Ode to the Fig: Salad with Figs and Chicken en Sous Vide

posted in: Cooking, Savory | 19

*Voting is now open for Project Food Blog Round 7. If you liked my entry, you can vote for it here, through Nov 18th. Love, Salty

Consider the fig. It is a harbinger of the season to come. The chill it forebodes rests lightly on the back of my tongue every time I enjoy a quarter, or, a greedy fat half. Medjool, Mission, Calimyrna all influenced by terroir, sun, slope. This year, I have fallen in love with the humble fig, yet it’s November- they quickly disappear into the hoarfrost.

Every change of the leaves and windchill brings a new harvest: fiddleheads and nettles in spring give way to sugar snaps, tomatillos, chioggias, plums, nectarines, melons- then fall. Pumpkins usher in costumes and revelry while goosebump-clad partygoers bob for Braeburns.  The white truffles from Alba take the edge off the cold. Turnips and other tubers fortify many a winter stock until the first asparagus nudge their way back into vendors’ baskets at market.

But now, the swan song of the fig.  Did you know figs are flowers, not fruit? Tragically beautiful- they bloom on the inside. They are lovely in salads, both composee and au natural. They make a piquant dressing when reduced with balsamic and jus. If you wish to fashion pirate ship antipasti, use figs as the hull, Marcona almond slivers as the mast, and wedge in wisps of manchego for the sails. Their versatility is unparalleled; they can play nicely with sugar and spice but love to be tossed into mirepoix dice.

I first tasted the trembling flesh of a common southern California fig (I do not recall the variety) when I was nine, in a backyard in San Bernardino tucked into Oleander groves. I had just emerged from the pool and my eyes smarted from chemical burn. My parents were embroiled in a sloppy divorce I thought I caused, so I was shipped off to the aunts while the minutiae got sorted. They indulged me with root beer floats, long lounges in the floating chaise sans sunscreen, and extended viewings of MTV- something I had never heard of until then. I must have watched Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” 600 times that summer.

One day, a few months before my Uncle’s fatal heart attack, he came home from his long-haul shift conducting an Amtrack train and walked straight to the backyard where we lollygaggers were enjoying dips and sun. He handed me a whole, dusty fig. I palmed it, thinking it was some sort of Cracker Jack jewel. He showed me how to break it apart with my hands, exposing the milky petals and wet sweet. I closed my eyes, took a bite, and luckily (!) it was a perfect fig- the best I’ve ever eaten. I was addicted. I was indulged. They were not known for their cooking- that side of the family- but I made do. I put figs on everything. Takeout burritos from El Pollo Loco to hodgepodge casseroles- hold the guacamole. That is where I first discovered the rare ability of the fig to transcend genre. The fig is versatile, like that politic dinner guest you often invite when you need to diffuse the room.

This recipe is for a Spanish-inspired salad using the fig in two of her best incarnations- raw and quartered as well as reduced into dressing along with balsamic. I prepare the accompanying chicken en sous vide before I pan fry it in the bacon fat, but you could also bake it in a low oven after drenching it in the rub.

Spanish Salad Featuring Figs and Chicken en SousVide

Serves 4

3 hours inactive time, 1/2 hour active time

  • 4 organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Zest of one lemon
  • ½ c balsamic vinegar
  • 12 figs
  • ¼ lb bacon, chopped
  • 1/3 c Marcona almonds
  • 1/8 lb Manchego cheese shavings
  • 1 lb baby spinach
  1. Heat the sous vide water bath to 165°F. Rub the chicken breasts with the paprika, salt, garlic powder and lemon.  Seal them in food-grade bags and place them in the water bath for 3 hours.
  2. Place the balsamic, 6 halved figs, and the juices from the chicken in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, then allow to reduce to a syrupy consistency- about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a skillet. Remove bacon and reserve. Cut the chicken into strips and pan-fry it for 1 minute in the remaining bacon fat.
  4. Wrap the Marcona almonds in aluminum foil and warm in a low temperature oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Quarter the remaining figs.
  6. To compose the salad, start with a bed of spinach. Top with the chicken, bacon, Manchego shavings, quartered figs, and warm almonds. Drizzle the reduced balsamic/fig mixture over it, and enjoy.
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19 Responses

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  4. Ah, the Spanish Salad Featuring Figs and Chicken en Sous Vide.

    I have a theory: My theory is that your dishes even sound better than most other people’s dinners look. Like, I don’t even need the picture, but then there’s a picture piling on the descriptiveness – like, 1000 words’ worth! All that to say, apoetically, that your site continues to heap on to the pile of delicious that it already is.

  5. Figs are probably one of the prettiest edibles to photograph, no? They are like the supermodels of the produce world — not a bad picture in the bunch!

  6. I love figs. They grow all over my neighborhood and my summers are defined by which tree is producing. I am constantly conniving to time my daily dog walks past the best trees at just the right moment. Sadly they are all fruitless now. Even the latest of them are usually finished by September. GREG

  7. you are the sous vide jedi :) great Mediterranean flavors for an autumnal table.

  8. Just reading the recipe has me drooling. Manchego cheese, spanish paprika, figs– the combination is so perfect.
    You should do masterchef season 2.

  9. How wonderful! I love figs and have a tree in the backyard. This will be a good recipe to keep around. Thanks for sharing!

  10. The west coast is calling – alas, we don’t grow many figs here in Colorado. Thanks for sharing your food memories.

  11. wish I could afford this fine machinery in my kitchen. need to save up!

  12. 3 hours inactive time… that’s MY KIND OF TIME! I, too, love figs, though I didn’t have the same experience as you did as a child. But they are so delicious in so many dishes, I know that they are wonderful in this recipe.

  13. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Linda M Nicholson, SarahInSeattle. SarahInSeattle said: Salty Seattle's latest sous vide seduction – she'll have us all buying those machines in no time http://t.co/hpRbhLw […]

  14. I had never tasted a fresh fig until I moved to southern California in the mid-90s. Now we have a little tree in our yard, an unidentified variety. I wait for those figs all year. I like fig season so much that I put figs on the pizza I created for a recent blogger contest at Rosti Tuscan Kitchen in Encino. Didn’t win – I guess figs on pizza are an acquired taste – but that’s okay, the pizza tasted great to me!

  15. I love your fig story. One of my earliest memories is of going in my grandmothers backyard (we all lived in Southern California at the time) and picking Mission figs from her humongous tree. A lifetime later I planted a fig tree in Northern California. I had to move the first year that the tree got fruit. I think that is one of the things that made me the saddest about leaving that house.

  16. Man. this one pulled up a memory.

    Linda Reply:

    @Gigabiting, hope it was a good one…

  17. You spent time in the 909? Intriguing. We must discuss on Sat. In the meantime, stop seducing me with your sous vide! I’m tempted to swap diamonds for sous vide on my x-mas list – the madness must stop. Or maybe I could get both, hmmmmmm . . . ;)

    Linda Reply:

    @Sarah (OC2Seattle), it was called the 714 back in the day… yes, let’s talk:)

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