Chinese five spice powder is one of my secret weapons ? it adds a warmth and depth of flavor that is quite different from curry powder. The key flavorings are cinnamon, star anise, fennel, clove and Sichuan peppercorns, but like curry powder the exact mix varies from brand to brand.

Serves 4

  • 4 chicken breasts (2½-3 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon five spice powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Port wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 medium mango or half a melon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons dried fruit (date, apricot, cherry, or cranberry), chopped

1.  Debone, skin and trim the chicken breasts.  Pat the chicken breasts dry on paper towels and roll them in the five spice powder and a little salt, patting with the palms of your hands so the mixture adheres. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the breasts and sauté until browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken is firm to the touch and no pink juice is left in the center when you poke it with a knife.

2.  Meanwhile put the Port wine in a small saucepan and boil, stirring, until reduced by half.  Add half the chicken stock and continue boiling until reduced again by half.  Add the mango and heat gently 1 minute.  Stir in the dried fruit and taste the chutney, adjusting the seasoning.

3.  When the chicken is done, transfer it to a serving dish and keep warm.  Add the remaining stock to the frying pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices.  Boil about a minute, stir into the chutney and check the seasoning again.  Spoon it over the chicken.

GETTING AHEAD: Make the chutney a day ahead and, if you like, coat the chicken breasts with spice and leave them to marinate.  Sauté them in butter just before serving.

From The Good Cook: 70 Essential Techniques, 250 Step-by-Step Photographs, 350 Recipes by Anne Willan. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004.
Photo CREDIT: Alison Harris.