In my part of the world – Houston – spring and fall are the prime grilling seasons. Summer is typically just too damn hot and humid to be out there, risking heat stroke alone while your guests are inside, sipping cold beverages in air-conditioned comfort.
My grill received its annual spring cleaning recently, and I intend to fire it up regularly over the next couple of months. I have my eye on recipes for grilled corn with miso butter, maple-grilled tempeh, and others, and I’d like to break my convenient-but-sugar-laced bottled teriyaki marinade habit and create my own healthier version for tuna steaks and more.
These chicken and bacon-wrapped fig skewers are a go-to grilling season favorite. They hit a range of intense but complimentary flavors — the rosemary-infused marinade makes simple boneless, skinless chicken breasts moist and flavorful, and the smoky-crisp bacon wrapped around meltingly tender fresh figs combine to make a delicious dish. Plus it’s quick, virtually foolproof and versatile with a range of wines.
The bacon shown in the photo is pork bacon, obviously. (That photo is also from my old crappy camera — ditto on the “obviously” comment… Sigh…) I don’t eat much pork these days, so I tend to substitute turkey bacon here. It doesn’t crisp-up the same way as pork bacon — and I don’t think I’m saving much in the way of fat, calories or sodium — but the taste is good, and it provides that same smoky, savory, meaty note to contrast with the figs. I find that brands that use mostly turkey thigh meat offer the most flavor and come closest to regular bacon.
Here’s a roundup of red wines I’ve enjoyed lately, including a bunch of blends, a few knockouts from Italy, and quite possibly the best Sangiovese-based wines from California that I’ve ever tasted. Each would bring something different to the grilled chicken skewers, and what I would choose any given day would probably be more a function of my mood than anything else. But I’ve also included a couple of notes on other grilled pairing ideas. Hope you enjoy!
Penfolds 1990 Cabernet-Shiraz South Australia Bin 389 ($N/A). Since you probably won’t be able to find this wine, it’s a little annoying that I’m including it here. (The same may apply to several of the following Italian wines, too, but they’re so good I couldn’t resist!) I received this bottle at a Penfolds recorking clinic a couple of years ago, and just opened it recently. It really shouldn’t have been any good at all, much less amazing. $16 at release, some twenty years ago, it was a nice reminder that with wine, you just never really know. So the next time you find some dusty, long-overlooked bottle of relatively inexpensive wine hiding in your wine rack or some closet — just give it a try. Cellar temperature is hugely helpful in these situations. In the absence of a wine refrigerator, try chilling it in the fridge for 30 minutes, and remember to use an Ah So opener instead of a regular corkscrew. You might just be blown away, like I was with this Penfolds! Find it!
Other pairing idea: grass-fed ribeye, anyone?
Damilano 2007 Barolo Lecinquevigne ($40). Gorgeous, irresistible, need some more. With incense and tobacco notes and pretty red fruit. Chalky tannins, in the best possible way. Loads of aging potential and a great price for very good Barolo. Find it!
Other pairing idea: rotisserie chicken
Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Nebbiolo Langhe ($18). A nice expression of Nebbiolo, at an affordable price, thanks to this large co-op. With delicate floral/rose petal and earthy touches to the medium-bodied strawberry and red cherry flavors. Easy, moderately complex, food friendly. Find it!
Other pairing idea: grilled Italian-style chicken sausages
Silvio Nardi 2006 Brunello di Montalcino ($65). Still just a baby, really, with more flavors and layers emerging the longer it breathes. Red berry and cherry, fresh herbs and tobacco, mineral. Silky, supple, firm tannins beneath. Complex finish. Find it!
Other pairing idea: Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Villa Ragazzi 2010 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Faraona ($48). This California take on a Super Tuscan is delicious — offering layers of rich, pretty blackberry and cherry fruit, dusty sage, and a brightly complex finish that lingers beautifully. Find it!
Other pairing idea: grilled portobello mushrooms topped with grilled onions and a crumbled, creamy blue cheese
Villa Ragazzi 2010 Sangiovese Napa Valley ($35). So pretty — well worth seeking out. With bright red cherry and a dash of cranberry mingling with layers of spiced black tea, mineral and clove notes. Great balance, with a bright, refreshing, lingering finish. Loved it. Find it!
Other pairing idea: grilled quail and wedges of maple-glazed sweet potato
Martin Codax 2010 Rioja Ergo ($14). Easy to like and easy to drink, with moderate black cherry fruit accented with espresso, wild herbs and anise notes. Crisp finish. Ready to drink. Find it!
Other pairing idea: grilled bread with Roncal (a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain) and grilled red peppers
Santa Rita 2007 Triple C Maipo Valley ($40). Intense, concentrated, with earthy and savory notes — meaty black olive, mushroom, meat — that play off the lush cassis and rich black cherry fruit. Finishes with spice and bittersweet chocolate. A blend of Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Find it!
Other pairing idea: spicy barbecue sauce on whatever!
Tower 15 2011 The Swell Red Paso Robles ($21). A Bordeaux-ish red blend, heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, that comes together to make a terrific grilling wine. Ripe, juicy black fruit laced with mocha, tobacco and spices. Nice structure at this price, too. Find it!
Other pairing idea: a really great burger wine!
Columbia Crest 2010 Merlot Horse Heaven Hills H3 ($15). A nice price on a mouthful of plush, pretty Merlot. Red fruit, smoke, vanilla and baking spices offer balance and a supple finish. Find it!
Other pairing idea: grilled bread topped with goat cheese and grilled onions
Columbia Crest 2010 Les Chevaux Red Horse Heaven Hills H3 ($15). A Merlot blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, offering rich blackberry and cherry fruit laced with generous vanilla, peppery spices and cream. Long, rich finish. Find it!
Recipe: Rosemary-Marinated Chicken with Bacon-Wrapped Figs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into about 2″ pieces
2 gloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 slices bacon (or turkey bacon, see note above)
16 small fresh figs (if fresh figs are not available, pitted dates are a nice substitute)
Place chicken pieces in a large plastic bag (or a bowl), add garlic, oil, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Squish chicken around in the marinade to coat; marinate 2 hours in the refrigerator, then remove and let come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling.
Preheat grill. Cut each bacon strip in half crosswise and wrap each fig with a half-slice. Alternate wrapped figs with chicken pieces on metal skewers (or wooden ones that have been soaked in water for at least 5 minutes). Grill until chicken is cooked through and bacon is crisp, about 8-10 minutes total, turning at least once. Serves 4.