MND – Pink Chicken

June 27, 2014

strawberry hulls

Anyone else remember flying in the ‘80s? Back in the days before ebooks, and ipods, and ipads. Back in the days when your entertainment for the 7 – 9 – 12 – 18 hour flight was limited to one movie that was projected on a screen at the front of the cabin, and whatever books and games you brought on board with you? Back in the days when you confirmed your flight reservation by phone, and you wanted a seat as far forward in the plane as you could get because the smoking section was at the back of the plane? Back in the days when there was no baggage limit, and you could still go up to the cockpit to talk to the pilots?

Anyone remember the food? Or, more candidly, the substances which purported to be food, but were generally so unidentifiable and inedible that if you’d claimed they were soylent green nobody would much have disagreed with you.

There really are no words to adequately describe the food that was served on flights in the ‘80s. This was not the golden age of plane travel when gourmet meals were prepared and served on china. This was when air travel was beginning to be a mass market production line kind of event. I have vivid memories of airplane meals, and not in a good way. For anyone who doesn’t remember this best forgotten era of air travel let me contextualize it for you – generally speaking the only portion of the meal that was both recognizable and remotely edible was the spongy (always freezing cold) bread rolls and plastic wrapped hunks of cheese that were almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cheddar (for variety you sometimes got foil wrapped wedges of something I believe was supposed to be camembert, but would not have been termed such by anyone who’d ever had camembert before).

The nadir of airplane food – against which all other airplane food is measured and is generally found to be entirely edible – was the pink chicken we got served on some Pan Am flight. The chicken was rubbery and came coated in a vibrantly pink sauce. I mean, not peptobismal pink, but distinctly pinker than anything found in nature. I don’t honestly remember what the sauce purported to be, but the image of pale gelatinous chicken surrounded by pink sauce has stuck with me.

For the record, this is not that chicken. This chicken is coated in creole spices and seared before being braised with rhubarb and wine and honey. I’d say it’s an homage to the pink chicken of that long ago Pan Am flight, but that would suggest that I was trying to recreate that chicken, and I can’t think of anyone I dislike enough to serve that to even assuming I knew how it had been created in the first place. Let’s say this is a celebration of Spring, and a tribute to the plane tickets I just bought for my trip to Portland (OR) in August.



Rhubarb Smothered Chicken
Buttery White Rice
Green Beans
Salad with Strawberries & Candied Pepitas


Rhubarb Smothered Chicken
(serves 8)

This is loosely adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse (http://www.emerils.com/121973/chicken-smothered-rhubarb). This is to say, I followed his recipe, and then spent a lot of time adding a little of this & tasting, adding a little of that & tasting, adding a little more of something else & tasting until I was satisfied.

Now, I like my rhubarb tart, but as written this was unpalatably tart and not in an interesting way. The sauce smelled good, but had a thin sour flavor. I added a fair amount of honey and maple syrup + orange juice and grated apple to balance out the inherent tartness of the rhubarb.

I also added chicken stock to the pot to give the sauce a little backbone and a more savory note. I actually think this recipe would work better with something like lamb or pork shoulder – something that’s got a meatier edge than chicken to give the sauce some depth (in which case you could probably rely on the umaminess of the meat to give the braise depth and omit the chicken stock in the recipe below). The recipe below is my best guess at what I’d do next time I made this dish, incorporating the original recipe plus all the adjustments I made. The key words here being ‘best’ and ‘guess’. I was editing on the fly, so everything below is with the caveat of adjust to taste.

Finally, about the red food coloring . . . I like it when things made with rhubarb have that gorgeous pink that fresh rhubarb has. Unfortunately, usually when you cook rhubarb it falls apart to a pale beige and if you want it pink you have to help nature along a little bit. For sweet applications I will add enough red food coloring to give a deep vibrant rose color (5+ drops), for this savory dish I only added a few (2-3 drops) to barely hint at a rosy blush. This is a personal preference of mine and makes no difference to the flavor of the dish.

This is a one-pot meal, but in the interests of multi-tasking and time management I actually made it in two pans. I cooked the onions down in a large stew pot, while I seared my chicken in batches in a large frying pan. If you want to do this, just make sure you deglaze the frying pan and scrape up all the browned bit and add them to the braise. I deglazed with a generous splash of apple brandy.


Creole Seasoned Flour
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp cayenne

2 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Olive oil
1 ¼ lb rhubarb, cut into 1” pieces
2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 apple, peeled and grated
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme
¾ cup white wine (I recommend a fairly sweet white wine like a Riesling)
¼ cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of ½ lemon
2-4 Tbsp honey and/or maple syrup (+ more as needed/desired)
Pinch each of cinnamon, allspice, cloves
(2-3 drops red food coloring)
¼ cup finely chopped parsley

Mix together the flour and dried herbs for the Creole seasoned flour. Pat the chicken dry and then toss with the seasoned flour. Brown the chicken in batches a large pot with a little olive oil.

Add the onions to the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until the onions have wilted and started to caramelize (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic, rhubarb, fresh thyme, and bay leaves and cook for a few minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the white wine, chicken stock, orange and lemon juices, and honey and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pot and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the pot and boil the sauce vigorously until reduced – stirring periodically to make sure it doesn’t burn. The rhubarb will be completely broken down and will make a thick sauce – if you want to add food coloring to tinge the sauce pink, now’s the time to do it – try not to get it all over your hands. Season to taste with salt/pepper/additional honey or maple syrup.

Return the chicken to the pot and simmer until the chicken is warmed through. Stir in parsley and serve over white rice.

Braise can be made the day before, cooled & refrigerated overnight. Rewarm over a medium heat for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is heated through. Stir in the parsley and serve.


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