Apricots: You know summer is just around the corner when apricots are in season. These little, velvety, golden fruits are full of vitamin A and C, beta-carotene, antioxidants, and fiber. The best kinds will be only slightly soft, but not too firm. These yellow-orange stone fruits that are thought to have originated in China and moved through Armenia, can fall between the spectrum of sweet and tart. The Spanish missionaries were the first to grow apricots in California, and now you’ll find apricots in the U.S. between May and August.
Consider yourself lucky if you can find tree-ripened apricots, which are probably the most flavorful. Insipid stone fruits with little flavor are terrible turn-offs, but we can try and save them by cooking them in a little sugar or honey. Apricots don’t get as juicy as other stone fruits like peaches, but they still have a lovely, smooth texture and subtle but distinct musky sweetness that gets even better when its flavors are concentrated as dried fruit, jams, or even a liqueur. If you’re looking for dried apricots, keep in mind that many commercially dried apricots are treated with sulfur dioxide to extend their shelf life and preserve their bright orange color. Certified organic dried apricots that are brown due to oxidization are a better choice for sulfite-sensitive individual.
In order to enjoy the lovely textures of both fresh and dried apricots, I prepared this Mediterranean style chicken dish by slow simmering both on the stovetop. This allowed the dried apricots to soften and thicken the sauce, while the fresh apricots added a bright, syrupy juiciness. I also garnished the dish with fresh apricots that were caramelized in a pan by slicing several in half, brushing the inside with honey and brown sugar before placing them in a hot pan for about 2 minutes. Serve this chicken dish with a vegetable or grain side like the pearl couscous recipe below, and you’ll have a pretty satisfying meal to celebrate the beginning of summer.
Apricot Chicken with Pearl Couscous (Yield: 4 servings)
Apricot and Chicken
1 medium chopped onion
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
6 dried apricots, halved
3 fresh apricots, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
¾ cup chicken stock
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute onion and cinnamon until onion softens.
- Push onions to outside, and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to center. Add chicken and brown both sides. Add garlic and stir onions and chicken together.
- Add dried and fresh apricots, honey, and chicken stock. Bring to simmer, and then turn heat to low. Stir until mixture thickens (about 10 minutes). Take the pan off the heat.
- Add lime juice and black pepper to season.
- Serve over pearl couscous (recipe below).
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped shallots
2 cup Israeli/pearl couscous
2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped fresh parsley or mint
Zest of one lemon
¼ tsp pepper
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add ½ cup of shallots and sauté until lightly golden. Add couscous, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Stir constantly until couscous is lightly browned (about 3 minutes).
- Add salt and chicken/vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until couscous is tender or until liquid is absorbed (about 12 minutes).
- Remove from heat. Toss in fresh parsley and lemon zest. Season with black pepper.