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Eric Akis: A fruity summer sauce for chicken

Sometimes when I’m selecting items for dinner my eyes do the shopping, as they did the other day at my corner food store. Not long after walking in, I spied some plump Vancouver Island-raised chicken and B.C.
Grilled chicken breast is topped with a savoury strawberry blackcurrant sauce. ERIC AKIS

Sometimes when I’m selecting items for dinner my eyes do the shopping, as they did the other day at my corner food store. Not long after walking in, I spied some plump Vancouver Island-raised chicken and B.C.-grown strawberries, asparagus and nugget potatoes. They all looked so fresh and appealing, I quickly bought them, convinced they would make a fine meal, but not sure yet on how I would prepare them.

Nugget potatoes are certain varieties — primarily Warba, which is what I bought — that are picked before they have reached maturity. They have a very appealing, slightly sweet, mildly earthy flavour. Simply boiled, and tossed with some butter, I thought they would make a nice, simple side dish for the chicken. So would the ultra fresh asparagus, when prepared the same way.

So that left me to decide what to do with the strawberries and chicken, which were boneless, skinless, breasts. I could serve the strawberries for dessert, I thought, but then remembered that in the past I’ve made a savoury sauce with summer berries, for such things as chicken, pork and salmon. So I headed down that route and opted to grill the chicken on my barbecue and top it, once plated, with strawberry blackcurrant sauce.

It was not difficult to make. In a small pot, I simmered some blackcurrant jelly until melted with honey, lime juice, lime zest, ginger and umami-rich balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. The mixture was then thickened with cornstarch slurry, and then some sliced strawberries and mint from my garden, chopped, was mixed in. The sauce was simmered a short while longer, creating a striking purplish/red sauce with a beguiling, intense, sweet and sour flavour. In other words, something that would lift up the flavour of mild tasting chicken breast and make it look very palate pleasing.

The strawberries I bought were the “June-bearing” variety, not the ever-bearing type, the latter of which are grown and harvested throughout the summer and into early autumn. June-bearing strawberries have a deeper flavour and a ruby-red colour throughout, making them quite a nice ingredient to use in a savoury sauce.

Note: Just so you know, I did buy more than one basket of those strawberries, which meant I had enough to also serve some for dessert. I sliced and set them on bowls of divine, locally made Parachute ice cream ( Serving strawberries twice in one meal turned out to be a very sweet thing to do!

Grilled Chicken Breast with Strawberry Blackcurrant Sauce

Simply seasoned chicken breast is grilled, plated and topped with a beguiling, sweet, sour and fruity summer sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 13 minutes

Makes: two servings

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp blackcurrant jelly (see Note)

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp honey

1 1/2 tsp soy sauce

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest

1 Tbsp lime juice

1 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp water

1/2 to 2/3 cup ripe, hulled and sliced Vancouver Island strawberries

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tsp olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint, plus some sprigs for garnish (see Eric’s options)

Place the jelly, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, lime zest and lime juice in a small pot. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and then cook and whisk until the jelly is melted and incorporated with the other ingredients. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl, whisk into the pot, return sauce to a simmer, and simmer one minute. Remove sauce from the heat, stir in the strawberries, and set aside until needed below.

Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high (about 425 F in the chamber; see Eric’s options). Brush each chicken breast with 1 tsp olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Set chicken on the grill and cook about four minutes per side, until cooked through.

When chicken is halfway cooked, set the sauce back over medium heat and bring back to a simmer. Stir in the mint, and then turn heat to low.

When chicken is cooked, plate it, generously top with the sauce, garnish with mint sprigs and serve.

Note: Blackcurrant jelly is sold in the jam/jelly aisle of most supermarkets. I used Bonne Maman brand. You could, of course, use one that’s been locally made.

Eric’s options: If you don’ tlike mint, use chopped parsley, instead. If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, pan-sear the chicken in the oil in a non-stick skillet on the stovetop over medium, medium–high heat.

Flavourful Filipino Food to Go

If you’re in the mood for some traditional Filipino food, you’re in luck. After taking a break because of the pandemic, next Saturday, June 19, from 4 to 7 p.m., Victoria’s Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre, 1709 Blanshard Street, will once again be serving fantastic Filipino street-style food. It’s part of their annual Mabuhay celebration, which will be virtual this year. It will be pre-ordered, takeout food only. Food served in the past has included chicken adobo, pancit (Philippine-style noodles), barbecue pork skewers and egg rolls. There will be gluten-free and vegetarian options. Funds raised from food sales will support the Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre’s various community initiatives. For more information and to place your order, visit the Community Centre’s Mabuhay event website

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.