Friday, September 21, 2012

Sesame Almond Chicken: A Quick and Elegant Dinner

I don't often keep meat hanging around the house, but when I do, I like to dress it up a little bit. Today we have a nice lean chicken breast on the menu, ready for a marinade and a healthy crusting of sesame and almond. Normally, I prepare this just as pan-seared sesame chicken, but I had such gorgeous blanched almonds hanging out in the pantry, I just had to pair them with their sesame buddies. This time, I decided to give it a whirl in the oven, joined by a side of almond haricot verts (a fancy name for french green beans) and a mixed salad with an agave-balsamic vinaigrette.

I assembled the marinade first and let the chicken bathe in those juices, refrigerated, until I was finished preparing the rest of the vegetables. After the beans are cleaned and snapped, the salad washed and prepped, the vinaigrette prepared, and the oven preheated, the chicken was probably in the marinade for about a half hour. You could marinate it longer if you want, but I was satisfied with the taste of the chicken as it was. Also, a note on the haricot verts, you don't have to go crazy with the almonds if you don't want to--I just love them to death, so I threw some more in the pan with them. I took it easy on my roommate though, and just sprinkled a few on her end (slowly getting her into eating nuts as a component of a meal, it's a texture thing ;) ). Let's see what we came up with:

Sesame Almond Chicken 
with Haricot Verts and Salad with Balsamic-Agave Vinaigrette

2 chicken breasts, cut into 4 pieces
Soy sauce
Orange juice
1 T Chili sauce (I used Vietnamese chili paste: Sambal Oelek)
1 t Brown sugar
2 Cloves of minced garlic
Blanched, sliced almonds
Black and white sesame seeds

Haricot Verts (fresh green beans)
1 Clove garlic
Almonds (optional)

Red cabbage
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Black Pepper
Agave nectar

To make the marinade: combine about 1/4 cup each of orange juice and soy sauce together, if you see you need more to really drench those chick-chicks well, add more! Then mix in the chili paste (you can use your favorite Asian chili sauce here: Sriracha would be a good choice too), brown sugar, and garlic.  That's your marinade! Congratulations, now toss in some cleaned up chicken breasts, cover and set in the fridge so that you can get on with the rest of the activities. Again, 30 min did it for me, but you can increase the marinating time if you want.

Preheat your oven to 350º

Mix up your almonds and sesames in a shallow plate or bowl, just to get it out of the way, and set aside. This will become a component of your chicken assembly station, consisting of taking the chicken out of the marinade, dredging it in the sesame-almond mix, and placing it on parchment paper (I learned this the hard way) on a baking sheet.

Now you have to clean and snap the ugly ends off the beans, and mince the garlic that will go along with the beans. Set this aside as well.

Prepare your salad greens (I used spinach, carrots, and red cabbage for that punch of color) and your vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes are so easy! Take your best olive oil and measure out about how much dressing you'll need, then throw in about a quarter+ of that in vinegar, squirt agave to taste, and season with salt, black pepper, and thyme, also to taste. Mix, taste. Mix, taste. You'll get it, don't you worry. Do not get excited and drown your salad in the dressing just yet--you must wait until right before you serve to dress the salad, otherwise it will wilt and that would be too sad.

By the time you've finished this list of chores, your chicken should be ready, and the oven should be thoroughly preheated. Give the chicken one last toss about in the marinade and start your assembly line. I recommend lining the baking pan in parchment paper because it will stick to the pan--not impossibly, but it will stick and you will have more to clean up. When each chicken breast has been evenly pressed into the sesame-almond mixture, place them on the baking sheet and into the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

While the chicken is in the oven, heat some olive oil in a large pan on medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer toss in the green beans and start your sauté. When they begin to get that brilliant green, add the garlic and optional almonds and toss frequently until fragrant. Season with salt and black pepper. If you have managed all of this and the chicken still isn't finished, great job, now put a top on it to keep warm. Timing takes practice too ;)

To plate: Place a couple pieces of chicken on one third of the plate, on the other two thirds distribute the  beans and the salad. You can choose to drizzle the vinaigrette directly on the salad, or give your guests the opportunity to serve themselves at the table. Now you are ready to go! Enjoy your meal!

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