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Learning to Take the Sweet With the Sour

June 28, 1990|MARION CUNNINGHAM

The most important direction on any recipe is the one that says "correct seasonings." Unfortunately, it's the one that is most likely to be ignored.

The only way to get the best from a recipe is to taste while you are making the dish. And by that I mean, taste critically. This means learning to balance the flavor of food among four possibilities: sweet, sour, salty and bitter (coffee is bitter, as an example).

The best way to understand this is to think of making a glass of lemonade. The balance between the sour (acidic lemon juice) and sweet (sugar) is critical; if this balance is right, the drink is pleasing. Of course, other factors are also very important, but they are easier to control--the clean glass, just enough ice to chill and not dilute the lemonade, fresh lemon juice, attention to detail.

The only way to learn critical tasting is by practice. The following recipes are good places to start. Both are dominated by sour.

Try the Chicken Saute With Vinegar two ways. First try the recipe using red wine vinegar. Another time try using a less acidic vinegar such as rice vinegar; the dish will be sour, but much softer in flavor. In either case you will have a fast, very good dish (and one which was very popular for cooking school lessons in the '70s).

Making Apricot Betty is very much like making that glass of lemonade: the trick is in balancing the sour apricots and the sweet sugar. The real trick here is to taste the apricots before you add the sugar.

CHICKEN SAUTE WITH VINEGAR

1 (2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut in serving pieces

Salt, pepper

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled

1 tablespoon minced parsley

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in skillet and add chicken, skin-side down. Brown on 1 side, turn over and brown other side, about 8 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup wine vinegar and water. Cover and simmer about 10 to 15 minutes. Check for doneness after 10 minutes. Do not overcook.

Transfer chicken to platter and keep warm. Add garlic to skillet and cook 1 minute. Add remaining vinegar and boil quickly to reduce slightly, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Cook few seconds. Pour over chicken and sprinkle with tarragon and parsley. Makes 4 servings.

APRICOT BETTY

2 cups fresh, dry bread crumbs

6 tablespoons butter, melted

2 pounds apricots, pitted and cut in half

1/2 cup sugar, or to taste

2 cups sliced and sweetened strawberries, optional

Whipping cream, optional

Place bread crumbs in bowl with melted butter. Toss to coat all crumbs. Spread apricot halves in 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over top. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, or until crumbs are browned.

Serve warm. Just before serving, place large spoonful sliced strawberries in dessert dish. Top with serving of warm Apricot Betty. Serve with whipping cream. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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