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Black Pepper Chicken with Mango and Cashews

Can we have a little chat about cilantro?  The first time I tasted it I was sure someone had left a tablespoon of ivory soap in the salsa serving dish.  And maybe the second time I felt the same way. It’s possible I went on hating cilantro for at least 10 years.  What a shame.  I don’t even know when or how it happened because I usually try to avoid food I dislike, but somewhere in there I started liking it. And now I don’t just like it – I can’t live without it.  And neither can this recipe, so if you are a hater, well, keep tasting cilantro until you like it and then come back and make this delicious and easy dinner.

Black Pepper Chicken with Mango and Cashews


From The New York Times


1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup salted cashews
1 3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts* or thighs, cut into 
     2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dark rum, or 2 tablespoon water mixed with a 
     bit of rum extract
1 large or 2 small mangoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1.  In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the spice mixture and the cashews to the hot oil and cook, stirring, just until the nuts are starting to brown a bit, about 2 minutes.  Pour the nuts back into the small bowl to cool.


2.  Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and return to stove top.  Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil and bring to medium heat.  Season the chicken with remaining 1 teaspoon pepper and a bit of salt.  Add scallions and cilantro stems to hot oil; cook for about 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Add the chicken and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the surface is golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Pour in the rum and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the rum evaporates, about 1 minute.


3.  Remove pan from heat and add nuts, mango, vinegar and cilantro leaves.  Serve over rice if desired.


Yield:  4 servings.


Notes on the recipe:


-It probably seems weird to use cut up cilantro stems in the recipe but it turns out that they have more flavor than the leaves.  Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test with parsley and cilantro and found that while parsley stems are bitter and stringy and should be avoided, cilantro stems have loads of flavor and easily wilt when cooked.  If a recipe calls for cilantro and crunchy texture isn’t a problem, or if the cilantro is cooked, go ahead and use the stems and the leaves.


-The original recipe calls for chicken thighs and they are very very good but sometimes I get annoyed with all the extra stuff that comes with thighs – like fat and silver skin.  So instead of using thighs I like to *brine chicken breast tenders before I cook them.  If you have never brined before you are missing out! Leave a comment if you would like directions.

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