1. Archive

Fig sauce gives an exotic twist

(ran TNP edition)

Some fruits gain in intensity when they're dried, but that's not the case with figs.

This sweet, luxurious fruit dries well and reliably, but almost no one would say that drying improves it.

Still, dried figs retain enough character to add an unexpected flavor to a quickly made sweet-and-sour sauce that beautifully complements meats that take well to sweetness, such as chicken, duck and pork, though lamb or game are also possible.

In making the sauce I wanted both to accentuate the figs' sweetness and to offer a counterpoint to it, so I chose a very dry white wine, one that would provide some acidity. I used a Muscadet, but a white from Graves or Sancerre would be equally good, or any ungrassy, unoaky sauvignon blanc.

The sauce requires the addition of lemon juice at the end to avoid being one-dimensional.

For complexity, I began with lightly caramelized honey and the zest and juice of an orange. Coriander seeds provide a delicious, exotic and mild spiciness.

None of these ingredient choices were self-evident. But once I had the sauce at a place I liked, I found there was yet another choice to make, and this one was the most difficult. Though I'm not a chef, I've spent enough time with chefs that I sometimes think automatically that sauces should be smooth.

For elegance, I thought I should finish the sauce as a chef might: Strain it, then reheat it while adding the lemon juice and probably a lump of butter for glossiness, thickness and smoothness.

That's what I did at first.

But in my heart I really prefer the sauce as it is, with its irregular texture: the chunky figs, which absorb scads of flavor from the honey and orange; the crunchy coriander seeds; the chewy orange zest.

I spoon the thin liquid over the chicken, then serve the solids on the side, as a kind of relish.

It isn't elegant, but it's really good.

Note: For more information about cooking with figs, see the California Fig Advisory Board's Web site,, which provides recipes along with nutritional and historical information.

Broiled Chicken With Fig Sauce

4 leg-thigh pieces of chicken, cut in two, or 8 chicken thighs

Salt and pepper

\ cup honey

1 cup dry white wine

Pinch cayenne

1 cup dried figs, stemmed and chopped

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

Zest and juice of { orange

Juice of { lemon, or to taste

Time: 30 minutes.

Place broiler rack 4 to 6 inches from heat source, and turn broiler on. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, and place skin-side down in a pan.

Place honey in a 4- to 6-cup saucepan with 1 tablespoon water, and put on high heat. Let honey boil for a minute or so, then carefully add wine, cayenne, figs, coriander, orange zest and orange juice.

Mixture should cook steadily; do not let it boil over.

Broil chicken until it begins to brown on skinless side. Turn it over, then broil until it browns nicely and is cooked all the way through.

Total broiling time will be about 20 minutes.

Cook sauce until figs are very tender, about 15 minutes. Strain or not, as you prefer. Add lemon juice, then taste, and add more salt, cayenne or lemon as needed.

Serve chicken with sauce spooned over it.

Yield: 4 servings.