Friday, May 25, 2007

Saucy Chicken

Condiments make good food great. A hearty mustard can turn a sandwich into a feast, the proper aioli makes french fries gourmet; and the right sauce on an ordinary chicken breast turns it into something downright swoon-worthy. I found this recipe on the cookthink blog, and I've made it about four times since. Each time, I've modified it a bit, but we've been pretty good about sticking to the standard recipe. We even tried it with lamb, which was absolutely heavenly. The basic recipe is simple, and could be modified in so many ways that it's nearly ridiculous. The lamb, though, was a real winner. Here is the chicken version, which D. and I dubbed "saucy chicken." It's saucy, and it's chicken, so... I think the name is fairly accurate.

Saucy Chicken with Tomato and Capers
This particular recipe has a southern Italian flair to it, combining succulent tomatoes with the brine unique to capers. Add some wine and broth for a rich base -- along with some garlic and onions, of course -- and you have a beautifully complex sauce that permeates the chicken wonderfully. This particular recipe serves two, but you can double the recipe easily and make enough for four (or for two portions: it's very good the next day.)
Begin by prepping your tomatoes, which is the most time-consuming part of this recipe. Core 4 ripe plum tomatoes and slice into quarters. Remove the seeds and dice finely. Set aside and julienne one half of a small white onion. Finely mince two large cloves of garlic.
Season both sides of two chicken breast halves with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Warm 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy sautépan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering and just begins to smoke, add the chicken breasts to the pan and shake so that they do not stick. Allow them to brown for five minutes without moving them at all -- it's tempting, isn't it, but it will leave you with a less-tasty sauce in the end, and no one wants that. After five minutes, turn the chicken over and brown the other side for an equal amount of time. When both sides are evenly brown and delicious-looking, remove them from the pan.
Add another teaspoon of olive oil to the pan and, after it shimmers (shouldn't take long, the pan's already hot) add the onions and cook slowly. When you take the chicken out of the pan, you should be left with some tasty-looking brown spots. Don't try to move them, or remove them, from the pan -- those are going to be the basis for your sauce, and the more stuff, the better. When the onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the garlic and cook until you can smell it. That only takes about thirty seconds (I'm not kidding) and burned garlic is the bane of every cook's existence. It can seriously ruin anything. After the garlic becomes fragrant, crank up the heat and stir in a half a cup of red wine. It's gonna sizzle! Scrape the bottom of the pan, now, furiously, so that you get all those tasty bits up and cookin' in the sauce. Add a half a cup of chicken broth (I always use low sodium, and you should, too, especially if you add salt to the dish anyhow) and the chopped tomatoes. Stir everything together and reduce the heat to medium.
Now, add the chicken back into the pan, burrowing it into the sauce so that it can cook fully -- to 165º -- the temperature continues to rise (to about 170º or 175º -- I like my meat cooked fully) after you remove the chicken from the pan, by the way. At this point, I stick a thermometer into the chicken so that I know it's done before I serve it. It should only take about three to four minutes per side to finish cooking. When you're ready to flip it, add 1 tablespoon of drained capers to the sauce. When the chicken reaches the right temperature, it's ready to serve. It's wonderful with something starchy on the side, like rice, because the excess sauce can be dabbled around on the plate, soaked up by the rice, and enjoyed more fully. I enjoyed it with strips of zucchini (simply broiled for a few minutes, flipping halfway through) as you can see in the photograph. And, obviously, it should be served with a glass of that red wine: you didn't open a bottle just to cook with, right?!

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