Let’s get some things straight. Some mandarins are oranges, but not all oranges are mandarins. All tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines. Mandarins are called oranges because of their color, but not the color of the fruit. Enough riddles? Wrap you head around them as you watch this incredible dance.
When the first English speaking people came to China, during the Ming and Qing empires, they had to deal with government bureaucrats, high officials, who used a common language based on one of the Northern dialects. Jesuit missionaries, who learned this language in sixteenth century, called it “the language of high officials.” The word for a high official, or a minister, in Sanskrit, was “mantrin,” which in Portuguese became “mandarim,” and in English transformed into “mandarin.” I hope you are clear about the word, but what about the fruit? And what about my poor chicken? What happened to its hat?
The intricate embroidery on this antique silk robe is not just fancy decoration. The high officials – “mandarins” for the foreigners – wore these elaborate garments to indicate their ranks. This one is a “twelve-symbol” robe; apparently it used to belong to a pretty big shot. The color of the garment was also important, and since the imperial clerks who came in contact with the English were mainly of the “orange rank,” the slightly smaller and sweeter version of oranges grown in China became known as mandarin oranges. Just to clear things up, tangerines came to Europe way later, in 1800’s, by way of Tangier, thus the name, and clementines (our favorite seedless ones) altogether were created about 100 years ago by a French missionary in Algeria whose name was Marie-Clement Rodier (http://www.fooducate.com). Of all of them, mandarin oranges are still the sweetest.
Hats, necklaces, and badges were all parts of the “uniform” that signified nuances of ranks and positions. An Imperial Court official would no more appear in public without a hat than without a head. In fact, he would likely end up without his head, if he ever committed such an indiscretion. I think this is exactly what happened to my poor chicken who came to me without a head, thus without a hat. It was such a pitiful sight that I had to dress it in an orange robe!
To be truthful, I’ve been getting ready for a while, collecting mandarin orange peels and air-drying them. Once I had a decent amount, I pulverized this mess in a food processor and added some sweet red wine. Then I let it soak for a couple of hours, to absorb the liquid.
You have to “embroider the orange robe,” so you season your softened crushed orange peels with curry, coriander, yellow mustard seeds, and, of course, salt and pepper. Get your bay leaves ready – that’s your official badge of rank.
Mix it all up and put aside. If if’s not soft enough, you might want to add some more wine.
Meanwhile, your “necklace” should be ready to bestow upon the chicken. It consists of sweet potatoes – also orange!, garlic head with the top cut off, a quartered onion, some celery stalks, and grated ginger. And, of course, the main ingredient – mandarin orange!
Put your chicken down into a pan, but first pour a little wine and squeeze your mandarin orange juice on the bottom. Make it nice for the poor chicken; it had lost its head already, so have pity on it! Cover it with the seasoned orange peel mass by pressing it lightly to make sure “the robe” stays put.
Now for the final touches, necklace and badge. Stuff onion quarters, celery sticks, ginger, and squeezed out mandarin orange halves inside and surround your chicken with cubed sweet potatoes and the garlic head. Throw a few bay leaves around, mist sweet potatoes with olive oil, cover the whole thing tightly and bake at 350 F for two hours. You’ll have to baste it a few times in the interim. Raise temperature to 425 F, uncover it, and bake for about thirty more minutes, until “the robe” is burnt orange color.
I am not sure whether my Mandarin Chicken has ever achieved a status of a high-ranking official; after all, it still lacked a hat and a head to put it on, but the fruity and spicy aroma wafted through to the hallway. It looked and tasted spectacular, especially paired up with a dry, but slightly fruity Chilean Terra Vega Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 cup dried crushed mandarin orange peels
- 3/4 cup sweet red wine or more, if needed
- 1 mandarin orange
- 1 small white onion
- 1 garlic head
- 2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 4 – 5 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pulse dry mandarin orange peels in food processor or crush by hand. Add 1/2 cup of wine, mix, put aside for 2 hours. If not soft enough after 2 hours, add more wine. Add curry, coriander, mustard seeds, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
- Wash and cube sweet potatoes. Cut celery stalks into 2-inch sticks. Peel and quarter onion. Cut the top off garlic head.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour remaining wine on the bottom of deep pan. Cut mandarin orange in half, extract seeds, squeeze juice on the bottom of pan. Reserve squeezed out shells.
- Place chicken into the pan, cover with seasoned orange peel mass pressing lightly. Make sure to cover it completely, including legs and wings.
- Stuff quartered onion, celery sticks, grated ginger, and squeezed out mandarin orange halves inside the chicken. Place sweet potato cubes, garlic head and bay leaves around the chicken. Mist sweet potatoes with olive oil. Cover tightly.
- Bake at 350 F for 2 hours. Baste 3 – 4 times. Raise temperature to 425 F, uncover, bake for 30 minutes or until burnt orange color develops.