Thursday, March 31, 2005



Sorry about the snooty French title—I couldn’t help it, so intoxicated was I by the sophistication of this meal, yet another winning recipe from Bistro Chicken: 100 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes With French Flair, by Mary Ellen Evans. And, indeed, the recipe was easy, it was elegant, it had the French flair. Seriously! I felt so incredibly fancy while making it (except for the potato-grating part, where I accidentally grated my thumb knuckle and bled all over the cutting board—yeah, now you really want to come over for dinner at my house, don’t you?), but it was so simple to do, and had so few ingredients that (as with previous Mary Ellen recipes) I was actually afraid the food would be bland. Instead, it was rich with the flavors of caramelized shallots, wine, and thyme. My favorite part was making the pan sauce, deglazing and reducing like a pro. The only stumbling block for me, I think, was that everything took far longer to cook than the recipe instructed. Maybe my stove is just feeble, but I had to keep turning the temperature up and up and cooking longer and longer to achieve the necessary browning. The chicken, in particular, took a really long time to get rid of the pink in the center (but then, they were unusually thick breasts), which left my potato pancakes warming in the oven for maybe a little too long and getting slightly dry. In retrospect, I think I should have just been bolder about turning up the heat, but since my one fault as a cook is sometimes being too impatient (hey, I’m hungry), I was trying to fight against that. I suppose being too tentative could also be a cooking flaw, too. Everything still turned out delicious (I served it with a green salad on the side, and A was notably impressed by the whole meal), but I’m eager to give it another shot and work out the temperatures better. Also, after the success of the three recipes I’ve made from Bistro Chicken, I’m wondering if I should check it out of the library again and look more closely at the other contents. I’m usually suspicious of French recipes because they generally seem so long and complex (even when made sensible and straightforward by Julia Child, they’re still out of my league), but now I may have to revise that prejudice.

P.S. If you just wanted some easy chicken, you could make it without the potato pancakes, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

¾ pound Idaho russet potatoes
2 tablespoons peanut oil (Mary Ellen says this gives the thoroughly French taste, but I admit I didn’t feel like buying any and used canola oil instead)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup chopped shallots
4 6-to-8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (or ¾ teaspoon crumbled dried thyme)
½ cup white wine

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Peel the potatoes and shred them in a food processor (or grate them by hand, which for me quickly led to a bloody knuckle and some emergency first aid [OK, a Band-aid] from A; anyone wanna buy me a food processor?). Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, press one-fourth of the shredded potatoes into a 3-to-4-inch disk and place it in the skillet. (Mine turned out messy--er, I mean, "rustic," but luckily, Mary Ellen says not to worry if the potatoes don’t stick together well, because the pancakes will firm up when they cook.) Repeat this with the remaining potatoes, so you have four pancakes. Cook them until medium brown and crisp on both sides (“3 to 4 minutes per side” according to the recipe, but longer for me). When the pancakes are done, remove them to a baking sheet and put that in the oven while you prepare the chicken.

2. Using the same skillet you just fried the potatoes in, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is warm, add the shallots and sauté them until they begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Mix ½ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and the fresh thyme in a small bowl and then use this to season both sides of each of the chicken breasts (use all the seasoning). Add the chicken to the skillet and sauté until golden brown on both sides (again, recipe says “3 to 4 minutes per side, but it took me longer). Add the white wine, reduce the heat to low, and cook, turning the chicken once, until it's no longer pink in the thickest portion when cut with a knife (recipe: “4 to 5 minutest per side”; me: longer).

3. When it's done, remove the chicken from the pan, increase the heat to high, and reduce the pan juices in the skillet slightly, for 1-2 minutes. Take the potato pancakes out of the oven, season them with salt and pepper, and place one on each plate. Top each pancake with a chicken breast, then drizzle the pan juices over each one.

Serves: 4
Time: 45-60 minutes

No comments: