Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I love cranberries, with their quintessentially American flavor and deep red color. To me, they just scream “holiday.” I love cranberry sauce, cranberry bars and cranberry bread. The tart flavor of the berries is such a nice contrast to the heavier offerings that abound this time of year, their bright flavor a lovely wake up call for the taste buds. The fact that beautiful fruit like cranberries only take center stage for a long weekend in late November just seems wrong to me, so I work them into my menu all year-round. It also seems that I nearly always end up with a handful or two of leftover berries after making my traditional cranberry sauce each Thanksgiving, so finding ways to put them to use is always a good thing, especially when I can find something delicious and easy.
Because cranberries are so naturally tart, they tend to be used in recipes that call for lots of sugar and often as a dessert ingredient, but they are also excellent in savory recipes like the one showcased here. Like other recipes that include chicken breasts and fruit, this one really allows the fruit to shine since the flavor of the chicken provides a mild, neutral backdrop for the fruit. And while this recipe does call for a kiss of maple syrup, the recipe isn’t overpoweringly sweet. The syrup simply tones down the tartness of the fruit and also gives the resulting sauce a rich, sticky texture.
The other secret weapon in this recipe is the marinade. For the very best results, allow the chicken to bathe in the marinade for a full 24 hours; the resulting dish will be tender, moist and delicious. The recipe can be made with chicken breasts or chicken thighs, with or without the skin, depending on your preference. Even if you opt for skin-on chicken, this dish is surprisingly light, providing a welcome break during what can otherwise be a season of overindulgence.
This dish is really delicious served atop a bit of brown or wild rice, alongside some quick-sauteed green beans. If you happen to be lucky enough to have some left over, this chicken makes a tasty lunch atop a spinach salad (sprinkle on a few dried cranberries for added punch) or tucked into a fresh flour tortilla with your favorite veggies for an interesting and innovative wrap.
Because this recipe is so beautiful, it makes a perfect meal for company – one that is much, much easier to put together than that other meal that features poultry and cranberries that you may be cooking this month. In contrast to that affair, this dinner comes together quickly, creates few dirty dishes, and should give you plenty of time to enjoy visiting with your guests, while still allowing you bragging rights for making a meal to remember. Something this beautiful, tasty, and easy is truly something to be thankful for.