It may seem contradictory, but native cuisines from warm-climate regions are some of the spiciest in the world. And although there is disagreement among food historians as to why that is the case, one thing is certain: hot summer days and hot spicy foods do go together, especially if the dishes team pungent spicing with the sweet fruits of summer.
A landmark 1998 study by Cornell University researchers Jennifer Billing and Paul Sherman analyzed 4,578 traditional recipes from 93 cookbooks of 36 countries, including the northern and southern halves of the United States and China. The results? The hotter the climate of the region, the more spices in the native recipes. This proved true on national and regional levels: relatively bland milk-based clam chowder is popular in New England, for example, while a spicier crawfish etouffee is preferred in the Deep South.
These researchers discount the popular theory that "spicy foods cool the body by making us sweat;" rather, they attribute the prolific use of spicing in hot climates as a preventative against food spoilage in the days before refrigeration was readily available.
Sweet and seasoned
Whatever the historic reasons behind these findings, the hot days of late summer are the perfect time to enjoy spicy chicken dishes sweetened with the fruits of summer. The National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association worked with cooking schools at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the Art Institute of Chicago to develop two new summertime chicken recipes.
A beautiful and delicious entr & eacute;e dish, Caribbean Chicken and Citrus Salad combines colorful citrus fruits with a spicy jerk chicken and a sweet lemon-tarragon dressing. The use of pre-cut chicken tenderloins -- the strip-like piece of meat cut from the breasts -- makes this an easy recipe to prepare; just be sure to allow plenty of time for the chicken to marinate in jerk sauce. When ready to serve, prepare the salad greens and fruit, cook the chicken stove-top and coat lightly with the dressing. Bowls of fruit-flavored ice cream or sherbet will finish the meal.
If a visit to the farmer's market or grocery yields nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums and other summer fruits, try Chicken Curry with Spicy Stone Fruit Chutney. This classic Indian curry takes a little time to cook, but is simple to prepare and is a good make-ahead dish to put in the freezer or refrigerator; the flavors will only deepen in intensity. Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, meat that is rich and flavorful enough to complement the hot spicing of the garlic, ginger and curry powder. While the chicken is cooking, make the Spicy Stone Fruit Chutney; serve the finished dish over basmati or other rice. A green summer vegetable like zucchini or beans will complete the menu.
CARIBBEAN CHICKEN AND CITRUS SALAD
From the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, PA
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenderloins
3/4 cup bottled Caribbean jerk marinade
1 pound salad spring mix (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
2 nectarines, sliced
2 pink grapefruit, peel and pith removed, segmented
2 navel oranges, peel and pith removed, segmented
1 mango, sliced
1/2cup red onion, diced very finely
2 tsps ginger
2 TBLS tarragon
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tsps Dijon mustard
2 TBLS orange juice
1/4 tsp hot sauce
1 lemon, zested
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
In shallow dish or container, place chicken and cover with jerk marinade. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for one hour, or up to overnight.
Make dressing by combining ginger, tarragon, rice vinegar, mustard, orange juice, hot sauce, lemon zest and salt in bowl of food processor or in blender. Blend, slowly adding oils until dressing is emulsified.
Drain chicken and discard marinade. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, place chicken and cook, turning, until golden brown and done throughout, about 8-10 minutes. Remove chicken from heat and cool slightly.
In large bowl, combine greens, mint, nectarines, grapefruit, oranges, mango and onion. Add half of dressing and toss to combine. Add cooled chicken; toss salad again. Divide salad between four plates to serve. Pass extra dressing on the side, if desired.
CHICKEN CURRY WITH SPICY STONE FRUIT CHUTNEY
From the Art Institute of Chicago, IL
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into medium-sized cubes
1 onion, diced small
2 carrots, diced small
1 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ginger, minced
1 TBLS curry powder
1 TBLS olive oil
1 TBLS flour
1 can (14 oz) low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 Gala apple, peeled and diced small
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cups cooked basmati rice
In large saut & eacute; pan with lid over medium heat, saut & eacute; onion, carrots, garlic and ginger until softened, about 6 minutes. Add chicken and cook until slightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add curry powder; cook for one additional minute. Add olive oil and flour, stir well. Add 3/4 cup chicken broth and mix well.
Bring mixture to boil; reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 1/2 hour over low heat. Add apple, remaining chicken broth, salt and pepper. Return to low heat, covered, and cook for additional 1/2 hour. While chicken is cooking, prepare Spicy Stone Fruit Chutney. Serve curry over basmati rice with Spicy Stone Fruit Chutney.
Spicy Stone Fruit Chutney:
2 Gala apples
2 tsps olive oil
1 jalape & ntilde;o pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp cider vinegar
Peel all fruit and cut into medium-sized chunks. In medium saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Saut & eacute; jalape & ntilde;o pepper, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add all fruit pieces, reduce heat to low and simmer until fruit begins to break down, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Remove chutney from heat; stir in vinegar.