Here was the deal: my favorite roast chicken recipe is this one from Thomas Keller. (Sidebar: I’m currently in San Francisco and last night I ate at Zuni, and as I was leaving the bathroom who did I lock eyes with? Thomas Keller. Turns out he goes to the bathroom too; food gods are just like us!) The problem, though, is that the Thomas Keller roast chicken with root vegetables is an event. It requires that you use your roasting pan; it involves a shopping-cart full of turnips, rutabaga, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It’s not really practical for a weeknight. As for my usual weeknight roast chicken, I’d normally wind up putting the chicken in my All-Clad metal skillet so that I could make a sauce in there afterwards (see here), roasting the vegetables separately. That was OK. Then I remembered my trusty friend the cast iron skillet. What if I did the Keller thing in there? What happened next will astound you (how’s that for an UpWorthy paragraph ender?).
A few times now I’ve mentioned the technique of searing a chicken breast–skin-on, bone-in–in a skillet with hot olive oil, skin-side down, flipping it over when golden brown, finishing it in the oven, removing it from the pan and making a sauce with the brown bits on the bottom, something to deglaze those brown bits, and a little butter. See: lemon juice and butter, tangerine juice and butter, etc. There’s another technique, though, that I learned from Melissa Clark in writing my cookbook that works very well in this same chicken scenario, even though she taught it to me with duck. That technique is similar to the previous technique only it involves fruit.
If you were to do a graph–and I’m not a graph person, so you’d have to help me out here–measuring the effort you put into a dinner vs. the pleasure you get from eating it, chances are there’d be a real corollary between the work put it in and the pleasure received (see, for example, lamb merguez with eggplant jam). Every so often, though, there’s an outlier: a recipe that’s so incredibly easy, so simple to put together, it doesn’t make sense that the results should taste as good as they do, but they do. And I’d wager that of all the recipes that fit into this tiny category, the ones at the very apex of “easy to do” and “good to eat” are recipes involving mussels and clams.
For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.
As you probably know, by now, I’m a pasta-loving fool. My blog has 78 recipes for pasta and risotto in its archives, so you know I take my pasta-eating seriously.
Sadly, my pasta love is now at odds with my spring-time desire to get in shape. I’ve been sticking to my gym routine for two months now, and though I still eat pasta and pastries and all the other naughty P foods on weekends, I’m trying to focus on a healthier P-word during the week: protein. The challenge I made for myself was this: transform the kind of sauce you’d love to eat over pasta on a typical weeknight into a protein-rich dinner that’s every bit as satisfying but way better for your beach bod. The secret? Instead of pasta, use eggs.
A strange thing has happened to me recently. I’ve been working on a play (don’t ask any questions! it’s too soon) and also going to the gym five days a week so that, at the end of the day, I wander into Trader Joe’s (underneath my gym) in a sort of daze, eager to just grab some things to throw a tasty dinner together. In other words: by shifting my professional focus, I’ve actually gotten better at my profession because most people who read my blog wander into Trader Joe’s in a similar state at the end of the day and want to know how to put something tasty on the table. So it may come as a shock to you that I was able to make this, what seems like a highly involved dish, after arriving home at 6:30 in no mood to make a highly involved dish. It’s Chicken Milanese and it’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of a weeknight dinner.
Last week I was going to share with you a great weeknight recipe I came up with involving chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s (the garlic and herb flavor), mirepoix–that’s carrots, onions and celery for you amateurs–and white beans. That was it. Then, a week later, I made it again, only this time I added kale and suddenly a super casual dinner took on some oomph. This was a dinner that people might really want to make on a weeknight, that’s tasty but also healthy and surprisingly flavorful with the addition of a secret ingredient at the end which I won’t tell you about until after the jump. Ok fine, I’ll tell you: it’s lemon juice. And it works wonders.
Every so often, a new friend will confess that they’ve been reading my blog and when I ask, “Did you make anything?” the response is often, “Well I work, so I barely have time to get dinner on the table.” I understand where they’re coming from, though I usually end the friendship at that point. To prevent that from happening again, I’d like to share with you now a dinner anyone can make right after work that is so winning and so wonderful, you’ll want to hug me once you learn it. I like it so much, it’s pretty much a staple now of my repertoire.