Fútbol & Food

June 24, 2009

Football is a matter of life and death, except more important.
~Bill Shankly, English football manager

A sports aside which readily segues into a passion for food. Soccer (well, “football”), is a sport that has long feed deep ardor across the globe. While European and South American teams have traditionally held sway, every other continent has joined the competitive fray at a high level.

What does this have to do with food? Maybe, soccer demands patience, entails technique, sometimes develops slowly, often places a premium on simplicity, differs in style by culture, and has an avid (even zealous) following everywhere. And, just think of the culinary cauldron stirred by the medley of cultures represented by the World Cup attendees and their loyal, sometimes rabid, devotees. Chinese, French, Korean, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Central American, Brazilian, Argentine, Indian, Middle Eastern, African…simply some of the greatest cuisines known to civilization (and that is an embarassedly short list).

Today, a soccer shocker with some reverberation occurred.  A  United States team, which was believed to be vastly outclassed, stunned a magnificently skilled Spanish squad, 2-0, in the Confederations Cup semifinals. An improbable, yet exhilirating upset. Granted it was not the World Cup, but it remains a striking accomplishment—a United States men’s team reaching the final of a significant international tournament. Of course, I was elated, but that does not diminish my respect for the supremely talented Spaniards who remain one of the favorites to vie for the World Cup championship next year. Little doubt that Spain will be back, but also that the United States unit gained some needed team tread going forward.

Even though in the end, the Spanish players left the field so frustrated the customary exchange of jerseys was dispensed with, it only seems fair to serve up some regional Spanish tapas to the vanquished. Both teams were ultimately gracious in defeat and victory. Over a post game meal, let them lick some wounds, and allow the American squad regale in their triumph with some bubbly and good grub too.

CHICKEN WITH FRUIT & NUTS

5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into a 2 or 3 pieces each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced thinly

12 dried apricots, halved
4 Mission figs, halved
4 dried prunes, halved
2 T raisins
6 T pine nuts
2 cinnamon sticks
Thyme sprigs
4 T brandy
1 C sweet white wine

2 C chicken stock
Chopped fresh herbs

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste and place them in the pan. Sear until lightly brown, a couple of minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pan and cook until just before brown, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then the onions. Cook until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. Do not let them fully brown.

Add the dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon sticks, thyme sprigs and brandy. Cook until the brandy is reduced by half. Add the wine and cook until the sauce thickens to coat the spatula, less than 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock, stir, and continue cooking until it forms a sauce. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

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