This baked chicken with cherries and sage is not only beautiful, it's utterly delicious. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

This baked chicken with cherries and sage is not only beautiful, it’s utterly delicious. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

If you want to impress your friends, make this dish. It’s a showstopper. 

This meal is so beautiful, in fact, that upon removing it from the oven you’ll want to take a photo and send it to everyone you know. Or post it on Instagram, or tweet it out to the world. 

I would know — I did all three. 

With Thanksgiving behind us, it might as well be Christmas, and it’s time to think about what you’ll serve at your next family holiday gathering. I’ve never been one to entertain with a large centerpiece dish, such as a roasted whole bird. Rather, I’ve always enjoyed the individualized approach to dinner partying, giving each guest his or her own plate instead of inciting riot over who gets the last drumstick. 

Here, I’ve liberally seasoned split chicken breasts with autumnal spices before searing them off and baking them with cherries and a hefty handful of fresh herbs. 

If you can’t find split chicken breasts, you can of course substitute your preferred cut of meat, but do try to use bone-in, skin-on chicken. Both qualities lend themselves to the moistest, juiciest meat imaginable, and when the skin is seared and then crisped up in the oven, it’s a little bite of heaven. 

This dish can also be tailored to other preferences as well. Don’t like chicken? Try it with turkey, reincarnating traditional Thanksgiving flavors, or try using duck. If you go for duck, though, just don’t put as much oil in the pan — duck has enough fat of its own.

I have to give credit to my favorite food writer, Melissa Clark of the New York Times, for inspiration here. Her recipes for pork chops with brandied cherries and roasted chicken with plums sparked my interest in pairing fruit with meat, and I thought the sweet and savory combination would be interesting to serve in the dead of winter. 

I also thought sage’s woodiness and sharp bite would pair well with the assertive nature of the cherries, and I’m proud to say I was right. You can use any herbs you’d like, though. I also thought of using rosemary or basil, but I love the classic combination of sage and chicken. 

What’s not classic is the addition of ground cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg and fresh hot peppers, which melt together with the cherries in a riff on Mexican mole. The meal is sweet, spicy and just hits all the right notes. 

Melissa Clark is a cookbook author and writer of “A Good Appetite,” a food column for the New York Times. Her recipes and writing can be found online at nytimes.com/dining

Baked winter chicken with cherries and sage
Start-to-finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active) 
Serves 4 

4 1-pound split chicken breasts, with the skin on and bones left in
1 medium yellow or white onion 
1 pound fresh cherries, pitted and left whole
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (more for garnish)
1 orange, half sliced for roasting (cut the rest into segments, for garnish)
1 medium Cubanelle or jalapeño pepper, sliced into small strips
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons kosher salt 
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
Pinch paprika, for color

Remove chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature; it will cook more evenly. In a small bowl, mix the spices together and rub generously on the chicken, letting the meat marinate for at least 20 minutes before cooking.

In a large, wide, oven-safe skillet set over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until beginning to smoke. Place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down, and sear until the skin turns golden brown. Rotate the chicken in the pan as necessary, taking care to sear all of the skin.

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Skim off excess fat until only two tablespoons remain and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions to the skillet and stir frequently until softened. Add the chicken back into the pan, skin-side up, and spread the cherries around the chicken.

Add the wine to the pan and let it reduce, about two to three minutes.

Sprinkle on the sage and Cubanelle and top the pan with orange slices. Place the butter cubes on top of the chicken and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and the juices run clear.

Serve immediately, spreading the onions and cherries around the plate and using the pan juices as gravy. Garnish with additional sage and orange segments, if desired.


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