This recipe is another staple from my college days. I had forgotten all about it until I was flipping through my old-school, handwritten recipe book (which long predates the phenomena of Epicurious, AllRecipes, and other internet recipe databases). I’m afraid I don’t recall where the recipe originated. My college roommate and I had a bit of a thing for tequila, so this dish made a frequent appearance on the dinner table in our tiny university apartment.
The Midwestern Gentleman was game to indulge my nostalgia, so I served the chicken with long grain and wild rice to soak up the flavorful sauce. The alcoholic bite of the tequila disappears after simmering, leaving a smooth, honey-like note. The earthy, toasted cumin seeds play well off the tangy sweet-and-sour of the tequila and citrus. Wilted baby spinach with mandarin orange and sea salt makes a lovely accompaniment. By using chicken tenders, I cut down on marinating and cooking time, making this a more weeknight-friendly meal.
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenders
about 1/3 cup tequila (or 2 “nips”)
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
Juice the orange and the lemon and combine with the tequila.
Pour the marinade over the chicken. I usually marinate in a gallon-sized ziplock baggie, but I was out of them, so I set the chicken to marinate in a shallow dish instead. Either works fine.
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until they are fragrant and a shade darker. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent the seeds from burning. Don’t skip this step! It only takes about 3-4 minutes, and it will make a huge difference in taste. Sprinkle the cumin seeds over the marinating chicken.
Let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours if using chicken tenders, or for 1 to 4 hours if using chicken breasts.
Reserving the marinade, remove the chicken and pat dry. It’s fine if some of the cumin seeds remain sticking to the chicken. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wide pot. Season the chicken with salt, and cook over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes per side for chicken tenders or 4 minutes per side for chicken breasts.
Don’t cram all the chicken into the pan at once — cook the pieces in batches if necessary. I had about a dozen chicken tenders, so I cooked them in two batches.
When the batches of chicken have been cooked, return all of the chicken to the pan. Pour the reserved marinade over the chicken, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes for chicken tenders, and 20 to 30 minutes for chicken breasts. Remove the lid, and continue to simmer for a few more minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly, and the chicken is cooked all the way through. Serve with rice or crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce.