Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Store bought chicken, home-made stock

I'd like to propose a new category for blog awards -- comment awards. I even have 2 cooks to nominate: Mary and ~M for their insights into making chicken stock. Dear Mary and ~M, if you are reading this post, I'd like to say a huge thanks to both of you. You made me try something I couldn't learn from working in restaurants or culinary school.

I've been slowly coming to a painful realization that one always needs to have some home-made stock on hand. The problem is not with me having it on hand -- I work from home and can make stock any time -- the problem is with my students having home-made stock on hand. 3 years ago, I had a normal office job and remember waking up at 6am to beat the traffic and not getting home till 7pm. I can deeply sympathize with all you guys who love to cook, but get to see your kitchen for only an hour a day. Asking a busy professional to make stock the traditional way is like asking a restaurant chef to check e-mail once an hour. Neither task is rocket science, but making stock is hard if you are not normally at the stove and checking e-mail is hard if you are not normally at the computer.

That's where Mary's and ~M's comments came in so handy. Mary buys a rotisserie chicken, takes off the breast meat and makes a stock out of the rest of the chicken by adding water and vegetables. After simmering for 2 hours, she strains it and uses it for soup. What I thought was particularly appealing about this method is eliminating an hour of work to roast the chicken and wash the roasting pan. Of course, one can also make stock out of fresh rather than roasted chicken. That's the blond stock I wrote about earlier. But when the chicken is not roasted, it produces enormous amount of scum that needs to be painstakingly skimmed and I was hoping to skip this step.

One day, I bought a roasted chicken from Whole Foods and tried this approach. The wonderful thing about a Whole Foods chicken was that it was very modestly salted. That's usually something I hate about their prepared foods, but in this case, it was an asset. The salt in the stock was not noticable and it could withstand good bit of reducing just like any home-made stock. The finished stock had a lovely chicken flavor and light color making it a great choice for soups -- WAY better than out of the box at about the same price.

Unfortunately, when I tried to use this stock in pan sauces, the results weren't as spectacular as in soups. It lacked the body (jelatinous quality) and color of a good brown stock, which still left me with a quandary of what to tell my students to deglaze the pan with after searing a steak? We usually use home-made beef stock in class (I reduce it into demi-glace to make it easier to store in my freezer). Not wanting to discourage my students from making pan sauces at home, I told them that there is nothing wrong with using water, but after trying that in class one time, I realized that I need a better option. Mary's stock was definitely better than water, but still not rich enough to stand up to a steak.

That's when ~M's comment came in handy. She tried making a stock overnight with the fond left from roasted chicken. I was wondering if this long simmer could make Mary's stock richer. I decided to try it with a couple of my own color and flavor boosters. Instead of throwing in the vegetables raw, I browned them in a bit of olive oil first right in the stock pot. I also used a very small amount of water (2.5 quarts per chicken) compared to my first experiment (4 quarts per chicken). After the stock came to a simmer, I put it in 200F oven and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, the house smelled really good. I got my stock out of the oven and strained. Would you look at that -- dark brown color, and wonderfully intense aroma.

I was worried that it might be too salty to reduce. But after I tasted it straight, it still needed plenty of salt, so I have a feeling it's safe to reduce it at least in half. This stock was slightly more expensive than store bought versions, but absolutely incomporable in terms of taste. It is also one of the few methods that allows you to get home late after work, spend 20 minutes in the kitchen on your stock before going to bed and let it do it's thing for 8 hours.

I realize of course, that dark chicken stock is still not beef stock. But it's a huge leap forward compared to a store bought stock (chicken or beef) or plain old water. I have also been thinking of ways to beef it up some. One idea is to sear a beef shank in the stock pot before adding the vegetables and chicken. This wouldn't add more than 10 minutes to the process and would avoid a whole separate roasting pan and 40 minutes of roasting for the beef. I would also consider stirring a few teaspoons of tomato paste into the vegetables before adding water.

My work here is definitely not done, but it's a start. If you only have one hour a day to spend in the kitchen, don't despare. You too can cook with good stocks.

Brown Chicken Stock (the easy way)

  • Buy the plainest rotisserie chicken for this recipe (not herb, lemon, garlic, or teriyaki).
  • This stock is very intense, but storing it in this concentrated state takes up less space in the freezer. For sauces, use as is; for soups, you can dilute it with water if desired.
  • This recipe is for a 4 quart pot and one chicken, but it can be easily doubled if you have an 8 quart pot. That would be a better use of your oven, but you'll need more freezer space to store the results.
Makes 1.5 quarts

2 tsp olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 celery stick, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into 2/3 inch wedges (save any clean peels)
1 rotisserie chicken (from Whole Foods or some other low salt specimen)
2.5 quarts water
7 thyme sprigs
7 large parsley stems
1 bayleaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns (unless the chicken looks really peppery)
  1. Start the stock 30 minutes before going to bed (unless you'll be able to check on it in 7-8 hours). Set a 4 quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot and shimmery, add the carrot, celery, and onion. Let the vegetables brown for a few minutes, then stir. Let them brown on the other side, then stir again. Keep cooking until they are golden all over, keeping a close eye on them, but not stirring too often (too much stirring prevents them from coloring), 7-10 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 225F.
  3. Take the breast meet off the chicken and save for another use. Break up the rest of the chicken into legs, wings, and 2-3 pieces of carcass. Add it to the stock pot. If you are not planning to use the breast meat with the skin, add the breast skin to the pot as well. Add 2.5 quarts cold water and bring to a simmer slowly keeping the pot uncovered. Keep a close eye on it and don't let it boil. As soon as the water is at the gentlest simmer, turn down the heat to medium-low. Skim the foam that rises to the top.
  4. Add thyme, parsley stems, bayleaf, peppercorns, and any clean onion skins that you saved.
  5. Place the pot in the middle of the oven uncovered and go to bed. 7-8 hours later (when you wake up), get the pot out of the oven and strain the stock into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the chicken and vegetables. Set the bowl in a bigger bowl of ice-water and chill while you shower and get ready for work, 20-30 minutes.
  6. Pour the stock into containers being careful to leave the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. You want to use the tallest containers you have to make skimming fat easier. I use the plastic containers you get at Whole Foods when you buy bulk or prepared foods.
  7. Carefully set the uncovered containers in the fridge and let them cool completely while you are at work. When the stock is completely cold (after 8-12 hours), remove the fat from the top with a spoon. Your stock is ready to use. Keep whatever you plan to use within 5 days in the fridge. Pour the rest into smaller containers and freeze for later use (it's best within 2 months, but is perfectly usable within a year).
Storage tips: If your freezer space is at a premium, you can reduce degreased stock up to 4 times by gently simmering it on the stove top for 1-2 hours (depending on how much stock you have) and skimming it periodially. Cool the reduced stock in an ice water bath and pour into tiny containers (baby food containers are perfect for that). Cool completely uncovered in the fridge, then cover and freeze. Some people also like to use ice-cube trays to freeze small amounts of stock for sauces. After your stock freezes, remove the cubes and store them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. I would suggest having an ice-cube tray dedicated to this task since it's very hard to get the smell of the stock out of plastic.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A better fish to poach

Poaching is the orphan child of my fish cooking repertoire (add steaming to that as well). I love browning. I don't care how it gets done -- on the grill, under the broiler, or in the skillet -- but I'll take crispy and crunchy over delicate and creamy any time. There is however a benefit to poaching fish. The liquid you have left can be reduced, then thickened with a flour/butter paste, and enriched with cream. This sauce is so lovely that I can't completely dismiss poaching. In fact, it was this dish that is partially responsible for my obsession with French cuisine. I had it in Nice while studying art history in Provence in my senior year of college. I saved up my pennies and after surviving on sandwiches and tarts for a month (not such a bad thing, by the way), I treated myself to a meal at a little bistro. The special of the day was Truite A L'Oseille. I figured that truite was trout and I had no idea what oseille was -- but it was the loveliest fish dish I've ever eaten (up to that point in my life). The best part was the creamy tart sauce. When I got back to the States, I was determined to learn to make it. Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking provided wonderful instructions on poaching and turning the liquid into a creamy sauce, and after consulting a few dictionaries, I finally found what oseille is called in English -- sorrel. At the time, I didn't know what sorrel was either, but eventually I found it in the store, tried it in a sauce, and voila -- there was that refreshing tart flavor I've been dreaming about since that warm October evening in Nice.

Poached fish with sorrel cream sauce was the second fish dish that I learned to cook (the first one was salmon teriyaki that my Mom taught me). Since then I've discovered plenty of cooking techniques and fish dishes that I like better. I have worked tirelessly to improve my grilling, searing, and broiling, but poaching fell by the way side and my skill in that area stayed at the senior year of college level. The only time I still poach fish is for the fish class (I guess I feel like I should provide people with well-rounded fish education and show them some wet cooking method).

The poaching recipes usually recommend flaky lean white fish like sole, flounder, turbot and halibut. I don't like the sole we get in US (it's really a flounder). It has no flavor or character, and turns into a complete fragile mush when poached. Halibut is my go to choice when poaching. It's much thicker and firmer, so it holds it's shape better and when not over cooked comes out juicy even after poaching. But last time I taught the fish class, Carl, my fishmonger, didn't have halibut. After scratching my head and considering my options, I settled on turbot. Carl said that it has a bit more fat than flounder, and I never complain about more fat.

Unfortunately, it turned out that turbot is even more fragile than flounder. The sauce was good, but it felt like the fish was just disintegrating in it. Luckily, there is nothing like a good cooking disaster to get me to rethink my ways. I decided to find a better fish to poach. Suddenly it occurred to me that I've never tried poaching trout. Wasn't that the fish I had in Nice? I consulted Julia and she actually suggests trout as one of the fish substitutions in her poached sole recipe. I guess I've never poached trout because it's skin is so lovely crisped in a skillet or on the grill. But for the sake of experiment, I decided to sacrifice a few trout skins.

My poached trout turned out beautifully -- great flavor and delicate, but not mushy flesh. It's funny how it took me 10 years to realize the obvious. Trout was a cinch to get out of the poaching liquid since it's not as fragile as sole, flounder, and company. It also had the skin on to hold together. After getting it out onto a plate, I peeled the skin off and made the sauce.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to read about my poaching trials and tribulations. If you want to try it, here is a recipe.

Poached Trout with Sorrel Cream Sauce

Fish substitutions: arctic char with skin, barramundi with skin, branzino with skin, or other delicate skin-on fish fillets that are 3/4 inch thick or less. Avoid brown fleshed oily fish like bluefish or mackerel for this dish.

Serves 4

12-15 sorrel leaves (or a handful of tarragon, chervil, chives, or cilantro)
1 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine (plus more as needed)
1.5 cup water (plus more as needed)
1.25 Lb white trout fillets with skin
1/2 cup heavy cream (it's fine to use less than 1/2 cup if calories are an issue, but don't substitute light cream or half and half)
Salt and pepper
  1. Remove the stems from sorrel or whatever herb you are using. Discard the stems and mince the herbs very finely. Set aside.
  2. Combine butter and flour in a small bowl and mash with a fork until a smooth paste forms. Set aside.
  3. Pour wine and water into a 12 inch skillet that can later be covered. You need to create a liquid layer that's the same thickness as your fish fillets, so add more wine and water as necessary using 1 part wine to 2 parts water ratio. Bring to a gentle simmer. Have a warm plate ready for when the fish is done.
  4. Season fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides and arrange in the skillet skin-side down in one layer (it's ok for the thin parts to overlap). Partially cover and cook gently for 8 minutes per inch of thickness (most trout fillets will be done in 2-4 minutes). The liquid should be barely quivering and never bubbling. If some parts of the fillet stick out of the poaching liquid, you can flip the fillets over the last 30 seconds of cooking time. The trout is done when you can stick a chop stick or the handle of a fork through the thickest part. It should still be slightly translucent inside, but that's hard to see when it's in liquid. Err on the side of undercooking.
  5. Remove the trout to a warm plate using a spatula and place it skin side up.
  6. Turn up the heat under the skillet to high and reduce the liquid to about 2/3 of a cup (there should be only 1/6 inch layer of liquid left in the bottom of your skillet). While the liquid is reducing, peel the skin off trout (it should come off easily if you pull it tail to head).
  7. When the poaching liquid is reduced. Turn down the heat to low and whisk in the flour butter paste. Simmer on low for 2 minutes whisking constantly. The liquid will thicken and look like gravy. If the liquid is looking too thick, you can thin it out with the juices accumulating in the plate where the fish is resting.
  8. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Take off heat and stir in the sorrel (or the herb you are using). Taste and correct seasoning. The sauce might need a little salt or a squirt of lemon.
  9. Put the fish on warm plates (discarding the liquid accumulated in the plate where the fish were resting, unless you need to thin out the sauce with it). Pour the sauce on top. Serve with crusty baguette.

Monday, July 13, 2009

One perfect poached egg

I'd like to propose a new Olympic sport -- egg poaching. All we now need is for France to host the Olympics. I doubt any other country would take my proposal seriously. You see, a perfectly poached egg is as hard to achieve as a perfect dive. Sure, any idiot can just jump into the pool and make a big splash, just like any idiot can dump some eggs into the water and fish them out 4 minutes later. But to produce a beautifully compact orb of white completely enclosing the yolk takes years of practice and determination. I can just imagine the judges giving out scores based on how well the white stayed around the yolk.

"Look at that white spreading. What do you think this is -- egg drop soup? Final score: 5.3"
"There are some threads, but the white is forming some cohesive shape. It actually looks like an oval. Oh no, but that yolk is way off center and bulging out. A poached egg is not a fried sunny side up. Final score: 7.5."
"It's looking good, the white is together, the yolk is enclosed. But look at that shape -- way too long. It needs to be closer to a circle. Final score: 8.7."
"It's lovely. Perfectly oval, but not too elongated. The white is together, the yolk is enclosed. It's just a tad off center, so the judges might take a few points off, but other than that it's perfect! Final score: 9.8"

I don't know if 10 ever happens in real life. That's the holy grail of an absolutely perfect poached egg. With enough tinkering and trimming we can get extremely close, yet it always remains ever so slightly out of our reach.

My egg poaching score has been hovering around 7 for over a year now. With enough trimming my eggs didn't look completely dilapidated, but the yolk was sticking out and it resembled a sunny side up egg more than a poached one. I have tried every trick known to man or at least to U-Tube (from CIA instructor to Jacques Pepin to your average Joe). It was good to know that I was not the only person having serious trouble with this supposedly simple technique. Rob Manuel at b3ta documented four ways to poach an egg and I have tried them all except for the vortex method because he seemed to have such disastrous results with it. His final success of poaching an egg in plastic wrap worked for me too, but I had some concerns about cooking the plastic wrap. You should see this thing when it comes out of the water -- there is definitely some chemical reaction going on there because the plastic wrap melts slightly.

I almost gave up hope for a perfectly poached egg until last week. I was looking through the recipes from Persimmon's soup class that Jessica (one of my students) was kind enough to share with me and noticed instructions for how to make a poached egg (served with one of the soups). Chef Champe Speidel recommended the vortex method, but unlike other sources he described it in enough detail to make me want to give it a try. Here is the basic idea: you create motion in the water that wraps the egg white around the yolk. The devil is in the details of course. Here is what I've learned from Champe's recipe.
  • You need a gallon of water. It never occurred to me to put one egg into this much water. I thought that the more water you have, the more the egg spreads.
  • You need 3 Tbsp vinegar per gallon. I usually used way less thinking it gave the egg an unpleasant taste.
  • Use a whisk to create the vortex in the water. You really need to create some momentum in the water and drop the egg the second you stop whisking.
  • Poach eggs one at a time for 4 minutes each.
  • The ice-bath is not optional even if you are serving the eggs immediately. You still need to rinse the vinegar and all the loose pieces of white.
Armed with this info and a new found excitement about poached eggs, I headed into the kitchen. I brought a gallon (= 4 quarts = 16 cups) of water to a boil in my relatively deep 4 quart saucepan. Then I added the vinegar and turned down the heat so the liquid simmers gently. I cracked an egg into a small bowl and held it in my left hand. With my right hand, I whisked the water vigorously until it formed a deep vortex (it looked like a funnel reaching about half way down the depth of the pot). As soon as I stopped whisking, I dropped the egg right into the center and waited for 4 minutes, monitoring the temperature of the water and regulating the heat so that it just barely quivered. I fished out the egg with a slotted spoon, rinsed it off in the ice-bath, and what do you know -- it was pretty close to perfect. I'd give it 9.5.

By the way, this wasn't even a particularly fresh egg (it sat in my fridge for a week). The generally accepted wisdom about poached eggs is that they have to be very fresh for the white not to spread.

I tested the same technique in a smaller pot using only 1.5 quarts of water and it didn't work as well. The egg sank and flattened before the white had a chance to completely enclose it.

I have good news and bad news for you my friends. The good news is that I now know how to make a perfect poached egg. The bad news is that I only know how to make one perfect egg per pot, and I don't think Olympic judges would like that. My scores for subsequent eggs follow an exponential decay curve. My first intuition was that it had something to do with the temperature of the eggs. They must have warmed up while waiting their turn. I tried keeping the eggs in the fridge until it's their turn to take a dive, but still no luck. I have a feeling that the egg white remaining in the pot of water attracts the white of the egg that is supposed to be poaching and pulls it away from the yolk. Whenever I start from scratch and bring a completely new pot of water to a boil, the eggs start behaving again. Could it be that the vinegar evaporated? It's a mystery. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Operation Free Breasts

The most frequently asked question in my Sauce class is how to construct the chicken breast roast that we cook to make a porcini cream pan sauce. I have the little bundle all prepped before class and simply throw it into a hot oven when the class starts. I promise to do a chicken class one of these days, but in the meantime, Jason was kind enough to take pictures of my chicken plastic surgery that results in the cute little roast.

As I discussed in my chicken legs post, I have no respect for wholeness. I prefer to completely re-engineer animal's muscle structure to optimize deliciousness. By deboning the two breasts while keeping them attached with the skin, you can double the volume of flesh under the skin. What's so good about that? The flesh doesn't get overcooked by the time the skin has a chance to become delectably crispy.

You'll need:
  • a whole chicken
  • boning knife (here is the one I like)
  • kitchen shears (if you intend to remove both legs in one piece)
  • kitchen twine
Remove the giblets from the inside of the chicken. Then cut the skin between the legs and the breasts. Stay as close to the legs and as far away from the breasts as possible.

Repeat on the other side. Then bend the legs out until the hip joint pops to allow you to push the legs flat onto the board.

If you want to keep the legs attached to the back, use kitchen shears to cut cross-wise through the backbone. Alternatively, you can cut each leg off separately using the boning knife.

Trim any excess skin that was located at the entrance to the cavity when the chicken was whole.

The legs are done!

Trim the wing tips up to the first joint.

To find the joint in the wing, wiggle your knife around until you find the space between the bones. Don't cut through the bone.

Insert the knife behind the wing and cut under the breast following the ribcage.

Keep slicing through until you get to the bone separating the two breasts. At the top of the breast you'll also hit a wish bone. Carefully, cut it out of the flesh.

Congratulations -- you freed the first breast. Now do that on the other side.

When you have both breasts free, flip the chicken so that the breasts are on the board and the rib/back bones are on top.

Cut the rib/back bones off the breasts being careful not to cut through the skin.


You see those two white lines going through the thicken tenders. Those are tendons and they are a bit chewy, so I prefer to remove them.

I also remove any fat that's under the skin in the thick part of the breasts. It tends to make the skin rubbery. I loosen the skin from the breasts with my fingers in the thick part so that I can salt under the skin. Poking the skin with the tip of the knife in the parts where the skin looks thick will help fat render and result in crispy rather than rubbery skin.

You should now feel very proud of your butchering skills. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Salting (1-4 days in advance)
I prefer to salt my chicken at least a day before cooking to enhance its flavor. Dry your chicken thoroughly with paper towels (no, there is no need to rinse it before or after you cut it up). Season with salt on both sides and inside the skin. I use 2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or slightly over 1 tsp table) for 1.5 Lb of breasts. Refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 3 days. I do it in a large zip lock bag.

Drying (2-8 hours before roasting if possible)
Press chicken between paper towels to dry very thoroughly then place skin side up on a plate lined with paper towels. Place in the fridge uncovered for 2-8 hours before cooking. This will help the skin crisp up during roasting. If you don't have time, you can cook right away.

If you are feeling fancy, you can stuff the breasts with something yummy before tying them up. My personal favorite is a duxelle mushroom mixture. To stuff the breasts, insert the boning knife into each breast starting from the thick end to the thin end. Move your knife around inside the breast to make a long pocket. Then push the duxelle mixture inside with your fingers. Or simply stuff a teaspoon or two of butter into each breast (garlic herb butter is even better :)

You should also preheat your oven to 450F at this point with a rack in the middle position.

Trussing (tying it up)

Get a 3 foot piece of kitchen twine, fold it in half, and lay it out on your board so that the ends point towards you (like an upside-down U). Fold the chicken breasts together and lay them on the string.

Pick up the string ends and put them through the bend of the U.

Pull one end to the right and the other one to the left.

Flip the roast onto the other breast and tie the ends of the string tightly on top. Trim the strings.

Yay -- now you are ready to cook!


You'll need:
  • an appropriate skillet (see below)
  • black pepper
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp butter (softened or melted)
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch thick planks
  • instant read thermometer
So you have that oven at 450F, right? Now you need to find a good skillet to roast this chicken in. Ideally, you need a heavy bottomed skillet with stainless steel interior (All-Clad or equivalent). This type of skillet will ensure crispy skin, prevent the chicken from sticking, and will produce a lovely sauce. Well-seasoned cast iron will perform the first two tasks beautifully, but will get damaged during sauce making process (deglazing and the acidic ingredients used in the sauce will ruin both the pan and the sauce). Enamel coated cast iron (like Le Creuset) will work well too. Non-stick might not be safe to use at such high temperature, and it will not give you a sauce since there'll be no lovely brown bits stuck to the bottom that you can deglaze.

Set your skillet on the stove-top over high heat. Add 2 tsp canola oil and wait for it to get very hot (oil will ripple and just barely start to smoke). Sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground black pepper and place in the skillet on one of the breasts. Cook for 1 minute, spread 1 tsp softened (or even melted) butter on the top breast, then place the skillet in the oven. Roast for 10 minutes (if your roast is 1.5 Lb+, roast for 15 minutes). While the chicken is roasting, slice 2 large carrots into wide thick planks. We'll place these carrots on the exposed parts of the skillet to prevent them from burning and ruining the fond (brown bits in English) and setting off fire alarms.

Have a burner ready on high heat if using electric (or just turn it on for gas). After 10 minutes, rotate the chicken to the other breast and place the carrots around it (as many as necessary to cover the exposed parts of the skillet in one layer). Cook for 1 minute on the stove top, spread 1 tsp butter on the top breast, then place the skillet in the oven. Roast for 10 minutes (if your roast is 1.5 Lb+, roast for 15 minutes). Rotate the chicken again, setting it wing side down (the part of the breasts that would be located on the sides of the chicken if it was still whole). Spread the wings so that they are flat on the skillet. Flip the carrots since they are probably starting to burn now. Roast another 5-10 minutes or until the skin is golden brown.

Testing for Doneness
Insert a thermometer into the center of the roast. If it reads 130F, you are done. Test at least 3 spots to make sure you got the center. If all the readings are 130F or above, chicken is done. If not, continue to roast, checking the temperature every 3-5 minutes. Set the chicken on a warm plate and allow to rest for 15 minutes. The temperature will go up at least 20 degrees during rest. When making roasts that are over 1.5Lb, I take them out at 125F and let them rest for 15-18 minutes (they'll go up around 25 degrees). By the time you serve the chicken it will be at 150F or above, completely opaque, but very juicy. Do not skip the resting time -- it's important to finish cooking the center and achieve even doneness.


Option 1 (a quick pan sauce)

You'll need:
  • 1 cup home-made chicken stock (blond or brown) or water
  • 1/2 cup dry porcini (optional if using stock, necessary if using water)
  • 3 Tbsp dry white wine
  • 2-3 Tbsp heavy cream or 1 Tbsp butter
The sauce takes only about 5 minutes and needs to be served right away. So you might want to wait to start it until the chicken is half way through its rest time. Discard the carrots and any fat accumulated in the skillet (they are usually burnt by the end) and use the brown bits to make a sauce. Splash about 1 cup chicken stock (only if home-made) or water into the skillet. You can infuse either one of those with dry porcini while the chicken is roasting for a really spectacular sauce. To do that bring the liquid to a boil (I do it in a microwave in a pyrex measuring cup), add 1/2 cup dry porcini and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then strain through a sieve lined with damp paper towel.

Where were we? Oh right -- the liquid went into the skillet. Add 3 Tbsp dry white wine and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon or a whisk to make sure all the brown bits get absorbed into the sauce. Boil until the liquid is reduced to about half and is starting to look syrupy. To enrich with cream, turn the heat down to low and whisk in a few tablespoon of cream (make sure it's heavy cream, not half & half or light cream), return to a simmer, and take off heat. Alternatively, you can enrich with butter. To do that, take the skillet off heat and wait for the sauce to stop bubbling, then whisk in a tablespoon of butter (whisking vigorously until it dissolves). Taste for salt.

Option 2 (a really good pan sauce):

You'll need:
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 1.5 tsp all-purpose flour
  • everything in the quick pan sauce list
This takes about 15 minutes, so start as soon as you get the chicken out of the skillet. Discard the carrots, but not the fat in the skillet. Add 2 Tbsp minced shallot and a pinch of salt. Cook on medium low stirring occasionally until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 1.5 tsp flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add stock and wine. Whisk until no lumps remain and proceed just like the quick pan sauce, but you'll need to whisk it occasionally as it's reducing.

Remove the kitchen twine off the chicken and slice it crosswise into 1 inch thick circles. I keep the circles together for all pieces except for the ones that have the wings attached (I separate those into two).

I know that chicken breasts are completely passe these days. I am as guilty of ignoring this wonderful ingredient as anyone. I snubbed them for years dismissing them as flavorless, dry, boring vehicles for sauce. Sure, there is a sauce in this dish, but the real star is the chicken. The sauce is its partner, not a crutch.