Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Balsamic Orange Chicken with Sage Butter Polenta

Now that I'm a year older, I think I ought to be making some sophisticated meals. Okay not really, but the basis for this recipe sounded so good that I had to try it. I decided to tweak it a bit to make it feel a little more unique. One of the main changes I made was adding polenta (instead of spaghetti, which is what the original recipe called for).

A few words on polenta. Yes, it's high maintenance. Yes, it's delicious. Yes, you could take a shortcut and buy one of those logs of ready-made polenta. Be my guest. But there is something to be said for making your own polenta. It is a very gratifying experience. And in spite of its reputation, I've found it's actually pretty hard to screw up. Just use logic - if it looks like it needs more liquid, add more liquid. If it's bubbling too much, turn down the heat. If it's thickening too quickly or sticking to the bottom of the pan, you need to whisk more often. Taste as you go to check out how the texture is coming along. Go on, it's worth a try.

Below I'm sharing with you my own chosen method for making polenta, but I have seen many alternate methods out there. You can use a double boiler, you can add the polenta after the liquid comes to a boil, you can whisk constantly or only sporadically. I still haven't tried every method so by no means do I endorse the method below as the best. I just like it because it's low(er) maintenance and it seems to work. It achieves the ideal consistency - thick, creamy and smooth. And how about this for an endorsement: this time I think I absolutely perfected it and made the best polenta of my (admittedly short) polenta career.

We can't take all the attention away from the chicken, of course. The chicken is coated in a beautiful pan sauce (there we go with the pan sauce again!) that is tangy with a great depth of flavor. I think it compliments the polenta quite well. And the spicy hint of arugula ties everything together.

Balsamic Orange Chicken with Sage Butter Polenta
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 2


1/2 cup polenta (medium or coarse ground cornmeal)
1 1/2 cups water (keep an additional cup or two of hot water nearby)
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk if you prefer)
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or equivalent in chicken breast tenders)
coarse ground salt & pepper for seasoning
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup good orange marmalade (I used Knott's)
2 tablespoons butter
6 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
3 tablespoons chopped pecans


1. Start with the polenta, as it takes the longest. Put the 1 1/2 cups water and cream in a medium pot, and stir in the polenta. Turn on the heat to high. Stir with a whisk as you bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. As it starts to thicken (after about 8-10 minutes), continue to stir occasionally from the bottom of the pot, and keep an eye on the consistency. If it starts to thicken too much, add more hot water. Reduce heat more if the polenta is bubbling too much - it should only be a bubble here and a bubble there. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes, adding hot water and stirring as necessary.

2. When the polenta has about 10 minutes to go, start on the chicken. Heat the EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. While it cooks, sprinkle the rosemary over the chicken. Cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes (depending on how thick the chicken breasts are). Remove from the pan and keep nearby on a plate or tray.

3. At this point, stir the butter and sage into the polenta. Season with salt and pepper. When the butter has melted, stir in the cheese. Let it continue to cook while you finish the next step.

4. Make the pan sauce. Whisk balsamic and marmalade into the skillet, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and coat it in the glaze. Remove from heat. Add the arugula to the pan and toss it around with the chicken and sauce (I'd use tongs if I were you).

4. Serve the chicken alongside the polenta. Sprinkle with pecan pieces.

Voila! You just made yummy polenta AND it's part of a balanced meal. Now eat and enjoy.

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