Somebody pinch me. No don't. I want to savor this precious moment. I have been wanting to develop a recipe for cinnamon chicken for quite some time, and finally I did it, it is done, and now I not only get to document it, I get to blog about it. Sometimes it just is "all about me, my wishes and desires"...
Little House on the Prairie is perhaps the best, ahead-of-its-time series that ever appeared on television. Thanks to the insight and under the direction of Michael Landon many of our children were raised with open minds and family values. I repeat: open minds and family values, hand-in-hand together, nothing extreme, just common sense stuff. This show openly addressed wealth, poverty, love, hate, right, wrong, smart, stupid, feast, famine, bullying, discrimination, alcoholism, drug addition, plague, medicine, death, religion, divorce, adoption, sports, life in the circus and just plain jealousy.
Jealousy was never more present than in season 6 when the handsome, single Almanzo Wilder arrived in Walnut Grove, Minnesota (on the banks of Plum Creek) and Nellie Oleson's mother Harriet (owner of The Mercantile) offered to have her single, available, obnoxious, daughter cook dinner for him in the hope of snagging him as a husband for Nellie. Nellie couldn't cook her way out of a chicken coop, so Laura Ingalls (soon to be Laura Ingalls Wilder) offers to "help" cook Almanzo's (soon to be known as Manly) favorite dinner: cinnamon chicken. Well, Laura (who is secretly in love with her Manly) sabotages the dinner by substituting cayenne pepper for cinnamon. Almanzo and Nellie run for the nearest water trough and the rest is history. "Half-pint" gets her "manly"!!!
This recipe for cinnamon chicken has been a labor of love. I thought I might get lucky when I ordered a copy of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook (1995), and find a recipe published in it. They had the nerve to publish this book without even mention of the recipe. They get no respect from me. Then I did a brief search on the internet. Lot's of recipes, but none that seemed to capture the spirit or authenticity of the time period.
So, doing what I do best, I took the time to develop a recipe using ingredients that would have been readily available to the folks of Walnut Grove and in Nellie's Restaurant kitchen on the night of Laura's covert mission. Except for the use of one ingredient, Panko, which I used in place of ordinary dry bread crumbs (because I know that Caroline Ingalls would approve of this), my recipe stays true to what I set out to do. I carried the subtle sweet and spicy flavors of cinnamon and cayenne pepper throughout the recipe putting it: in the marinade, in the flour mixture and even in the cinnamon honey-butter drizzle. It emerges from the oven oh so crispy and deliciously fragrant. I think it to be a wonderful dinner and tribute to Little House on the Prairie!
What to serve with it? That choice is yours. Last night, when my final version of cinnamon chicken came out of the oven, I served it steaming hot atop one of my favorite recipes for couscous (which just happens to contain golden raisins and cinnamon, which made it the perfect complement). If you want to serve it at room temperature at a picnic or a tailgate, accompany it with any number things: cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, baked corn casserole, etc. As long as you don't cover the cinnamon chicken with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, it will stay really crispy for about 24 full hours, which makes it a great "make and take" dish to serve... and... the easy to make cinnamon honey-butter drizzle, if kept at room temperature, stays perfectly drizzly as well!
One last noteworthy item: I used 8 leg-thigh portions to prepare my cinnamon chicken, but you are certainly not limited to that. Eight chicken breast halves, 16 legs or 16 thighs won't change the quantities on the following ingredients list, but keep in mind that smaller pieces of chicken will cook faster than larger ones, so be sure to adjust your cooking time.
For the marinade/batter:
1 quart buttermilk
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 large eggs (whisked into the marinade after the chicken has been removed from it, to form a batter)
For the flour mixture:
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
For the chicken and breadcrumb coating:
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg-thigh portions, trimmed of excessive overhanging flaps of fat
2 8-ounce boxes Panko breadcrumbs, or regular plain, dry breadcrumbs
For the cinnamon honey-butter drizzle:
1 stick butter
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
~ Step 1. In a very large mixing bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients except for the eggs. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim the chicken of all pieces of excess overhanging fat. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate for 2-3 hours, turning about every 15-20 minutes, as well as basting occasionally with a meat baster.
~ Step 2. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the dry ingredients: flour, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, sugar and salt. Set aside until meat is done marinating.
~ Step 3. When chicken is done marinating, remove each piece of chicken from bowl, shaking all excess marinade back into the bowl, and place in a 2-gallon food storage bag. Whisk the eggs into the marinade to form a thick, drizzly batter for dipping the chicken into. Place the Panko in a second large mixing bowl. Place a rack in a large roasting pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
We're going to start an assembly line-type dipping process now and it will go very fast. In this order, line up your bowls: #1) the dry ingredients; #2) the wet batter; #3) the Panko. Set your roasting pan right next to the panko. Ready... set... go! Your chicken is going to be in the oven in about 5 minutes!
Coat each piece of chicken in flour, then:
dip it in the batter, and:
coat it all over with Panko!
Repeat the above process until all chicken pieces are dipped, coated and arranged in pan. Bake on center rack of preheated oven 60-75 minutes, depending upon the size of your chicken pieces.
~ Step 4. To prepare the cinnamon honey-butter drizzzle: While the chicken is baking, melt butter over low heat and whisk in the honey, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt. When mixture is smooth and even in color, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
~ Step 5. Remove from oven, sprinkle some sea salt over all and serve each portion with a generous drizzle of cinnamon honey-butter!
Oven-Roasted Cinnamon Chicken w/Honey Butter: Recipe yields 8 servings and 1 1/2 cups of cinnamon honey-butter drizzle.
Special Equipment List: 1 very large mixing bowl; whisk; kitchen shears; meat baster; 2 large mixing bowls; large spoon; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack
Cook's Note: This is a great recipe to get your kids or grandkids involved with. Put the Little House on the Prairie DVD's on the TV and whip up a batch of cinnamon chicken!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)