August 22 is National Eat a Peach Day, so we're sharing this luscious ode again.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Today's contributor, Virginia Willis, is the author of cookbooks "Bon Appétit, Y’all" and "Basic to Brilliant, Y’all." She is a contributing editor to Southern Living and a frequent contributor to Taste of the South. She also wrote Eatocracy's most-commented post of all time.
In this series for the Southern Foodways Alliance, I am examining iconic Southern foods that so completely belong to summer that if you haven’t relished them before Labor Day, you should consider yourself deprived of the entire season. My plan is to share a little history and a few recipes that I hope you will enjoy.
I grew up smack in the middle of peach country in South Georgia. When I was in high school, my school breaks were dictated by the picking season, as many of my classmates were the sons and daughters of farmers.
You have never been hot until you’ve been peach-picking in the middle of a Georgia summer. Rumor has it that hell is cooler. The air is thick and stifling. Gnats and mosquitoes buzz about incessantly. Peach fuzz covers your arms and wrists. The combination is an effective formula for guaranteed misery. But in the end, after turning those bushels of perfectly ripe fruit into jelly, each amber spoonful is more precious than gold.
Peaches are an important fruit crop in the agricultural economy of both Georgia and South Carolina. Both states have similar soil types and climate and grow many of the same cultivars.
Georgia produces over 85 million pounds of peaches a year. Although Georgia doesn’t grow as many peaches as some other states, including South Carolina and California, it is deservedly known as “The Peach State,” in honor of a farmer in Marshallville who bred the Elberta peach from the seed of a Chinese Cling peach in the late 1800s. The peach industry took off from there, the state was tagged with the flavorful nickname, and the rest is sweet and juicy history.
I’m certainly biased toward Georgia peaches; it seems to me that the red clay soil and hot sun here create a taste like no other. In keeping with the region’s legendary sweet tooth, many Southern recipes can quickly turn the healthful peach into something terribly unvirtuous—though delicious. Recipes are often along the lines of the peach ice cream my grandmother made, laced with eggs and heavy cream that we would churn on the side porch. Two of my favorites are fried peach pies, deep-fried half-moons of biscuit dough filled with sugar and chopped peaches, and peach cobbler, baked in a cast-iron skillet. I also love the more upscale Peach Soufflé.
However, peaches aren’t only for desserts. I find that they pair nicely with savory foods as well. Today I am sharing a sneak peek at a recipe for my next “Y’all” book, titled Lighten Up, Y’all, which will be out in the spring of 2015. (Yes, I know, it takes a long time to write a cookbook.) It’s for Savory Basil Peach Chicken, and it is absolutely delicious.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Basil Peach Chicken Breasts
Peaches and basil are a great flavor combination. What grows together goes together—and both basil and peaches love hot Southern summers. Peeling peaches can be tricky business. Often a serrated peeler can be effective, but if the peaches are too ripe, you simply wind up with a handful of puree. To avoid this, bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice water. Then, using a paring knife cut an “X” in the end of the peach. Dip the peach into the boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the bowl of ice water. The “X” will open slightly and the skin can be removed by gently pulling off with the paring knife.
Starting the chicken on the stovetop and finishing in the oven helps prevent dry, overcooked chicken. The flavorful jus is fresh and clean, much lighter than a flour-thickened gravy. Serve with steamed rice, instant couscous, or quinoa for a simple summer meal.
1 tablespoon expeller pressed canola oil
Heat the oven to 350°. Pat the chicken dry on both sides with paper towels. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Reduce the heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the basil, chicken stock, and peaches. Return the chicken to the pan and turn to coat. Transfer to the oven. Bake until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with the point of a knife, about 15 minutes.
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