Monday, September 8, 2008

Coming in Late to the Fig Party

It seems like figs have been the hip ingredient in the food blogsphere this summer. Many of my favorite blogs have featured fig recipes, and have encouraged all of us to experience the wonder that is figs.

I'm of two minds about figs. You see, I've never liked them much. My grandmother used to love snacking on dried figs, but they just didn't appeal to me. However, fresh figs are what everyone is raving about these days and I've never eaten them. There are plenty of fruits that I like in the fresh form that I'm not so crazy about in dried form (grapes, plums), so perhaps I might like fresh figs.

On the other hand I do have a very fond memory of Fig Newtons, which is probably your average American's most dominant fig experience. I was in college. I, and several members of the Advocates For Peace club headed to Washington D.C. in March of 1991 for a Desert Storm protest march. We were led by my favorite professor, a kind, intelligent, and sweet man named Gene Clemens who taught religion and was the club's advisor. It was a long day. I had never been to a D.C. protest march before. It was an uplifting and powerful experience, but it was also a tiring one. It was a chilly day. My feet were frozen by the end of it. I was also starving. There was no time to stop for lunch. At the conclusion of the march when we were gathered in the park for the speeches, several of us complained of hunger. Gene pulled a bag of Fig Newtons out of his bag and we eagerly ate them. To this day I think of how Fig Newtons sustained me that day and they remind me of Gene and they remind me of the importance of political action. For that alone, figs deserve a chance.

(He also gives me fond memories of hot pretzels. The club made a trip to NYC for something and our plans were rained out. We were sitting in the school van tired and grumpy, somewhere in the area of the South Street Seaport, when I spotted a pretzel vendor and noted that it smelled good. Gene trying so hard to keep our spirits up, said, "You want pretzels?" and ran out into the rain to buy pretzels for all of us.)

Rather than figure out what to do with figs myself, I decided to rely on those who have gone before me with their brilliant fig recipes. For tonight's dinner I chose Chicken with Figs from We Are Never Full, a blog that has provided me with quite a bit of inspiration in the past few months.

I didn't have too many worries that the dish would be good. Even if I didn't like figs as a standalone food, I thought the combination of flavors would still be good. It's Sir Pickypants that I was worried about. I couldn't help but be reminded of the last time I made a slow-cooking braised chicken recipe in the past. I made Ina Garten's Coq Au Vin and we know how that one turned out.

The first things I did was cut the chicken breasts off the bone and cut them in half. Pickypants doesn't like big, bone-in pieces of chicken. I also never put the bacon back into the pots and just sprinkled it over my portion. I didn't want him complaining about having to pick bacon out of his meal (as if a few bits of bacon would radically disrupt his digestive system).

Making it was pretty simple and straightforward. The recipe was organized in a way that I never felt as if I had to "catch up" to the next step. There was always time to prep the ingredients for the next step while the previous step was in progress. The smell of this dish while cooking is heavenly. The bacon fat, onion, garlic, and vegetables with the brandy made me want to just stick my face in the pot.

The resulting dish was pretty good. I just made one mistake.

I thought it would be good over polenta and polenta is one of those things I have an excess of right now (cabinet clean out meal). The problem is that I cooked far less polenta than I needed to soak up all of that sauce. It might not have mattered if I had served it properly. I just had this crazy idea that if I put all of the polenta down in one bowl and then threw all of the chicken on top of it, serving it family style, I would have fewer containers to deal with after dinner. My laziness bit me in the butt pretty hard.

Bad idea! The polenta was pretty much floating in the sauce. Kevin likened it to polenta soup. I should have spooned the polenta on the plate individually and spooned chicken and sauce over it.

I can't believe I'm showing you this photo of my grainy soup. You can tell this is my portion since I put the bacon on it.

We both thought it tasted pretty good. I was pleased to see Kevin reach for a second piece of chicken.

My verdict on figs is that they're not bad, but I won't go out of my way to eat them again. I would be more likely to eat them incorporated into a dish like this than I would eat them by themselves.

I would make this dish again, but I think I would use less chicken stock to help concentrate the flavors a bit.


Adam said...

Welcome to Fig Land! It great that you gave them a shot, and I think the chicken recipe is a good place to start. Try some fig desserts sometime... you might like them too :)

RecipeGirl said...

It's funny because I have a story about not liking figs because of my Grandmother too!

I gave figs a shot this year and came up with a really good chicken & greens dish with fresh figs, blue cheese and a warm dressing. We loved it. I'm with you though... I don't think I could just eat them on their own.

A_and_N said...

Oh come are being too hard on yourself :)

And the pie crust on the previous post? That looked truly professional :)

Maria said...

I am not the biggest fan of figs but my father loves them. I better try some recipes out! Maybe the desserts would suit me well:)

We Are Never Full said...

BIG hug... congrats on trying something new! that's why i think you're very, very cool... you're always willing to learn and try new things!

as for the chicken stock thing - how long did you simmer everything for? Really it should simmer about 2 to 3 hours and the "sauce" gets pretty thick. I may have added just a hint of cornstarch though. can't remember.

now your next mission (no pun intended - get it -mission figs? ok, lame) is to try figs RAW. you can do it... you know you can do it!

noble pig said...

I also do not enjoy them right off the tree but cooked in a savory diash I love them.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Adam, Recipegirl, and Cathy - I'm actually giving figs a second look. Yesterday afternoon I came home and saw the leftover figs sitting there and decided to take a bite. I think when I was making the chicken, I was too involved with everything and my palatte was a little stressed and overstimulated. Sitting down and eating figs in a relaxed environment did wonders for them. I would say I actually enjoyed them. I think I will look into using them more.

Aandn - Thanks for the compliments, especially on the pie!

Maria - Definitely test out some recipes. They really are a versatile fruit.

WANF - Thanks. As you can see above, I am finding myself liking figs after all. I had that pot simmering for quite some time, especially since there is always quite a bit of time between when I start dinner and when Kevin actually comes home. It probably could have simmered some more. I know it reduced down quite a bit. The consistency of the sauce wasn't really a problem as much as the ratio of sauce/polenta was too great.

Nik Snacks said...

I want some figs. Bad. I am tired of waiting for people to give me the goods from their gardens (for free). But I love saving $$.

I need more figs in my life. Wrapped in bacon, with dates stuffed on the inside. Drizzled with orange liquor or orange marmalade. Or orange zest. You like how I'm menu planning right here? lol

Dee said...

I was sulking that everyone was cooking with figs and I couldn't get my hands on some. So I finally managed to find some and the man informs me after 8 years of marriage that he doesn't like figs. Hrumph!

The bacon fat, onion, garlic, vegetables and brandy make me want to just stick my face in your pot too. But that would be rude wouldn't it?

Lo said...

Oh, no! Another figs post!

I LOVE them, but have avoided them this year in an effort to eat more locally. SO very happy to do that... but... but...

I'll bet this was delicious! (and really, who cares how it LOOKS?)

Emiline said...

Man, I really don't like all of you that are using fresh figs. There are no figs here and I'm jealous.

I think the chicken, fig and bacon dish sounds delicious. And I like my food saucy.

Darius T. Williams said...

It doesn't matter how grainy this is - lol...bacon makes up for it!