Hawaiian Chicken with Ginger and Peach (California, 1996, adapted)

Hawaiian Chicken with Ginger and Peach is a chicken and rice dish with vaguely tropical sensibilities.   If you’re expecting a traditional plate-lunch style chicken you’ll need to look elsewhere:  this dish is more Nixon-era casserole than luau food.  Pan-fried chicken breast is set atop a salty pilaf and seasoned lightly with ginger and coconut – the only thing even remotely Hawaiian about the flavor profile.  The peaches are a novel addition, adding some much needed sweetness, but I suspect there’s nothing remotely like this served on the Islands.   The recipes comes from a mid-90s California community cookbook, prepared by an aging congregation and filled with recipes that are certainly much older than the book itself.

The original recipe calls for an ungodly amount of bouillon and soy sauce in the rice, which completely overwhelms any of the sweet, tropical goodness of the rest of the dish.   It resembles what I’ve come to politely describe as “smoker’s food”, extraordinarily salty American cuisine that’s meant to satisfy a dulled palate.  I’ve dialed it back considerably in my adaptation to allow the rest of the flavors to shine.  Coconut, ginger, and peach is a winning combination and makes a plain Jane chicken breast more than palatable.  And the recipe does an admirable job of keeping the chicken juicy and tender – no small feat for a boring old chicken breast.  But even with the reduced sodium content there’s still something missing.  I’ve got some half-formed ideas of layering fresh ginger under the chicken breast or replacing the beefy rice with a milder coconut rice.  If I make significant improvements I’ll report back.  In the meantime you’ll need to rely on your side dishes to fill in the blanks.

Hawaiian Chicken with Ginger and Peach is also kind of fun to make.  The chicken and rice are wrapped up in little foil boats and cooked in the oven.  When the chicken is fully cooked you peel back the foil, sprinkle with ginger and coconut, top with a peach, and broil until the coconut is toasted.  In principle you could transfer the little foil boats directly to the dinner plate.  The recipe can also easily be adapted for a makeahead meal:  just place the foil boats in the fridge or freezer before putting them in the oven.  It will take a little longer to cook on the back end, but would make this perfectly doable for a busy weeknight.

There’s not quite enough fruit in the recipe for me to consider this a complete meal, and you’ll want to avoid side dishes that pair poorly with peaches.   We served a simple mixed green salad with a sweet poppy seed dressing.  If you’re not counting carbs a buttered Hawaiian roll would be a tasty addition.  Fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, or sliced pineapple would also work well.  Or if you want to add some traditional island flair to a decidedly non-traditional dish, serve it up with a big scoop of macaroni salad.   Enjoy!

Hawaiian Chicken with Ginger and Peach (California, 1996, adapted)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 1 h
  • Ready in: 1 h 15 min
  • For: 6 servings
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Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
  2. Bring the water, soy sauce, bouillon, and butter to a boil. Stir in the rice, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes until rice is fluffy and cooked through.
  3. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chicken breast. Pound lightly with a tenderizing mallet to even out any thick spots - you don't want to flatten it completely, just make it a little more uniform to cook evenly. Season with pepper and garlic powder. DON'T ADD SALT.
  4. Pan fry the chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, about three minutes per side, working in batches if necessary. Set aside until rice is done cooking.
  5. Prepare 6 aluminum foil pieces, about 2 feet long. Lay flat and coat the center with cooking spray. Divide the rice evenly among the foil sheets and lay a chicken breast on top. Fold the aluminum foil to form a little purse or pouch for each chicken breast.
  6. Place the chicken pouches on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes until each chicken breast reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
  7. When the chicken is finished cooking, peel back the foil pouch to reveal the cooked chicken breast. Season liberally with ground ginger and grated coconut, then gently lay a peach half (drained) face down on top. Sprinkle some more ginger and coconut on top.
  8. Broil for 2-3 minutes, taking care not to burn the coconut. Use a spatula to remove the rice and chicken from the pouches to a plate and serve immediately.

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