Reed and I recently went to the Greenwich Grill in Tribeca which is an unusual mix of Japanese and Italian cooking. When you enter its set up a sushi bar but in the back room there’s a lovely Italian restaurant. I ordered the tasting menu which was hit and miss but my main course the chicken with bacon sauce which was spiked with garlic, lemon, and rosemary had a great combination of flavors. The bacon sauce also incorporated pine nuts and pine nuts always remind me of my first encounter with pine nuts in nature: Four years ago I met up with my friend Jenna in Moscow where we hopped on the Trans-Siberian Railroad bound for Beijing. During our stop over in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we were excited to do some hiking after being cooped up in a small train compartment for four days .
Lonely Planet recommended an outfitter for hiking trips around the capital. They weren’t running any trips while we were in town but the expat who ran the place was happy to sell us a map and recommend some short hikes that would be suited for our fitness level, moderate to solid, and hiking experience, novice. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ulaanbaatar’s markets looking for cashmere accessories and hiking supplies: gloves (its still pretty chilly in Mongolia in June), nuts, dried fruit, and bottled water but it was only a 3-4 hour hike so we weren’t worried but its always better to be prepared.
Early the next morning the driver we hired took us to an outlying area from which we were going hike back to Ulaanbaatar. As we drove out, I got a concerned at how long the drive was taking but I told myself it was slow going because the road was rough and winding. We planned to take a trail through the hills and forest to lead us to a nice hotel in the Ulaanbaatar suburbs where we’d have lunch before continuing on to the capital.
After we’d been hiking for two hours and were still far away from the hills that marked the half way point, I could tell that we were on a much longer hike than we’d planned. That’s when I realized we really should have held out for a map milage scale. We started to ration our water and really picked up our pace. Through the plains, forests and scrambling over rocky hill tops we kept up our pace. A month ago Jenna and I had hiked in and out of the Grand Canyon in an afternoon so we were in reasonably good shape but we didn’t want to be out in the Mongolian wilderness overnight.
There were lots of free ranging horses, goats, yaks (the yaks were really cute) and sheep but very few people and none of them spoke English. The people we did meet were very friendly and surprised to see us. After a few minutes of charades they would indicate that we were headed in the right direction, smile and wave us along.
Eleven and a half hours into our little day hike that had turned into an endurance march, we spotted a town with a real road and motorized vehicles. Sore, dusty and quite thirsty, we entered the town where we found the hotel that we’d started out thinking was going to be our lunch spot. Jenna was so happy and relieved she started to cry a little. After talking to the staff at the hotel who assured us they could call taxi at any time, we decided to stay there for a late dinner. It was a great dinner. I don’t even know what we had but water (lots of water), food, and few beers never tasted so good. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to be sitting down.
During the many hours tramping through the pine forests, I kept noticing very familiar looking nuts in and around the fallen pine cones. I tried one and it was the most delicious pine I’ve ever had. I would have loved to have collected more but didn’t have time and I’m wary of foraging in a place where I’m not familiar with the flora and fauna and am semi-lost in the wilderness.
When I made my version of the Greenwich Grill’s chicken with bacon sauce I added more pine nuts because I’ve been a sucker for them ever since I experienced them in their natural habitat. For the chicken with bacon and pine nut sauce I used a whole chicken that I flatten and browned under-a-brick style but I think it would be much easier, faster, as just as good to brown chicken parts in a pan and finish them in the oven.
Chicken with Bacon & Pine Nut Sauce (serves 4)
- 1 chicken or 1 chicken’s worth of parts
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 teaspoons marjoram or rosemary
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 slices thick-cut bacon
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 3 large clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup chicken stock
- lemon wedges
Preheat the oven 400 degrees. Have on hand a brick wrapped in foil or a heavy cast iron frying pan, a rimmed baking sheet, and a plate lined with a paper towel. Season chicken generously on both sides with salt, pepper, and rosemary
In a large skillet that will hold the flattened bird, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Set the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet. Place the brick on the chicken, or, if using a pan as a weight, place a piece of foil over the chicken and set the pan on top. Cook for 4 minutes or until the skin is golden (or just brown chicken parts in a pan and skip the brick, its much easier) Remove the weight. With tongs, turn the chicken over and set in the baking sheet.
Transfer to the oven. Roast the bird for about 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers 165 degrees. Rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour off and discard the fat in the skillet. Add the bacon to the pan, and cook, stirring often, until crisp. Transfer the bacon to the paper towel-lined plate. Add the pine nuts to the pan, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until golden (be careful they burn easily). Pour off and discard the excess fat again. Crumble the bacon. Add the bacon and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock, and stir well to release the sediment in the pan. Reduce the sauce until it thickens slightly.
Plate the chicken. Spoon the bacon pine nut sauce over the chicken and serve with lemon wedges.