Cast-iron chicken with apple cider orzo

A guilt-free glimpse at fall

Originally appeared in the September 15, 2011 edition of The Southside Times.

“It tastes like alternative Thanksgiving.”  That was my wife’s initial reaction when presented with this dish.  Although the mere mention of the aforementioned holiday may seem preemptive, it’s honestly not that far away.  And besides, I knew what she was meant—you have the bird, the herbs, and so many flavors of fall.  Continue reading after the jump:It’s a healthful dish because the portion size is satisfying and the ingredients are lean.  The chicken is white breast meat, and the starch is a simple orzo that’s been modified to showcase some sweet-and-savory flavors.  Here, instead of boiling the pasta in water, the orzo is cooked in apple cider, which proves to be an ideal backdrop to add in the October notes of sweet squash and aromatic fennel and sage.  Using the even-cooking surface of cast-iron to pan-sear the chicken yields a robust color, a perfect nod to autumnal tones.  And after you remove the meat from the oven, allow it to rest on a bed of herbs—your choice (although I suggest the big-hitters: rosemary, thyme, sage).

And while this chicken and cider orzo has all the richness of fall, you won’t feel like going into hibernation after cleaning your plate.

Cast-iron chicken with apple cider orzo     

Serves 2

  • 2, 6- to 8-ounce chicken breasts
  • ¾ cups orzo pasta
  • 1 ½ cups apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup fresh fennel, small chop (reserve a few fronds, chop)
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ¼ tablespoon ground ginger
  • To taste, kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F.  In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and using a small amount of oil, season and pan-sear the chicken breasts on both sides until rich, brown color is achieved.  Place skillet and chicken in oven to finish cooking through.

2.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring cider to a simmer; add orzo (may need to adjust with water).  Cook pasta until it has absorbed cider and has cooked to al dente.  In a separate sauté pan, melt butter and cook squash; add fennel; add white wine and reduce.  Add ginger.  Cook until squash is tender.  Fold in orzo, add reserved chopped fennel fronds and sage, adjust seasonings.

3.  Remove chicken from oven and allow to rest on a bed of herbs; cover with foil.  After seven minutes, slice chicken and serve over orzo pasta.

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