If there’s one thing I can do well consistently, it’s chicken.
It’s the main protein in our household – fairly light, easily flavored, and not too difficult to prepare. As long as you’re not doing a full roast, it’s the perfect dish for a busy weeknight.
Which brings me to mix-and-match chicken.
This is my foolproof recipe for a delicious, easy, and fulfilling meal, especially if you’re tired after coming home from work. The concept is simple, requiring six basic elements for your marinade: sweet, sour, savory, piquant, oleogustus, and spice. What constitutes any one of those categories is COMPLETELY your choice (and you’re likely to find one of each in your kitchen right at this moment.) But the combination of all six is what’s going to make your dish sing.
What are the six elements?
SWEET: This is going to be the basis of your sauce, and could be anything from a jam to a syrup. I usually rotate between apricot, fig, or pepper jelly, but you could also use honey, maple syrup, date honey, applesauce, tamarind paste, apple butter, marmalade, brown sugar, or even molasses. I recommend something with a thick texture, as you wouldn’t get the right coating with juice or soda.
SOUR: Acid is the component that will add brightness and pungency to your chicken: any kind of vinegar would do (red wine, balsamic, pineapple, and apple cider are my favorites), but juice of a lemon or lime will work as well. Pickle brine might also be a fun choice.
SAVORY: Otherwise known as umami, this will bring a salty, meaty note to your mixture. I recommend soy sauce, miso paste, or fish sauce.
PIQUANT: This is the heat. Mustard, wasabi, horseradish, or your favorite hot sauce will work here. I’m a big fan of dijon mustard.
OLEOGUSTUS: Just a fancy word for fat, which some food researchers now argue is the sixth basic taste. Either way, just a few drops of olive or truffle oil will bind your sauce and add depth of flavor.
SPICE: A generous dousing of your favorite dried herbs will add the final zing. I tend to use so much garlic powder that it becomes a paste, haha. (Your house will smell so good while it’s cooking, too.)
I like to think of this combination of disparate flavors as “medieval cooking.” A fascinating NPR article from last year pointed out that modern European cuisine emphasizing simplicity and flavor pairings developed in the 17th century when spices and other foreign ingredients were no longer exclusively available to the wealthy. Essentially, rich people needed a new way to shit on the poor, so they excised rich flavors from their cooking and called it “haute.” But the legacy of juxtaposing flavor profiles remains in the western palate:
“Think of a barbecue sauce — very medieval,” says Ken Albala, a professor of culinary history at the University of the Pacific, in that it’s sweet and sour and full of an array of spices and flavorings. “We do like contrasting flavors.”
Without further ado: Mix-and-Match Chicken:
- 1 package of chicken pieces (I like to use thighs or legs, but breasts would work too if you adjust cooking time as to not dry them out.)
- 1/4 cup Sweet
- 2 TB Sour
- 1 TB Savory
- 1 1/2 TB Piquant
- 1 TSP Oleogustus
- Generous dousing of Spice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat dry the chicken pieces, which will allow the skin to crisp and caramelize well. Place them in your cooking vessel.
Whisk your six elements together and spoon evenly over the chicken pieces. (This can be done a day ahead of time if you just want to throw them in the oven the minute you get home.)
Place the vessel in the oven for an hour. When you take them out, they should be nice and browned on top. Let sit, covered in foil, for 15 minutes to rest. (If you cut into them right away the juices will run out and you’ll be left with dry meat.)
Serve with your favorite veggies and side dishes!
(Below: Apricot mix-and-match chicken with bubble and squeak.)