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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thank Heavens

One could feel a collective sigh of relief in the neighborhood this week as fall FINALLY wandered in a month late. I overheard someone on the bus say that it was incredible that a person could get both heat stroke (yikes! Can you say Chicago Marathon?!) and frostbite within a week in the same city.

I’ve been a frustrated cook for the past month or so – my CSA box keeps delivering squash and apples and gorgeous autumn veg and I can’t stand to turn on the stove or oven. The calendar says I should be making roasted vegetables and meat braises and yet every single air conditioner is on full blast. So you can imagine the minute I felt a chill in the air on Tuesday morning, my mind was racing ahead and plotting dinner.

There was going to be some roasted squash for sure. We’ve had a variety of squash sitting on the counter for several weeks, crying for attention and there’s nothing easier. Halve the squash, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper…thirty to forty minutes in a hot (400 degrees) oven and you have gorgeous, caramelized, meltingly tasty flavors of autumn.

And, there was going to be chicken. On the bone. Don’t ask me why, but I crave it every so often. You may think I am anti-chicken but that’s not completely true. I’ve always enjoyed gnawing on a piece of bone-in chicken, especially if it has been grilled and smothered in BBQ sauce. Yum.

The craving required a good sauce for the chicken, and I turned to my beloved Cooking Nerds for advice.

There it was. On page 322. Exactly what I felt like eating. Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Sage-Vermouth Sauce. The basic recipe is stellar and is going to be part of my repertoire forever. You sear the chicken pieces in an ovenproof skillet on the stovetop, and then throw the whole thing in the oven to finish. Once the chicken is cooked, use the accumulated bits and drippings in the pan to create the most incredibly flavorful sauce. I changed things up a bit on the sauce ingredients, since I never have any fresh sage in the house (shocking, I know...) and thought white wine sounded nice in place of vermouth.

Steve arrived home moments after I had put the pan in the oven and noted that the house smelled wonderful. Outside our front door the enticingly hearty aroma of seared beef hovered in the hallway. Turns out, as I compared happy kitchen notes the next day, our neighbors downstairs were making fajitas. They were planning for chili next and we were all giddy at the prospect of cold weather cooking. Welcome fall!

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Shallot-White Wine Sauce
serves 4

Definitely go for the "quick-brine". It's only thirty minutes and the chicken ends up beautifully seasoned and perfectly moist.

1/2 cup table (not kosher) salt, dissolved in 2 quarts of cold water
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, halved --poultry shears really help with this
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 large shallot, minced
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon dried herbs (I used a "parisian" mix a friend gave me...thyme, chives, dill and tarragon)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
Salt & ground pepper

1. Immerse the chicken in the brine/saltwater and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry completely with paper towels. (Drying is key, so you can get a nice golden crisp crust.)

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; swirl the skillet to coat with the oil. (It is REALLY important that the skillet is hot!!! Otherwise, chicken will stick. Let it preheat for a couple minutes.)
Brown the chicken, skin-side down, until deep golden, about 5 minutes; turn the chicken pieces and brown until golden on the second side, about 3 minutes longer.

4. Turn the chicken skin-side down again and place the skillet in the oven. Roast until the juices run clear when the chicken is cut with a paring knife or the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15-18 minutes.

5. Using a potholder or oven mitt, remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the chicken to a platter, letting it rest while making the sauce. (If you skip making the sauce, although I don't know why you would, it's soooo good, let the chicken rest before serving anyway.)

DON'T FORGET -- HOT HOT HOT pan handle!! Use that mitt.

For the sauce:

6. Using your oven mitt, pour off most of the fat from the skillet; add the shallot, then set the skillet over medium-high heat and cook, stirring until the shallot is softened, just under 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, white wine and herbs, increase the heat to high and simmer rapidly, scraping the skillet bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits, until slightly thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup -- about 5 minutes.

Pour the accumulated juices from the chicken platter into the skillet, reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the butter, once piece at a time, until incorporated.

Spoon the sauce around the chicken and serve immediately.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marcia - When the Sunday papers hit our door at 6:45am (the delivery person doesn't care that it's a 'sleep-in' morning and, apparently, neither does he have the time to walk 30 more feet to drop the papers quietly in front of our door) I bolted upright hungry to devour them. Hungry, too, as I was immediately thinking of what a wonderful, peaceful, no-plan Sunday we had in store and, perhaps, I might just feel like cooking today. Wouldn't a nice,Sunday dinner be in order? It's been ages since I've cooked...I mean, really cooked. I was hungry to COOK. I slipped into the freezer and took out some chicken. I glanced at the bowl full of various breeds of squash and thought, 'how to nice to finally feel liking baking them, instead of looking at them, yet one more week'. I grabbed the papers and ran for the bedroom - the very best part of a no-plan Sunday. After reading the papers, the "two-laptop couple" continued the morning on-line. I turned to my dear friends blog, which I absolutely adore, and was elated to find her current entry!!! The answers to all my "what do I do with the chicken and squash now?!?" Thank you, my friend!