This recipe is all about the layering of delicate flavors - white wine, vanilla, green grapes and chicken. The grape flavor is layered in the white wine, white wine vinegar, green grapes, and golden raisins in the pilaf. The vanilla is layered in the simmering of a whole vanilla pod, the vanilla seeds scraped into the sauce and a gentle whiff of pure vanilla extract steamed into the rice.
A few weeks ago we had guests from the south of France and, as is usual in our house, the talk turned to food. Our guest told me of his favorite recipe - rabbit simmered in white grape juice, with fresh green grapes stirred in just before serving. I was intrigued, and my mind started playing with ways to adapt this recipe for my family. Since I didn't have easy access to rabbit, I used chicken breasts, but I'm sure chicken thighs would work equally well. I substituted vanilla for the herbs included in the French version, and I used white wine instead of the grape juice. I also added a touch of white wine vinegar and honey to brighten the sauce without overpowering the delicate vanilla flavor. The grapes, stirred in at the last minute so they are just heated through, really add a pop of freshness to the chicken.
My French guest usually serves his rabbit dish with rice or pasta, but I wanted to mirror the essence of the vanilla in a rice pilaf. It is a perfect accompaniment to this chicken dish, but tastes wonderful on its own and would be great with many other dishes as well. I can just eat it by the bowlful!
To really amp up the layering in this dish, serve the meal with the same wine you used for cooking it. Make sure it's a light fruity wine - I like a Sauvignon Blanc.
(This dish could also be made alcohol-free by using grape juice like my French friend does.) —Kitchen Frau
For the Vanilla Bean and Green Grape Chicken:
white wine vinegar
sliced green onions (about 6)
green grapes, halved if large
For the Vanilla-Scented Rice Pilaf:
1 and 1/2 cups
long grain white rice (I like Basmati)
2 and 1/2 cups
onion, finely diced
freshly ground pepper
In This Recipe
Start the rice cooking. Rinse the rice in a strainer until the water runs clear. Put it in a saucepan with the vanilla and set it over high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn the heat to low, stir the rice, and cover the saucepan with a lid. Simmer, without peeking, for 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. While it is cooking, toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, until they are tan-colored and fragrant. Saute the onion in the butter in a small heavy skillet until the onions are starting to turn golden brown. Set aside until ready to assemble the pilaf. When the rice is finished cooking, turn off the heat and let it steam, covered, until the chicken is ready.
In a medium heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter until bubbling, then add the chicken breasts and brown both sides. Pour in the white wine and bring it to a boil. Cut the vanilla bean in half crosswise, then slit each piece in half lengthwise. Add the vanilla bean quarters to the white wine, and reduce the heat to a medium low. Cover and simmer the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken breasts) until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the meat from the wine and set it aside in a covered dish to keep warm. Leave the vanilla bean pieces in the liquid. (I put the chicken in a bowl and cover it with the lid from pan I cooked the chicken in.)
Add the white wine vinegar to the wine in the saucepan, and turn the heat up to high. Boil it briskly, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until it is reduced to 1/2 cup.
While the wine is reducing, finish the pilaf. Add the golden raisins and toasted almonds to the caramelized onions, turn up the heat to warm them all through (about 1 minute). Add the onion mixture to the cooked rice, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss well to mix everything.
Return you attention to the reducing wine. Once it has reduced to about 1/2 cup, you can either measure it or eyeball it. (And if you've missed the mark and boiled it too long, just add some water to it to bring it back up to 1/2 cup.) Remove the vanilla bean pieces, lay them on a cutting board and spread the cut sides open. With a butter knife, carefully scrape any remaining vanilla seeds out and return them to the wine reduction. (Reserve the pods to garnish the dish.)
Add in the honey, salt, green grapes, and green onions and bring it back up to a boil - just long enough to heat up the grapes, but not cook them through. Remove from the he and stir in any juices accumulated in the resting chicken. Arrange the chicken breasts in a large shallow serving bowl and spoon the grapes and sauce around them.
Serve with the Vanilla-Scented Rice Pilaf and an accompanying glass of the wine you used to prepare the sauce.