Wednesday, 8 April 2009

All work and no play makes Homer something something something.

Have you heard? I do stuff. I read and write and 'rithmetic. I make balloon animals and origami Star Wars characters and baby booties and pirate ships and tank tops. But no matter how much stuff I try and make, more often then not I fuck 'em up. I pop balloons and tear paper and drop stitches and pour glue all over the place and knot up embroidery floss like you wouldn't believe. So yeah, I do stuff--a lot of stuff even--poorly.


If I had to pick the one of the stuff I do most competently, and I have to because Jennifer in our Facebook group asked, I'd say the one hobby I would ever even attempt to yell LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! about would be the hobby I have that is called cooking.

I can cook alright.

And so, since Schilbo put herself on the line yesterday, so I will put myself on the line tonight, and attempt to walk you through a typical Monday night dinner in our home, typical if for no other reason than it was just this past Monday. Ladies and germs (wait, is that how that joke goes?), I'd like to present my Chicken with White Wine and Mushrooms. It ain't no SpaPeggy and Meatballs, but we'll make do.

Lets start with the shopping list, hmm? To serve two, because Winston doesn't eat people food, you'll need:

* 2 chicken breasts or thighs, skin preferably on. (I generally use thighs, because hubba hubba.)
* A package or so of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced. (Monday I used creminis, but man oh man, if I had access to San Francisco's Ferry Market on a regular basis you'd better believe I'd be using handful of about a billion different wild mushrooms.)
* 2 large shallots, minced. (For the record, I use shallots in just about everything. They're so boss.)
* About a tablespoon each of chopped fresh tarragon and thyme, preferably from your garden. (Or AeroGarden, if you're an 8th-floor apartment dweller like me.)
* 3/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth. (I made mine from scratch the night before. I'm just sayin'.)
* 1/2 cup of dry white wine.
* Salt and pepper for seasoning, and flour for dredging.

To start, gather your mis en place. (Which is fancy French for "get your shit together.") Also, preheat your oven to 400 F degrees.

You'll see I rather heavily salted and peppered both sides of the chicken thighs for FLAVA. Heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat (every stove is different, and since mine is super hot I use a 6 out of 10), and while that's heating up, dredge your thighs in flour to coat and shake off all the excess. (You want a very thin dusting, sort of like a freshly diapered baby's bottom. This is not only important to build the fond, but also too much will burn and give your sauce a scorched taste.)

Once the oil looks all shimmerey like a wishing well and is starting to smoke like a really pissed off genie in a bottle, add the chicken to the pan. Let it sear on that side for about 6 minutes. It's important that you DON'T TOUCH IT during that time, because once you start fiddling with it before it's ready it starts sticking all over the place. Kinda like... never mind. ANYWHO, once you're all brown and crispy flip your bird pieces over and sear off the other side, another 5-6 minutes. Then remove to a plate.

This is important: your chicken isn't actually cooked through yet. AND THAT'S OKAY. You'll get there soon enough, and no, you won't get food poisoning letting your chicken sit there for a few minutes. And if you don't believe me, I suggest you never ever eat at another restaurant ever again. Also, I feel bad for you for missing out on all of the awesomeness this awesome world has to offer. ANYWHO, there may be some excess oil accumulated in your pan; carefully spoon out all but about a tablespoon of this, and then add your sliced mushrooms, minced shallots, and chopped herbs.

Saute that all up for about 10 or 12 minutes or so, until your mushrooms release all their liquid and brown up, and the shallots get all caramelized and gooey, and the herbs smell SO GOOD.

And now, we deglaze the pan! (This is my favorite part.) First add the wine and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan real good so you get up all those lovely brown bits. (Brown bits = flavor.) Then add the chicken broth. Stir it all up and let it come to a boil.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, This? Is supposed to be a rich, velvety sauce? This is nothing but mushroom water! But like all good things, you, uh, gotta wait. Or whatever. ANYWHO, just let that keep boiling down for a while until about half the water in there has done the thing it does over heat, namely, vaporize. You should notice that it's thickened up considerably, but that it's also still a bit runny. Kinda like this:

Well this is the perfect stage to nestle your chicken back in to all that mushroomy goodness. So do that, skin side up. (I assume you want your skin to stay all crunchy and delicious.)

Then stick it in the preheated oven for as long as it takes for your thighs to reach 163F and your breasts 158F. (I use a probe thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature of my meats while they are in the oven, but an instant-read will work as well. Just start checking after about 8 minutes.)

MEANWHILE, get some salted water a-boiling, and throw a couple handfuls of egg noodles in there, and boil them so long as the package says to boil them for.

MEANWHILE, chop up some more fresh herbs (this time I used tarragon and parsley) and throw them in a bowl with a blob of melted butter.

STAY WITH ME HERE, because this might get busy. When your meat has hit temperature, pull the whole pan out of the oven and remove the chicken to a separate plate. Loosely tent it with a piece of foil. This accomplishes two things: (1) The carryover heat allows the internal temperature of the chicken to rise a bunch of degrees and fully cook without drying out, and (2) the loose juices redistribute themselves about so they don't go running out all over the place as soon as you cut into your piece of chicken, thereby drying it out. In case you couldn't follow along with me, DRY CHICKEN SUCKS.

ANYWHO, take a look at the remaining sauce. Is it thick enough? If yes, let it be. If not, pop it back on a burner over medium heat and reduce the liquid until you get not-nearly-the-consistency of jarred Thanksgiving gravy.

POSSIBLY AT THE SAME TIME, your egg noodles will be just about done, so drain those in a colander and then toss them about in your bowl with the melted butter and chopped fresh herbs.

Now it's time to plate, and if you're anything like Jennie this is where I kill you a little. Basically it goes like this: buttered herb egg noodles, topped with a piece of chicken, and doused with the mushroom and wine sauce. OH MY GOD YOUR FOOD IS TOUCHING EACH OTHER.

Man, that is so brown. But remember, brown is good. But so is green, so here, have a salad:

(Baby greens and cherry tomatoes dressed in freshly squeezed lemon juice and Spanish olive oil, and garnished with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.)

Bon app├ętit!

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