The gorgeousness of the worldly goods displayed in paintings depicting the interiors of private houses, public ceremonies, and still-lifes seems to reflect the enjoyment by an unrepentant population of the conspicuous consumption denounced by the preachers of a theoretically austere and self-denying culture.She also points out that the recipes "attempt to convey the spirit of the paintings they accompany, in the light of what we can tentatively deduce about the eating habits of the time."
Chicken hutspot, she says, is a medieval Arab recipe, arriving in Holland by way of Spain. There is the more traditional beef hutspot which contains onions and parsley and often carrots. That is the basis of the accompanying painting, by Gerrit Dou (1613 - 1675), "Young Woman Chopping Onions."
The chicken hutspot appealed to me the most as I am very fond of chicken and of dates and of the spices recommended for the dish.
Chicken Hutspot, in the Spanish Fashion
For 6 people
1 free-range chicken, cut into pieces (I used 6 boneless, skinless thighs)
1 cup white bread crumbs
marrow from a marrowbone, or butter
ginger, cinnamon, saffron, sugar, and salt to taste
lemon peel, in slivers
1 cup dates, stoned and chopped
Cook the chicken pieces in water or stock made from the carcass until tender, then add the bread crumbs and seasoning, together with the dates and lemon peel, and simmer for about half an hour, until the flavors have amalgamated.
Use butter instead of bone marrow, if expedient.
One aspect of this recipe that stood out to me was that the cooking should be very slow and gentle. No rushing here! Everything went into a large cast iron fry pan and that worked well.
I cooked the chicken in a broth at a very slow simmer for 20 minutes, and about half that time there was a lid on it to help cook the top. The broth came up about 3/4 of the height of the thighs. This cooked them almost all the way through and they were very tender.
The recipe didn't specify it but I took the thighs out of the broth after the 20 minutes so I could add the other ingredients and whisk them together well. Then I added half of the dates, replaced the chicken on top of those, and then added the rest of the dates.
I made the bread crumbs by putting two frozen dinner rolls in the blender (one at a time) and processing them until they were fine crumbs.
Butter was expedient for me.
My taste wanted 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp ground saffron, 1 tsp sugar, and no salt because the broth already had salt in it.
The lemon zest was finely grated and was from about half of the small lemon I had.
I only used about 1/2 tsp of butter because there was already fat from the chicken in the sauce.
Then I let the flavors amalgamate for 30 minutes over the lowest possible setting on my range. I made sure to spoon the sauce over the top of the thighs several times while they were cooking.
The sauce thickened beautifully and coated the meat well.
Oh my goodness. The sauce was absolutely wonderful! Thick, not too sweet (which surprised me because of the dates), just a bit spicy from the cinnamon and ginger, and the lemon zest -- oh! the lemon zest! -- was the perfect addition. It added a bit of sparkle and citrus perfume to play off against the other flavors. The dates made the sauce nicely crunchy.
Pairing it with the very tender meat was heavenly. Once I finished a thigh I used a roll to get all the rest of the sauce because it should not go to waste. My taste buds are still doing the happy dance as I type this.
What a success. I would do this again in a heartbeat. It would be an excellent main course for company and easy to prepare, too. It definitely needs that 30 minute amalgamation time to thoroughly infuse the zest with the rest of the spices.
No wonder Ms. Riley quotes historian Simon Schama as saying this recipe is "the perfect way to sanction abundance without risking retribution for greed."
I'm going to have a second piece now.