Oh My God Chicken

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This is the best chicken dish I’ve ever made. No preamble, because its awesomeness needs none. I saw this dish in a Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and knew immediately I had to make it. The dish is actually called “Oh My God Chicken,” amusingly. It’s a delicate flavour dance of chicken-y chicken, tomatoes, cilantro, and the richness that multiple deglazings impart. White wine, green onions, and leeks add an additional richness and complexity of flavour. The secret ingredient? A pound of bacon. 🙂

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The chicken is fricasseed, which is simpler than it sounds. You simply brown the chicken in a pan, using bacon fat in this case, and finish cooking the chicken in a sauce. The sauce here is made by deglazing the pan you used to brown the chicken and cooking a medley of vegetables therein, deglazing periodically to both prevent blackening and boost flavour compounds. The chicken is returned to this sauce to finish cooking, and then this selfsame sauce is poured over the dish at the end. Each serving of chicken is garnished with chopped bacon, cilantro, chopped tomato, and bits of green onion. I think sour cream would not be out of place here as well; but for my dairy allergies, I would have served this dish with sour cream!

Normally chicken isn’t usually on the short list of special dishes to serve fancy company, but this dish is an exception. They could serve this as the entrée at a black tie reception, and guests would be wowed. Yes, it’s that good. Happy fricasseeing! 😉

Oh My God Chicken

Ingredients:
12 oz. bacon, chopped
8 – 12 garlic cloves, peeled
3 – 7 lbs. boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 onion, minced
1 – 3 leeks, finely chopped
1 – 4 zucchini, minced
1 red bell pepper, minced
1 orange bell pepper, minced
2 c. chicken broth (may need more, depending on how much chicken you’re using)
2 c. Chardonnay, plus more for deglazing
3 – 6 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 – 2 TBS lime or lemon juice

For the garnish:
2 tomatoes, diced
fresh cilantro

Method:
Cook bacon in 12 quart Dutch oven. Transfer bacon to plate, leaving fat in pot. Deglaze if fond is looking too dark. Add garlic and cook until golden-brown, about 3 – 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to large bowl. Turn off heat underneath pot.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat fat in pot until just smoking. Cook chicken on medium-high heat in batches, browning both sides of each chicken piece until golden brown. Do not overcrowd pan. Transfer chicken to bowl with garlic as it completes browning.

Deglaze pot, if needed, and add vegetables. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add chicken broth, wine, bay leaves, and thyme, scraping up fond from bottom of pot. Add chicken, garlic, and accumulated juices. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat and cover. Cook until chicken registers 175°F, about 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken to plates and tent loosely with foil. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, continue to cook sauce until it thickens slightly. Stir in lime or lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Drizzle each serving with sauce from the pot, discarding thyme sprigs and bay leaves as needed. Top with reserved bacon, tomatoes, and cilantro.

Source: Heavily adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: Best-Ever Lost Recipes (January 2018 issue)

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Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

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The French have made cooking with wine into quite a thing: Cuisine in the US routinely uses wine for deglazing and general flavouring, for example. Yet the Belgians’ love affair with beer, a passion akin to that of the French for wine, hasn’t really caught on in America. Beer is used occasionally in barbecue and fondue, but the classic Belgian beef stew made with beer is surprisingly rare here in the States. You’d think that with all the Coors and Budweiser being quaffed, some of it would make its way into stews with unfailing regularity. Apparently quaffing beer straight up is preferable to coating beef with it.

Beef and ale go together like chocolate and peanut butter; one teases subtle flavour variations out of the other that otherwise would go unsung. The ale imparts a hearty richness that makes you feel as though you’re transported back in time; you and your dining companions, all swathed in fur, are sitting together at a stone table in the tapestry-adorned royal hall, as the fireplace burns against the wicked snowstorm raging outside. But it can’t reach you inside, not just because there are tapestries hanging on the masonry: This stew warms you from within. It’s fabulous.

I still love my balsamic beef short ribs more than any other beef recipe, but when one tires of balsamic vinegar – it happens to the most devoted of gourmands – this hearty, ale-infused stew is just the trick to put everything right again. 🙂 Best of all, it can be cooked in an Instant Pot! That’s what I did. I include instructions for both the traditional Dutch oven and the Instant Pot methods in the recipe below.

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Use any ale you enjoy drinking straight out of the bottle. I’ve used blond ale here because it’s apparently traditional in Belgium for use in stews; it has a mild bitterness offset by a light sweetness. You can soar beyond mere tradition and figure out what, exactly, tickles your taste buds in just the way you like. 😉

Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

Ingredients:
5 lbs. chuck-eye roast (or 1″ thick beef blade steak), cut into 1″ cubes (don’t remove fat if using chuck-eye roast; if using blade steak, remove gristle running through the middle, but leave any remaining fat)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing beef and onions
3 large onions, cut into 1/8ths
1 TBS tomato paste
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. beef broth, plus extra for cooking onions (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.)
24 oz. beer / ale (I used two 11.5 oz. bottles of blond Leffe)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
3 – 4 TBS cider vinegar

Method:
If using Dutch oven, preheat oven to 300°F. If using Instant Pot, disregard. (The Instant Pot method for this recipe is for an 8 quart pot. It will probably fit into a 6 quart pot, but I haven’t tried this.)

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil until just smoking in 5-quart Dutch oven for oven method; for Instant Pot method, use a large pan (12″ minimum is best). Brown beef in batches, transferring browned beef into a large bowl (you’ll want to keep the juices from this). If fond in pan becomes too dark, deglaze as needed with water, ale, red wine, or broth (or some combination thereof).

Deglaze pan once you are done browning beef, if needed. Add more olive oil and add onions; sprinkle generously with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add enough beef broth to just cover onions (this will enable the onions to cook evenly) and cook until onions are softened, about 15 – 20 minutes.

When onions are softened, add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. At this stage:

If using Dutch oven, add chicken and beef broths, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Add beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, and browned beef with juices. Cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven. Bake until beef is fork tender, about 2 hours.

If using Instant Pot, pour chicken broth, beef broth, beer, and vinegar into Instant Pot. Add thyme and bay leaves. Add onion mixture and layer browned beef on top, making sure to pour any accumulated beef juices into the pot as well. Cover and seal lid. Set to ‘High Pressure’ on Manual mode, and cook for 40 minutes. Use Quick Release method. Serve.

Source: Heavily adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (Brookline, MA, 2014). Instant Pot methodology my own creation.

Soda Bread, Better than Ever

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I think soda bread is my favourite from-scratch bread. It has a tender but firm crumb, and can go savory or sweet: It’s there where, when, and how you need it. Served with butter and jam, it even makes for a lovely rustic dessert.

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And it’s just plain fun to make; I like to think I am carrying on the tradition of Irish housewives when I make this. It seems like fewer and fewer people bother to make their own bread anymore, and I wonder if breadmaking and pastry chef-ing in general are truly on their way to becoming lost arts. When Sandra Lee is a viable TV “chef,” society has reached the stage of needing professional help. But I digress. 🙂

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I recently made soda bread again for the first time in a long while, using Mrs O’Callaghan’s recipe. As I read through the recipe, I thought it sounded clumsy, and so I set out to make it better. The measurements I give in the original recipe are vague – in volume rather than weight. I wanted a more precise recipe, so I looked up what the average weight of each kind of flour is per cup, and I used those weights in my revamp of this recipe. Next, I took out the flax seed entirely, as I had added it in the deluded belief that flax seed makes bread healthy. It doesn’t. Carbs are carbs; carbs with flax seed added are simply carbs with flax seed added (which itself has carbs). Then I increased the amount of butter by nearly double, and I changed the kneading methodology to get the tender, moist crumb you see in the photo above. Instead of simply cutting in all of the butter, I cut in the first half of the butter, then fraisaged in the remaining butter with the heel of my hand as if I were making puff pastry. This left larger chunks of butter in the batter along with the finer pea-sized crumbs that result from cutting in butter with a pastry cutter, and it coated more of the flour in butter, which retards the formation of gluten and makes for a lighter, more tender crumb. Finally, I baked the bread in a cast-iron skillet, having been inspired by skillet chocolate chip cookie recipes. I got exactly what I wanted: a really fabulous soda bread recipe that bakes more evenly, offers a moister, more toothsome crumb, and has a richer flavour thanks to the addition of more butter and slightly more buttermilk. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

 

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Soda Bread

Yield: One 8″ round loaf

Ingredients:
384 g. whole wheat flour
330 g. all-purpose flour
60 g. cake flour
1 generous tsp. baking soda
generous 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 stick + 74 g. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and divided (this recipe turns out fine if you use 2 whole sticks of butter)
2 c. buttermilk, plus up to an additional 1/3 c. as needed to correct dough’s consistency

Method:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl (8 quarts is ideal for this). Cut in brown sugar until no lumps remain. Cut in 1 stick of butter until butter is in small pieces. Press remaining 74 g. of butter into dough with your hands, leaving the butter in larger pieces this time. Stir in buttermilk. Dough should form a shaggy but cohesive ball; add more buttermilk as needed to reach this consistency.

Form dough into a 7″ round in a 9″ or larger cast iron skillet. Using a sharp knife, cut a deep cross in the center of the bread to let the faeries out. Wet fingers with water and smooth any jagged peaks on surface of bread. Bake until bread is golden brown but not burned, and the bottom is a deep golden brown; this takes about 40 minutes.

Cool bread on wire rack for about 30 minutes. Slice while still warm. Wrap tightly in cling film and store at room temperature. Bread starts to go stale after about 2 days.

Source: Heavily adapted from Mrs O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread