I draw inspiration for my cooking from lots of places. I have a mountain of cook books that I flick through most evenings with a glass of vino (purely to help the creative juices, of course) writing notes, ideas and potential combinations for dishes in my notebook. I’d love to say that the idea for this dish came from one such session but unfortunately I would be bending the truth! MasterChef: The Professionals, sigh. I like MasterChef, I enjoy watching people challenge and push themselves so a snotty Monica Galetti and a surprisingly fair Michel Roux Jr. can drool over their creations – but that rarely happens. I watched an old episode last week where an ambitious young English chef cooked Chicken Breast stuffed with Dates & Alcohol. He got slated for it, there was no exclaims of joy, the judges barely picked at it only to decide, it was terrible. I liked the sound of it, although I figured a few changes would be called for. I switched the chicken breast to thighs. They are easier to cook, have more flavour and stay moist for longer – win, win. As far as I remember the type of alcohol wasn’t mentioned on the show but I instantly thought of bourbon. I figured the rich sweetness of the Medjool dates would be matched perfectly with the caramel, woody Woodford Reserve that’s been lingering in my press – sold! I also decided not to wrap the chicken in bacon and instead brown the skin. Chicken skin is an under-used flavour booster in my book and I’ll take any excuse to make it sing.
In short it was a success. I wasn’t sure what sauce to serve with the dish, so I whipped up a quick bourbon sauce to compliment, it works well and it’s simple to make. I served the chicken and bourbon sauce with a helping of lentil stew. This recipe serves 2 hungry folks but can easily be multiplied to feed the hoards.
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Chicken Thighs (de-boned and skin left on)
5 Medjool Dates
1 tsp + a good splash of Bourbon Whiskey (I used Woodford Reserve)
1/2 Onion (finely chopped)
2 sprigs of Thyme
100ml Chicken Stock
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180 Deg C.
2. Cut the dates lengthways until you reach the large pit in the middle, remove this before finely chopping the dates and putting into a bowl with the teaspoon of bourbon. Mix well and set aside.
3. Open out the chicken thighs, skin side down, season and put a spoonful of the date mixture along the middle of the thigh. Roll up tightly and tie with butchers string or secure using toothpicks.
4. Add the olive oil to a frying pan over a medium heat and when hot, add the chicken. Season generously and brown on all sides for 5-6 minutes.
5. Add the butter, onion and thyme. Mix everything around well before removing the chicken to a baking dish. Put into the oven for 20 minutes while you make the sauce.
6. Continue to sweat the onion until soft but not coloured, approx. 10 minutes before adding a good splash of bourbon and set alight with the gas flame or a match (watch your eyebrows!). This isn’t essential and you can quite happily avoid the flame by allowing the alcohol to cook off for a few minutes.
7. When the flame has gone out (or after a few minutes of cooking), add the chicken stock and season. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6-7 minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavour. By this time the chicken should be finished cooking.
8. Remove the chicken from the oven and rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with lentil stew and plenty of bourbon sauce.