A Recipe from Rebecca: Quinces

October 27, 2022 by General Administrator

Perhaps you have been tempted by the mysterious yellow quinces in the ‘extras’ section. Here is something delicious you can do with them. Claudia Roden reports that honeyed chicken with quince is a classic of Moroccan cookery, and it is very good. The chicken is simmered with honey and North African spices, and adorned with slices of quince. Serve it with rice or couscous.

But if it all seems a bit much you can enjoy the quinces simply for their delicate fragrance, which will perfume your kitchen if you leave them in a bowl on your worktop. Quinces have long been famous for their aroma, as this poem ascribed to the tenth-century Andalusian diplomat Jafar ibn Uthman al-Mushafi illustrates.

It is yellow in colour, as if it wore a daffodil
tunic, and it smells like musk, a penetrating smell.

It has the perfume of a loved woman and the same
hardness of heart, but it has the colour of the
impassioned and scrawny lover.

Its pallor is borrowed from my pallor; its smell
is my sweetheart’s breath.

When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a censer in the middle of my room.

It has a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-coloured shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers.

Isn’t that Aphrodite’s apple?

Honeyed Chicken with Quince
Serves 4

2 quince
500g shallots or very small onions
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tablespoons sunflower oil + an additional tablespoon of oil for frying the quinces
2 teaspoons ras el hanout, or 1 teaspoon ground ginger + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + a pinch of saffron
1.6kg chicken, cut into pieces, or the equivalent in chicken pieces
250ml water
1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey

Bring to the boil a pot large enough to hold the quince. Simmer the quince in the pot until they are tender. This will take between 20 and 60 minutes, depending on the quince, so you will need to check regularly. You don’t want them to fall apart completely. Once the quince are tender, remove them from the pot and leave to cool.

Meanwhile you can prepare the shallots (or onions): bring another pot of water to the boil and add the unpeeled shallots or onions. Boil for 5 minutes, and then drain. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel them and remove the rooty end. Set aside.

Over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons of oil in a pan large enough to hold the chicken. Add some of the chicken and brown on all sides. Don’t crowd the pan too much, or else the chicken will steam rather than brown. As it browns remove it and continue with the remainder of the chicken.

Remove all the now-browned chicken from the pan and add the chopped onion. Lower the heat and sauté for about 10 minutes, until it has softened. Add the spice and stir for a minute or two, until it smells fragrant.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the water, salt and several grinds of black pepper. Cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts, which should now be cooked, and set them aside.

Add the peeled shallots (or onions) to the pot and continue to cook for about 25 minutes more, or until the remaining pieces of chicken are tender. Keep an eye on this while it is cooking and add more water if it seems to be drying out, which I think is unlikely.

While the chicken is cooking finish preparing the quince: cut the cooked quinces into quarters and remove the core, but leave the peel on—this will help hold the slices together. Cut each quarter in half the long way to make 8 thick slices from each quince. Heat the additional tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, and put in the cooked quinces, with a cut side down. Fry until they are brown and caramelised, and then turn them over to brown the other cut side. Lift them out of the pan and drain on a bit of kitchen paper. Set aside.

Once all the chicken has cooked remove it from the pan and add the honey. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are beginning to turn a beautiful caramel brown.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the quinces. Heat through and then see if it needs more pepper. You want a nice balance between sweetness and peppery sharpness.

Serve with with rice or couscous.

Recipe adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon (2005).

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