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Pappardelle with Braised Chicken and Figs Adapted from Chef Kyle Bailey in Food and Wine Magazine

         Who isn’t always looking for fresh, new ways to cook that workhorse of the kitchen, the skinless chicken thigh?  That’s why I was intrigued by a recipe in October’s Food and Wine Magazine that was said to be “Spanish-inspired pasta”.  First of all, although no authority on Spanish cuisine, I had to wonder about pasta being authentic to Spain.  And the research I did backed me up.  There is really only one ‘pasta’ that is cooked with any frequency in Spain.  And wouldn’t you know it’s used in making Fideuá, which is very similar to paella only Fideuá substitutes a noodle about the size of spaghetti for the rice in every other paella.  There’s a interesting piece of folk history about how this substitution of noodles for rice happened. According to what I read, Fideuá was first created by a cook onboard a fishing boat.  Joan Batiste Pascual, better known as Zabalo, made many a meal of paella.  The skipper of the vessel he worked on in 1915 loved rice and would always eat so much of it that the crew never got their fair share.  So in order to stop the skipper from eating everyone else’s portion, Zabalo decided to substitute pasta for rice.  Unfortunately for the rest of the fisherman, his plan didn’t go too well.  The captain devoured the pasta with as much gusto as he did rice so Zabolo’s plan was thwarted.  But he is still a hometown hero.  His village, Safor, holds a Fideuá cooking competition each year.


Today’s recipe does not come from Zabalo and wouldn’t be recognized in Safor.  It’s from a young Chef, Kyle Bailey, who currently works as Executive Chef at two Washington DC eateries: Birch and Barley and ChurchKey, a beer bar upstairs from the restaurant (1337 14th  St. N.W. Tel: 201 567-2576) .  Kyle Bailey graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY and then worked in resort hotels in the Caribbean and in Florida before moving to the Capital.  There’s no hint of any Spanish cooking in his background but who cares?  The dish he dreamed up for Food and Wine uses Spanish Marcona almonds (you can substitute slivered almonds if you don’t have access to Marconas) and dried “datil”, the Spanish word for dates.  The Date or “El Datil” has long been cultivated in Spain and was likely brought there from North Africa and before that from the Middle East.  The pasta, in this case thick pappardelle noodles, may be Italian and the base for the sauce is a classic French mirepoix doused with Portuguese Madeira, and the garnish returns to Spain in the form shaved Manchego cheese. If fusion can be Asian, apparently what Chef Bailey makes can only be described as a European Middle Eastern fusion.  Call it what you will, this is a luscious, complex dish. I served it twice in a relatively short space of time to great applause. A couple of helpful hints.  By all means, use only bone-in thighs for this dish.  The temptation to substitute boneless chicken to save time will not give you the results you want.  The bones add flavor and body to the sauce.  If you don’t have Madeira, you can use Marsala. And if you don’t have pappardelle you can substitute tagliatelle which is what Chef Bailey used in the original.   Here is the recipe:


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