Yesterday I went food shopping with my friend Diana. We went to Lassen’s and the produce looked fine, not great, so I grabbed two cauliflowers (cauliflower?) even though it’s the height of summer and I should be buying corn and tomatoes. Then we went across the street to the butcher (McCall’s) and despite the vast array of meat and fish options — short ribs, head-on shrimp — I chose two skin-on chicken breasts because I was just feeling very basic yesterday.
Sometimes, though, the most basic, bland, white ingredients (chicken breasts and cauliflower!) can be canvasses for the creative mind. To quote George Seurat in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George: “White / a blank chicken breast or cauliflower / the challenge? Bring order to the whole.”
The only decision I had to make was: one pan or two.
I could’ve gone the one-pan route, seared the chicken breasts, finished them on a cookie sheet in the oven and then cooked the cauliflower in the brown chicken bits. But I liked the idea of using the chicken bits to make a sauce, so I opted for two pans.
Here’s how easy this dinner was: I got my biggest non-stick skillet, poured in a layer of olive oil, heated it up, and then cut two cauliflower (cauliflowers?) into florets, leaving some of the leaves. When the oil was hot, I added all of the cauliflower with a big pinch of salt.
I just let that go and go and go on high heat, turning every so often. At a certain point, the smaller pieces were getting browner and the larger pieces weren’t cooked through, so I just put a lid on the pan so the big pieces would steam.
Around this point, I added 4 sliced large garlic cloves and stirred them all through the cauliflower and the oil, letting them toast a bit.
At the very end, I added a big spoonful of capers and chopped up pickled peppers (the ones I made two weeks ago, but you could use Peppadews), plus lots of chopped parsley.
As for the chicken breasts, I preheated the oven to 425 and then in a large metal skillet, I heated another layer of olive oil until it was hot. I added the chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper, skin-side down and let that brown for a while on high heat. When the breasts were golden brown, I flipped them over and put them in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes until a probe thermometer showed an internal temp of 160.
I removed the breasts to a plate and looked at those beautiful brown bits left behind.
(Note the placement of the oven mitt… that’s to remind me that the handle’s hot!)
First I added a clove of sliced garlic and a splash of olive oil and toasted it in the pan. Then I added about an inch of white wine (1/4 bottle?), a big spoonful of capers, and a big pat of butter and brought it all to a boil.
You can make the sauce as thick or as thin as you want; I opted for thinner because I wanted more of it. Basically the more you let the liquid evaporate, the thicker it’ll get it. Just keep swirling that butter around as you go.
Then you just put the cauliflower on the plate, put the breast next to it, pour the sauce on top and sprinkle everything with parsley. Serve with the wine you used in the sauce (I used a Gruner Vetliner).
There you are: a fancy dinner with everyday supermarket ingredients and just two pans to clean afterwards.
Now back to your regular summer cooking.