At the Sun Moon Lake area in Taiwan, there is a restaurant set in a magnificent garden where the trees twinkle with tiny lights. The restaurant’s specialty fruits. Meat cooked with fruits, seafood cooked with fruits, fresh mushrooms cooked with fruits… I loved the food so much that, since then, I have consciously tried to include fruits in the main dishes that I cook. The great thing about cooking with fruits is how they liquefy during cooking, imparting concentrated flavors. And, as the natural sugar in the fruits caramelizes, the dish acquires an attractive amber hue.
This fruited chicken dish is sweet and tangy cooked with (canned) peaches and fresh lime, the aroma heightened with lime zest and fresh tarragon. Heat 2 tbsps. of butter in a non-stick pan. Add the chicken thighs in one layer, skin side down. Cook until the skins are lightly browned. Flip the chicken thighs to brown the underside.
Pour in the peach syrup. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lime zest. Cut the lime into segments. Add to the chicken (the lime will liquefy during cooking). Place the tarragon on top. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the cover of the pan. Turn up the heat. Add the peaches to the chicken. Cook, uncovered, until almost dry. Turn off the heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsps. of butter, swirling then pan to melt the butter in the residual heat.
Picante is a spicy salsa but it is not the synonym for the generic salsa. There is sweet salsa and sour salsa, and salsa may be cooked or served raw. Picante is just one among the many, many variations of salsa, and there are countless ways to prepare picante salsa too. Ready-made picante salsa is available in supermarkets. You can use any of them (I can’t vouch for the result) or you can make your spicy sauce with whatever pull can out of your fridge and pantry.
The inspiration for my chicken picante comes from a recipe in a cookbook called Hurry-up Chicken Recipes (Publications International, Ltd., 1992) which uses taco sauce and Dijon mustard. Since I didn’t have either, I improvised. The result was so good that, over dinner, Alex asked if I had set aside some of the chicken picante that she and Sam could bring back to the condo this week (they do bring frozen dishes which they reheat over the week a touch of home away from home since they are only home on weekends). Sure, I did, I told her. And she happily resumed eating, spooning more sauce over her rice.