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.


Katerina said...

Yum!! Hmm.. I can't think of anything I specifically like to re-engineer before consuming but mayeb I should start. Helpful post as always.

Me said...
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Me said...
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Me said...

I am loving your recent chicken posts. I can't wait to try it. I remember asking you for a chicken class when I took your meat class and you said something like, "I just thought chicken is too conventional, and everyone knows it." I think butchering the chicken like you suggest would be great practice for my future career as a surgeon :-).

Thanks for this, I can't wait to try it, and please place me on the list FIRST for your first ever chicken class, whenever that may be.


Helen said...

Hmm -- maybe I should start a pre-med program :)