous Madagascar Vanilla Bourbon sauce. Have you run out of fresh ground cinnamon? You can order some from Amazon.