Saucy chicken with mushrooms, eggplant, shallots, spinach and sugar snap peas

For any party or family gathering this dish would definitely be a home run!The flavor of the chicken increases after marinading and then gets a bit crispy once sauteed. All the vegetables, when mingled with the chicken create a satisfying and savory dish.
It works well served atop rice or noodles. Another idea is to serve it with mashed potatoes. Or, truly, the dish is quite substantial and my guests have told me that this dish can even stand alone, no starch needed since with so many vegetables the dish is quite filling.

In recent years, and some research, I’ve learned a few things about marinating foods. Marinating time often depends on the strength of the marinade and the size of the food and what kind of food. Chicken and fish obviously require less marinating time than larger cuts of meat. In addition, to speed up the the marinating time you can make scores in the fish, meat or chicken. For more complex flavor, sometimes use soy sauce instead of salt–besides being salty, it contains glutamic acid which boosts meaty flavor. ( Soy sauce represents Umami flavor, or savoriness, which is the fifth sense, extremely popular in recent years. Other foods which are sources of Umami: tomato paste, fish sauce, anchovies, mushrooms, cured meats, bacon, just to name a few.) In addition, sugar/honey help brown foods during cooking, and, further develop flavor. Oil is a flavor facilitator, and when herbs are mixed in with it helps the herbs release their full flavor. Do not leave oil out when marinating. Use a lot of herbs too when you marinate. Several studies have revealed that marinades penetrate only about one quarter of an inch on the surface of meats, chicken and fish. Yet, that’s enough to pump up the flavor of nearly any protein. However, a marinade will never turn a tough cut of meat tender.

Finally, salt helps contribute to meat’s juiciness, and can serve as a “brinerade,” an ingredient which combines the benefits of marinating and brining. Salt too is another element in cooking which has increased tenfold in popularity and usefulness lately–unless of course you have health issues against it- for chefs and passionate cooks. You want your food to taste salted, but not too salty. There is a difference.

Marinade

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons dry sherry

1 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 scallion, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces–use white and green parts

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

3 Tablespoons honey

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 grinds of fresh peppercorns

1/4 cup fresh herbs, several of your favorites, such as oregano, basil, dill, thyme and tarragon. If using dried herbs, use roughly 2 teaspoons. Remember this simple equation – 3 Tablespoons of fresh herbs equals 1 teaspoon dried, since the dried is usually more potent.

Ingredients

6-7 boneless, skinless chicken thighs – about 1 1/2 lbs.

2-4 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, divided

4 small shallots, sliced thin

2 small eggplants, sliced thin. Peel away half the skin, such as from top to bottom, every other inch or so as you move around, leave some skin on.

8 oz. bottom mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon salt, divided

10 slightly cooked sugar snap peas

1 10 oz. pkg. fresh spinach, trimmed or not, your choice

1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth plus 3 tablespoons

2 Tablespoons dry sherry

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3-4 tablespoons water until a slight paste forms

Process

1 Mix all the marinade items in a glass bowl, add the chicken. Marinade covered overnight or just for an hour or two, turning now and t hen.

2 The next day or later, heat a large skillet or best is a cast iron pan to medium high. Let it heat up for a few minutes. Add the chicken pieces, draining them one by one. Cook them on medium for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until they turn golden, or until the temperature reaches close to 170 degrees. Remove them to a plate. Cut them in strips, about 2 inches wide.

3 In the same pan, add the eggplant, shallots, cook on medium low 3-4 minutes as they turn a bit tender, turning now and then. Add more oil if needed. Add the mushrooms, cook on low for 3-4 minutes as they release their juices. Add half of the salt, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sugar snap peas. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook on low for another minute. Add the wine or broth and the dry sherry. Bring to a gentle simmer. Let the liquid reduce by one-third, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach, cover the pan, cook on low for 3-5 minutes as the spinach wilts. Add the chicken, stir to warm it and cook slightly for another minute or two. Add the rest of the salt.

4 Add the cornstarch mixture, stir to incorporate it and bring the dish back to a slight boil, stir as it thickens for about 2-4 minutes. Lower the heat and slowly add the heavy cream, as it mixes with the other ingredients and then heat everything thoroughly, but don’t let the dish boil again.

5 Adjust the seasonings, and serve over hot Jasmine rice, passing around additional soy sauce,for those desiring.

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