Friday, May 11, 2012

Ingredient of the Month: Honey

One of the world’s oldest ingredients, dating back at least 8,000 years, is that thick, sweet, amber culinary gem called honey.  We can thank the honeybees for this fine ingredient, as they work hard to produce our honey from the nectar of flowers.

The bee’s digestion process transforms flower nectar into honey, which they deposit into wax honeycombs inside the beehive.  The honey is then harvested by beekeepers and then passed along for our enjoyment.  Honey is used as a sweetener in baking as well as in some savory recipes such as glazed ham, barbecue sauce, salad dressing and glazed carrots.  It is also added to warm beverages, such as tea, or drizzled over such edibles as biscuits or fruit.  Honey produces naturally occurring yeast.  Fermentation of this yeast is instrumental in the production of mead, or honey wine.  Honey is also used as an adjunct in the production of some craft beers.  The various flavor nuances of different honeys are influenced by the variety of flower nectar that they honeybee consumed.

Honey was harvested in ancient times in various civilizations that include China, Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Mayan region of Mesoamerica.  In addition to culinary use, honey has held symbolic significance in cultural and religious practices.  Honey is believed to be one of the five elixirs of immortality in Hinduism.   In Judaism, honey signifies the new year, or Rosh Hashanah.  Across the spectrum of religions and cultures, honey has been referenced as possessing healing properties for various maladies throughout the ages.  Even today, a piping hot cup of tea sweetened with honey can be soothing to that nagging sore throat.  Advocates of holistic medicine swear by daily consumption of a locally produced honey to deter allergy symptoms.

There are a host of different honey varieties produced around the world.  Honeys that present as a darker hue will yield a stronger flavor.  Most honeys are labeled for the flower from which they were derived.   Clover and orange blossom are the most popular honeys produced in America.  Other honeys that are less widely available include, but are not exclusive to, lavender, sage, thyme and buckwheat.  The liquid form of honey, that is the honey that has been extracted from the honeycomb and filtered, is the most commonly sold form of honey.  Some of these have been pasteurized to prevent crystallization. 

One of the most prized traits of honey that is so appreciated by cooks is its longevity.  Honey can be stored in a sealed jar for up to a year on the shelf of a cool, dry cupboard.  It may be stored in the refrigerator as well, but this will likely result in crystallization.  Remember that old science experiment of creating rock candy by leaving a solution of sugar and water for days on end to do its magical transformation?  This similar process occurs with honey, as honey is comprised of liquid plus various sugars.  Not to worry, if you reach for the honey jar one day and discover a grainy, gooey mass, simply place the opened jar in a microwave on high power for a few seconds and that will dissolve the glucose blob.

With the approach of warmer days when main dish salads are embraced, here is a recipe for a chicken salad platter with a honey-mustard dressing.  This is my version, which does require some deep frying.  However, if you prefer a less labor intensive variation, you could substitute broiled or grilled boneless chicken breasts that have been sliced into strips.  Yes, it will be healthier.  No, it won’t be as good.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Salad Platter

2 cups flour
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 pound chicken tenders
1½ quarts corn oil

1 ¼ cups mayonnaise
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

3 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 pint cherry tomatoes
8-10 ounces sliced white button mushrooms

Place flour in a large Ziplok baggie.  Whisk the milk and the eggs together in a shallow bowl until well combined.  Whisk together the next six ingredients until well mixed and pour into a second Ziplok baggie.   Place oil in a large deep pot with a deep-frying thermometer and heat on the stove until it reach a temperature of 350 degrees.  In the meantime, place the chicken tenders in the flour filled baggie.  Seal the bag and shake until all surfaces of each tender are coated.  Remove one tender at a time, dip it into the egg mixture and then place into the breadcrumb mixture.  Seal the breadcrumb baggie and toss to coat thoroughly.  Repeat with remaining tenders.  Once the oil has reached the proper temperature and all tenders have been coated, slip them into the hot oil.  Fry until the surfaces are crisp and amber golden brown.  Remove the tenders with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined cookie sheet, in a single layer.

Whisk the next five ingredients together until blended.  You can use a mini food processor for this.

Arrange the shredded romaine to cover two large plated.  On one upper quarter of the plate, arrange a pile of the cherry tomatoes.  Arrange the mushrooms on the quarter below the tomatoes.  Arrange the chicken tenders over the remaining half of the plate.  Drizzle entire salad with the honey mustard dressing.  Serves 2.

Note: this is my basic recipe.  I have changed things up once in awhile and I would encourage you to do the same.  You could add another little pile to the salad platter of blanched and chilled green beans, for example, or thinly sliced red onion, strips of colorful bell peppers, anything you like.

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to mention the requirement that one must eat a tablespoon of it whenever adding it as an ingredient to a dish.