“Heather, Please Pack Your Knives and Go”

I’m a die-hard Top Chef fan.  I hinted at my obsession a few months ago, but we do take it pretty seriously around here.  In fact, the other night Madison asked me if I could sit with her while she got ready for bed but after taking one look at the TV, decided to ask her Dad instead.  Her reasoning she told me, “You’re watching Top Chef and that’s important.  It’s kinda like work for you.”

Anyway, as part of my “Barefoot Contessa Challenge” I decided to make Chicken with Shallots.  Instead of using four boneless chicken breasts with the skin on (6 to 8 ounces each) I used six boneless chicken breast with the skin off.  Four of them were about 4 ounces each and the other two were 6 ounces.  (When I took the chicken out to defrost I stupidly didn’t check to see how many I had or what size the breast were.)  In order to overcome the difference in chicken breast sizes, I placed the larger breasts in the center of the pan – directly over the heat – to cook at the same rate as the smaller breasts which I placed toward the outer edge of the pan.  The breasts cooked (mostly) evenly and none of them dried out (too much).

For the sauce, I was excited to try a new product I was given by one of my favorite farmers at the farmers market, Verjuice, as a substitute for the dry white wine.  (Big mistake.)  It turns out that Verjuice is a substitute for vinegar or lemon juice, not wine.  (I think I thought it was some kind of wine substitute because the guy who gave it to me also sells Australian sparkling juices so for some reason I was thinking wine, not vinegar.  ((although the two are closely related, no?))  So, to make a long story even longer, I had already put the lemon juice into the saute pan and didn’t notice until after I added the verjuice that I had basically just doubled the amount of lemon in the sauce.  Luckily, there was so much cream and butter in the sauce it compensated for the intense lemony flavor.  (I thought.)

Two things to note before I take this story any further: I almost never cook with sauces and I usually serve dinner by placing the serving dishes on the table family-style.  But since this meal included a yummy sauce, I decided to plate it for everyone.  I wish someone besides me could have seen the look of confusion on Joel and Madison’s face when I gently ladled the sauce onto the chicken.  “What.  Is.  THAT?” Madison demanded.  “Umm, yeah.  I don’t know if I want that.”  Joel echoed.  “Trust me”  I assured them.  “This will be good.  Just roll with it.”

Well they did.  And they paid dearly for it.  What I didn’t realize was that the fat from the butter and cream was heavier than the juices (rookie mistake) so when I ladled the sauce out for Joel and Madison it was almost entirely of the lemon juice/verjuice variety.  Since I did mine last, I had a lot more of the butter and cream.  So we’re sitting around the table and I’m soliciting feedback Top-Chef-Judges-Table-style when all of a sudden Madison takes a bite of chicken and her face puckers immediately.  “Yeow!  What did you do to the chicken?”  Joel concurred.

Because my sauce tasted the way it should have, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about until Joel looked at the sauce at my plate and pointed out that it was much thicker and darker it was than the pale yellow juice on their plates.  Oh.  So I re-sauced Joels’ plate but Madision was having none of it and I had to get her a fresh “sauceless” piece of chicken.  Once I explained to Joel that I should have used white wine, he cut me a little slack, but still…..

The final judges’ determination?  Unless someone served raw chicken, my dish would have had me packing my knives and going home.  “The sauce just rendered that chicken inedible.”  Thanks Tom.  Oops, I mean Joel.

Chicken and Shallots, serves 4

4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on (6-8 ounces each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
½ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
¼ cup minced shallots
3 tbsp heavy cream
4 tbsp unsalted butter, diced at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and sprinkle them generously on both sides with salt and pepper.  In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, until it begins to smoke.  Place the chicken breasts, skin side down, in the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes without moving, until golden brown.  Using tongs, turn the chicken breasts skin side up.  Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan, combine the white wine, lemon juice, and shallots and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until only 2 tbsp of liquid remain in the pan.  If it reduces too much, add an extra splash of white wine or water.  Add the cream, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and bring to a full boil.  Remove from the heat, add the diced butter and swirl the pan until the butter is incorporated.  Sprinkle with salt and serve the chicken hot with the sauce spooned over it.

8 comments on ““Heather, Please Pack Your Knives and Go”

  1. Christa
    February 16, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks for showcasing the failures along with your successes! Gotta love learning from someone else’s mistakes for a change. Two of my best ingredient mistakes were using cilantro in place of parsley in lasagne–I like cilantro, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. WRONG! Nobody else in the family liked cilantro enough to eat the leftovers since the cilantro flavor just got stronger and stronger. The other one was using dried crimini mushrooms. Let’s just say that 5 minutes isn’t enough time to let them soak!

    • Heather
      February 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      ha! I know what you mean about the mushrooms…a little chewy, eh? I hope that everyone out there knows that I’m not perfect, (but God knows I strive to be) so I don’t mind sharing my success and failure. I just hope you found it entertaining. Thanks!

  2. This Italian Family
    February 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Aww, I’ve been there before too. At least it was just for family and not for a dinner party or anything like that! 😉

    • Heather
      February 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      But I’ve certainly had my share of those disasters too! Thanks for the support.

  3. Harry Weisberger
    February 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Thanks for the highly healthful belly-laugh.
    Don’t feel bad. It took Thomas Edison a while before he got a bulb that would light up.


    • Heather
      February 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      I’m glad you got a good laugh out of it. That was my intention and you know me – I aim to please. Thanks!

  4. joshdaddy
    February 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    You’ve given me courage: maybe someday I can blog about the night I served up a dish that Josh affectionately dubbed “Pasta with Cheese Water.”

    • Heather
      February 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      oh no that sounds not-so-appetizing. I think it’s important to let everyone know that my “Martha Bone” is not fully developed and that I’m not afraid to admit mistakes….ha!

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