Manly, Yes! But I Like it Too — Chef Michael Smith’s take on Chicken

4 Oct

This Savvy cook likes her red meat, but not five days a week. Skinless, boneless chicken breasts, while low-fat and heart-healthy, can be a challenge to delivering big tastes and big flavours to your dinner plate. And if you find yourself cooking for or with some committed carnivores, you may find chicken on the menu is met with grumbles or disappointment.

Chef Michael Smith, a Canadian food star from the province of Prince Edward Island, published 100 of his “favourite easy recipes” in 2011 (Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen, Penguin Canada). It’s a cookbook heavy on manly dishes like ribs, steak and other hearty fare. Tonight’s Savvy Supper features his recipe Thyme-Baked Chicken with Mushroom Red Wine Sauce. I made roasted root vegetables and some asparagus for the side dishes.

I found the amount of chicken to be excessive using the large chicken breasts. You could easily use smaller breasts (adjusting the cooking time downward) or cut the jumbo ones in half before serving. The chicken was beautifully cooked, yet retained a moist texture. The sauce was plenty salty using a low-sodium broth, with a deep, earthy flavour that made the dish more hearty than you might expect from chicken.

The chicken and its sauce were timed in Smith’s recipe at 25 minutes (easily achieved), with the breasts baked in a 450°F oven. I decided to give the root vegetables a head start in a 325°F oven. The plan is to prepare enough food for two full suppers.

Roasted Root Vegetables   Pre-heat oven to 325°F    Makes: 2 servings

2                   medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and each cut in 6 pieces
1                   jumbo carrot, peeled and sliced thickly on the diagonal
1                   large golden beet, peeled and diced
1                   white turnip, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp         EVOO
2 pinches    thyme (or rosemary)
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Toss the prepared vegetables with the olive oil. Add seasonings and toss again. Place vegetables in a single layer in a shallow roast pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Roast for 25 minutes (I walked the dog during this period). Stir or flip the veggies and return to the oven for a 5 minutes.

After the oven temperature is increased to preheat to 450°F for the chicken dish, your root vegetables will likely be thoroughly cooked and nicely browned. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and keep warm until ready to serve.

While preparing the root vegetables, also peel and chop the onion for the sauce and wash the asparagus and snap off tough ends.

Thyme-Baked Chicken with Mushroom Red Wine Sauce

Preheat oven to 450°F                  Makes: 2 large (or 3 – 4 regular) servings

Rinse 2 large chicken breasts and blot dry with paper towels.
Toss breast in a bowl with 1 Tablespoon (15mL) of olive oil. Once the chicken is coated with oil, add ½ Tablespoon (7.5mL) dried thyme, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt.

Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish (I sprayed my 8″ square glass pan with oil to aid with clean up) and set into the 450°F oven. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

The sauce can now be prepared in the time it takes to bake the chicken breasts. I made the full sauce called for in Smith’s recipe (4 servings). It is largely vegetable-based, meeting my goal of consuming more vegetables. What follows is the 4 serving sauce recipe.

Set a large skillet or sauté pan over med-high heat. Melt 2 Tablespoons (30ml) butter (I used 1 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp EVOO) until it sizzles and browns slightly.

Add:
1                            onion (I used a Vidalia), chopped
8 oz (250 g)        mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used gourmet brown mushrooms)
2                            garlic cloves, minced

and sauté until the vegetables are turning brown and the onion is caramelizing (approximately 15 minutes).
    Add:
1 cup (250 mL)     chicken broth (I used a salt-reduced broth, which I highly recommend. The resulting sauce was salty enough for my taste.)
½ cup (125 mL)    dry red wine (the one you opened today perhaps?)

[Place about 1.5″ of cold water into a medium fry pan and set it on a burner at high heat. When water boils, add your asparagus spears, reduce the heat to Med-high. Test a spear or two after 5 minutes andthen every minute or so until the asparagus is cooked to your liking. Drain, drizzle with EVOO, add a splash of lemon juice and toss to combine.]

Allow the liquid to come to “rapid simmer” in Chef Smith’s terminology for several minutes. In a small glass jar, add:

1 Tbsp (15 ml)           cold water
1 teaspoon (5 mL)    cornstarch

shake well to combine into a smooth slurry. Add to the simmering pan and stir lightly until well combined. Allow the sauce to cook a few more minutes until it has thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and add:

2 Tbsp (30 mL)    chopped fresh parsley (which I did not have, but will try next time)
Salt and pepper to taste (I found the sauce to be well seasoned at this stage without the additional S & P)

Remove the chicken from the oven after 25 minutes and insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast. The poultry is cooked properly when the internal temperature reaches 165°F (72°C).

Serve the chicken breast covered with the mushroom red-wine sauce. And pour a glass of medium-bodied red to enjoy with this meal.

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