Thursday, January 31, 2008


Oh, crème fraiche, where have you been all my life?

This is one of those fabulously simple recipes that yields surprisingly sophisticated and amazingly delicious results. If you make it for other people, it will impress them, and possibly knock their socks off, and the entire time (in between bouts of licking your plate) you’ll be laughing behind your hand at how secretly easy it was to make. The recipe comes from Amanda Hesser and I found it at The Wednesday Chef; it seems to have made the rounds of the food blogs, and other writeups can be found here and here and here. The fact that it came so highly recommended overcame my fears that a recipe with so few ingredients would be bland, and the lemon chicken didn’t disappoint. The sauce was a perfect blend of rich, creamy creme-fraicheyness and lemony brightness. With smoked paprika roasted potatoes (the better to soak up more sauce with) and a big green salad, this chicken was a perfect weeknight supper, but I would have been equally comfortable serving it at a dinner party.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry whole chicken legs, so I bought a “whole cut-up chicken,” which, oddly, consisted of two breasts, three thighs, three drumsticks, and no wings. (That’s one freakish chicken.) I decided to save the enormous breasts for another day and just make the six leg pieces, or three servings. (This turned out to be a good decision, because when A ate the one leftover portion the next day, he reported that although it still tasted fine, the sauce had separated dramatically. So this is probably a dish best served immediately.) I used full amounts of all the other ingredients, though, because I figured a little extra sauce couldn’t hurt anything. (It didn’t.) The recipe was easy to make—season the chicken well with salt and pepper, brown it in the butter and olive oil, bake it until done, and then make a pan sauce out of the drippings and lemon juice and crème fraiche. Can you believe I’d never used crème fraiche before? For those not in the know, it’s cultured cream—sort of like sour cream, but less sour. I don't particularly like sour cream, mind you, but I love creme fraiche. It's sort of like Mexican crema, zippy like yogurt, vaguely reminiscent of Mascarpone in its uses, but better than all those things. Pretty much like tangy, creamy crack. I bought it at Trader Joe’s, but apparently you can make your own quite easily by mixing cream with a little buttermilk and letting it sit at room temperature for a day or so. I’m totally trying it sometime.

The only hitch in making the chicken was that it was the first time I’d used my Calphalon pan in the oven, and even though I knew, logically, that the metal handle would be hot when I returned the pan to the stovetop, I kept automatically, absentmindedly grabbing it with my bare hand while I was making the pan sauce. (A’s not usually one to laugh at my pain, but I do have to admit it must have been pretty funny for him to keep overhearing my exclamations in the other room: “@!$%#! I burned my hand on the pan handle, but I’m OK!” Then, two minutes later, “$%@$*! I’m OK!” again.) So keep those oven mitts on the entire time, kids. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle! (Sorry, GI Joe flashback there. It was on right before Scooby-Doo when I was a kid, so I’d always tune in just in time for the public service announcement portion at the end of the show.)

1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
4 whole chicken legs (thighs attached)
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup crème fraiche

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. After 3 minutes, add the butter and oil. Season the chicken generously with salt and very generously with pepper. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and brown well on both sides, turning once.

3. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a knife.

4. Return the skillet to the stovetop. Transfer the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the skillet. Over medium heat, add the lemon juice to the skillet and stir well. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the crème fraiche and stir until melted and bubbling. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with lemon zest and additional pepper. Serve hot.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

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