Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking Off the Prairie

If I say the words, “cinnamon chicken” what comes to mind?

If you’re over 35, I would be willing to bet money that you are thinking of a certain episode of Little House on the Prairie.  You know the one I’m talking about.  A handsome young man, Almanzo Wilder, moves into town.  Predatory villain Nellie Oleson sets her sights on him and offers to cook him dinner at her new restaurant.  She asks him what his favorite dish is and he replies, “Cinnamon chicken.”  The problem is that Nellie can’t cook and is now in a pickle.   The show’s protagonist, and Nellie’s arch-rival, Laura Ingalls offers to cook the meal for Nellie.  Unfortunately for Nellie, Laura has her own agenda.  She has the hots for Almanzo as well.  Before she goes off to cook the meal, she grabs a can of cayenne pepper from her mother’s spice rack and tears off the label so no one knows it’s not cinnamon.  While cooking the chicken she ponders if she has put enough cinnamon on it, and Nellie tells her, “Then put more.”  Laura obeys.  The chicken is served and hilarity ensues.

The best punch line is that years later after Almanzo and Laura are married, Laura serves him a new chicken recipe made with lemons and tarragon.  The dish is just too strange and exotic for him and he just can’t bring himself to eat it.  He mutters under his breath, “I think I like your cinnamon chicken better.”

Little House was a show I loved to hate.  As a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, I hated the way the way the show interpreted them and changed entire chunks of Laura’s life and story.  I watched the show just to rage about how historically and factually inaccurate it was.  I also watched it because like Laura and Nellie, I too had a massive crush on the handsome Almanzo.  I might have been a bit too young for hormones, but if I had any, they would be raging for that handsome blond hunk in his tight pants.  I would gladly cook Dean Butler all the cinnamon chicken he wants and I wouldn’t play any mean jokes.

There are a few obstacles that stop me from doing this.  The first is that Dean Butler lives on the other side of the country, has no idea who I am, and we’re both married.  (Besides, recent photos I have seen of him tell me he hasn’t aged all that well – unlike me who has just become so much hotter over time and my husband is way cuter at this point.)  The other is that I have no idea what cinnamon chicken is. 
I don’t know why after all of these years I suddenly started thinking of cinnamon chicken and what could possibly go in it.  All I know is that once the memory popped back into my head, I realized I had to either find out if there is some kind of vintage recipe out there for cinnamon chicken or invent one myself.
The internet is filled with women who still remember this episode of LHOP and are making their own versions, but as far as I can tell, there is no nineteenth century authentic recipe out there.  I had to make my own.

I'm not sure Laura would approve of my new recipe.  I made a marinade of bourbon (Laura would never use that), cinnamon, honey, garlic, lemon, and…wait for it…cayenne pepper!  I left some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in that overnight.  I cooked them very simply in a pan and boiled the marinade to make a sauce. I would love to make this with whole chicken pieces in the future when I have a little more time.

Chicken came out super tender from the marinade, smelled heavenly while cooking, and had great flavor.  Love that mahogany glaze (a euphamism for "slightly burned"?)

Cinnamon Chicken for the Modern Age

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 Tbl lemon juice
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
Mix bourbon, lemon juice, honey, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon in reactive bowl.  Whisk in 2 tablesppons of the olive oil.  Place chicken breasts in the marinade and refrigerate several hours or overnight. 

Remove chicken breasts from marinade.  Put marinade in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan.  Place the chicken in the oil and brown well on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side.  Add marinade to the pan and continue cooking another 20 minutes or until cooked through.

1 comment:

Katie Zeller said...

How interesting.... I've never heard of cinnamon chicken, although I put cinnamon in my Moroccan dishes. I grew up near the 'Little House in the Big Woods' and, of course, read all the books. Never watched the TV show, tho.