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.
Monday night is healthy dinner night. I don’t drink wine, even if Craig makes a stink and opens a bottle in protest. I don’t make dessert, even if he begs for my famous chocolate chip cookies. What I do, on Monday night, is penance for all of the ridiculous things I ate over the weekend and, also, I set the tone for the upcoming week: if I eat healthy on Monday night, it’ll make the fact that I went to the gym earlier in the day seem worthwhile. Also, it’ll keep me in the zone for going to the gym next day. The trick, though, is to make the dinner just healthy enough; meaning, it shouldn’t be punishing. It should still be good. Which is how I came up with the dinner I’m about to tell you about.
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.
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.
My life in New York was all about the newest and latest cookbooks, poring through them at The Strand and carefully calculating which ones were worth the price of purchase. In L.A., though, I’m all about finding old, tattered cookbooks at used book stores, both at Counterpoint Records in Franklin Village and Alias Books East in Atwater Village. At the latter, recently, I came upon The Campanile Cookbook which was written by two of America’s greatest chefs back when they were married: Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton. The recipe that sold me instantly is the one I’m about to share with you now.
Confession: if I lead a post with an image that isn’t the finished dish, that’s because the finished dish isn’t very pretty. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t very good. In this case, the dish comes from a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, a book that my publisher published around the same time my book came out: Burma by Naomi Duguid. As much as I felt like I went on an adventure with my book, this book is The Amazing Race to my Double Dare. What’s so remarkable about Duguid’s work here is how immersive it is: the book isn’t just a cluster of recipes, it’s a beautifully assembled collection of stories, pictures and anecdotes about life in Burma.
There’s something thrilling about inventing a recipe. And though I’m not 100% sure that I invented this (it may very well have existed, somewhere, before me) let’s pretend that I am to this recipe what Isaac Newton is to gravity. No apple fell on my head, but garlic toasted in my head as I tried to figure out something new and different to do with couscous. Here’s how it all works.