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Jennifer Hess joined Food52 “back when it was in the beta stage.” Since then, she’s won a recipe contest eight times (short rib chili! linguine with sardines!) and tallied up 28 community picks. (Go, Jennifer!) Also since then, our website—and Jennifer’s life—both have changed, a lot. She now has two young children and, a couple years ago, moved from Brooklyn to the D.C. area.
“I do a lot more meal prep and batch cooking of favorite dishes or building blocks on the weekends these days than I do developing recipes or cooking in ‘creative mode,’” she told me. “But, we still hit our local farmers’ markets (and actual farm stands!) as a family when they’re open for the season, and we get the kids involved with planning and preparing family dinners on the weekends.”
Roast Chicken with Mustard and Grapes, which Jennifer contributed to the website in 2009, was developed with seasonality in mind. In the original headnote, she writes: “When grapes are in season, I can never resist bringing some home from our farmers’ market. I’m always looking for savory applications for grapes, and I have come to love using them to dress up pan sauces.”
Enter crispy-skinned chicken thighs and tangy Dijon mustard, fresh thyme and coriander seeds. The combination is so unexpected and addictive, we’re still making it almost a decade later. This week, we reshot the recipe in our studio (half as an excuse to eat it—is that wrong?) and caught up with Jennifer.
EMMA LAPERRUQUE: The recipe calls for “bone-in, skin-on chicken parts.” Do you usually use certain parts?
JENNIFER HESS: My husband loves dark meat, and I prefer white meat, so we generally use a whole cut-up chicken, but you can certainly tailor it to your preferences by using all legs and/or thighs, or all breast pieces.
EL: Is there a way to adjust the recipe for boneless, skinless chicken parts?
JH: Certainly! If using skinless parts, I’d do this all on the stovetop, and give the chicken pieces a quick dip in flour before adding them to the hot pan. Once the pieces are nicely browned and cooked through to the appropriate internal temperature, I’d remove them and tent with foil, then pick up at step 6 (adjusting the amount of fat in the pan if necessary, then adding the shallots and grapes).
EL: What are your favorite sides to go with this dish?
JH: The sauce is pretty punchy, especially if you use an extra-hot variety of mustard, so I tend to keep it simple—creamy mashed potatoes and crisp-tender green beans are my usual accompaniments.
EL: How might you modify the recipe to use other fruits instead of grapes?
JH: I bet figs would be a nice substitution, or perhaps cherries.
EL: What are some other sweet/savory combinations you love?
JH: I’m a fan of the classics! Pork chops and sautéed apples, prosciutto and melon or figs, and any number of fruit/cheese combos. (Watermelon and feta! Strawberries and goat cheese! Ricotta with stone fruit or berries! Apples and a good sharp cheddar!)
EL: What’s another go-to way to cook chicken at your house?
JH: We do a roast chicken dinner almost every week, and these days Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken is our go-to version. Fatima Ansari’s Chicken Korma is also on heavy rotation in our home, as is Sam Sifton’s Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma. When we’re feeling fancy, we’ll do a Marlow & Sons–style Brick Chicken, or Craig Claiborne’s Smothered Chicken.
What are your favorite sweet/savory combinations? Tell us in the comments!