Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sweet & Sour Fiesta Chicken

One of the ironies that endurance athletes have to adapt to is that the high-octane, high glycemic index foods we have to consume to fuel our rides are about the worst possible foods we could consume when not actually riding. When fueling the rest/recovery, we need nutrition dense foods like fish, eggs, chicken, milk, vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruit, and lots of fiber to remove wastes.

I have long believed that if one has a widely varied pallet of foods they've introduced their body to, cravings are the way the body cues us to foods containing missing nutrients. With this in mind, I went shopping last week with a craving for protein, and chicken in particular. Fish is usually my favorite protein, so I found this odd, and was a bit stumped because I didn't know any good chicken recipes.

Fortunately, I was at Bel-Air, which has a great selection, so I just kind of followed my nose - literally taking the caps off bottles and sniffing them where possible. What kept popping into my head was the lime chicken sometimes served with southwest style "Mexican" food. I picked up 2 different kinds of lime, and then spotted an exotic looking bottle of Key Lime I just couldn't resist. I then went looking for some white wine vinegar to go with that, and luckily, found a perfect little bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar.

Once home I thoroughly rinsed a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced it into thin 3/8ths inch strips, cutting across the grain of the meat to make it as tender as possible, pulled the frozen Fiesta vegetables out of the freezer to thaw a bit, put 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a 10" Teflon frying pan, added a tablespoon of sea salt, turned the heat up to high, and waited for the smoke to start rising from the searing hot oil. (if you prefer the taste of olive oil, use a light one, as the flavors in this dish are rather delicate)

Using a pair of tongs I laid the chicken strips in the searing hot oil until the bottom of the pan was completely covered, and waited for the blood to boil through to the top of the meat before shaking about 2 tablespoons of Key Lime juice into the pan. I waited a minute and then shook a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar into the mix, careful to spread it around as I went. I then shook the pan lightly to mix the juices and waited another minute before adding 4 heaping tablespoons of Mango Peach salsa. This is a key ingredient as the partially caramelized mango & peach gives this dish its sweet.

I added another shake or two of salt and let the mixture reduce and "gel" as the salt pulled the moisture out of the solids and a rich, aromatic sauce began to form. I then poured half a package of semi-frozen Fiesta veggies (from Safeway) into the middle of the pan and put the glass lid back on so the edges of the pan were still simmering and reducing the mango & peach while the frozen veggies warmed up and started to cook.

Leaving the heat on high I waited for the broccoli to wilt a bit, stirred the veggies into the mix with a wooden spoon, re-covered the pan and waited until it came to a boil. After 3-4 minutes at a boil I reduced the heat to med for 2 minutes and then turned the heat off and let the veggies soften. The whole house had a mouth-watering smell to it and I was tempted to just dig in, but waited about 5 minutes while the green beans and carrots steeped and added their character to the mix.

I plated the dish into a treasured china plate an old Italian woman had given me as a present, and then rinsed the pan and glass lid in the sink while savoring a first fork full. The veggies were still a little crisp, but the flavor was amazing. The chicken was so tender it fell apart in my mouth. The vinegar and lime start the digestion process in the pan, so I was not at all surprised that I could eat such a large serving in one sitting.

This is an excellent post ride dish. It has white, garbanzo and red beans in it as well as the chicken, so loaded wth protein. It is super easy to digest, and immediately killed my craving for protein. I made the dish again the next day, doubled the recipe, and didn't add any more salt. The dish still worked perfectly with the reduced salt, and my blood pressure thanked me.

I was a bit short on heat with a double recipe, but if you have a gas stove you should have no problem. Total cooking time is 15 minutes, and there is almost no cleanup at all. The high acidity might leave you with a taste for chocolate (oh darned) but most athletes need the acidity after hard exercise, so this should be quite welcome.

Mmmmm. Time to make more!


Rachel said...

Good post. I couldn't agree more. Have to say though, the pic at the top didn't look too appealing. Looked like what it would be in my stomach! Anyway, I've been cutting out sugar, fat and processed food and eating smaller, more frequent meals lately with more fruits, veggies, and lean protein and I've been feeling better and better.

Grey Beard said...

RE the pic ..... it's an acquired taste? :D