Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Chicken is Better than your Chicken. Here's Why.

Most of us who are grown-ups have made chicken before. We are familiar with the basic concept of putting raw meat on a hot object (or in a hot object) for a certain amount of time and then eating it. But, of course, there is way more to it than that. Making dinner isn't just about making raw meat safe to eat, although we all know a few people who seem to swear by this mantra. It's about making your food safe to eat AND undeniably delicious.

Here is one suggestion for a chicken dinner that is easy to make, doesn't take too much time, and pays dividends in the taste department, far above and beyond your usual dried chicken meat disaster that you call dinner on Wednesday.

Here it is:

You will need:

Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Butter
1/2 cup white wine
2-6 cloves of fresh chopped garlic
Optional Spices (oregano, basil, tarragon, chinese five spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, corriander, curry, etc.)

Step 1 is to make some rice. If I have to tell you how to make rice, this recipe is already too complicated for you and you should just order a pizza.

Next, heat a pan on a medium-hot stove (I prefer an iron skillet and will explain why some other day). DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN OR ON THE PAN UNTIL IT IS HOT!!!! Give it about 2 minutes before you even add oil. This is important and is the difference between chicken thighs perfectly browned and chicken thighs perfectly glued to your pan.

Add some olive oil. The idea is that you want enough oil to coat the entire pan, but not enough to deep-fry the chicken. Use your judgment.

Give it 30 seconds to get hot.

Take some bone-in chicken thighs. (I won't tell you how many because I don't know how hungry you are, but bear in mind that you probably won't need more than 4 thighs for 2 people. The rice is pretty filling.)

Before putting your thighs in your hot skillet, pat them dry with a dry paper towel. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and whatever else you feel like adding. You could try tarragon, oregano, basil, or get buck-wild and throw on some cinnamon, nutmet, allspice, chinese five-spice, whatever. Let's just say now is the time to season your thighs.

Put the thighs in the skillet, skin down. Let simmer for a bit. It's important when you first put the chicken down in the pan not to mess with it. It sticks to the pan at first, but will let go when its ready. So, don't move it quite yet! You should be listening to the sounds of the pan and looking to see if the pan seems like it might be too hot. You can only really figure this out with experience, but my point is that if you use this time to check your fantasy football scores, you might just end up realizing that your pan was too hot, or not hot enough. Pay attention to your thighs!

When the skins on the thighs have released from the pan, flip 'em and cook the other side. While the other side is cooking, chop up some garlic, really fine. Or use one of those garlic presses. I love those.

Throw in the garlic while its still just oil and chicken in there, but after the other side of the chicken has had some time to cook and spew some juices. Seeing some chicken juices drop out of the meat is always a good sign to check out whether you're cooking it sufficiently.

Now, by this time your chicken should be looking good, and your garlic should be sauteing but not getting too crispy or too brown. Now add about 1/2 cup of white wine. I keep crappy white wine in the fridge at all times for just such an occasion as this. I used to use "cooking wine" from the supermarket, but if you ever read the ingredients in that, you quickly realize that you shouldn't eat things that you would be disgusted to drink. Instead of spending $3-4 on "cooking wine" in a little bottle. I spend $5-7 on real wine, in a 750ml bottle. It's way better, trust me.

You've added your wine, now add about 2tbsps of butter and turn down the heat on your skillet. You're no longer browning the chicken, you are now braising it. Congrats.

Now, depending on how saucy you want your chicken and rice, you could add any of these things: water, more wine (but don't overdo it, especially if its "cooking wine"), more butter, more oil, broth, etc. You could probably add light beer, but since you've already committed to wine, I wouldn't mix the two. They compete too much for flavor when you're cooking with them. I would recommend broth above all others, but you can get away with just about anything you have. If you weigh 84lbs, you might as well just use butter. I'm hoping to give you a recipe for something that is less than 10,000 calories though.

Once your sauce is starting to bubble and boil a bit, make sure you want watching your heat. If it looks like it is really vigorously boiling, turn it down! You just want a gentle simmer. Now is a good time to think about seasoning the sauce. I love salt and pepper and you can usually get away with just that. If you like heat (which I do), now is a good time to add some cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper. If you have a fresh hot pepper, you could put it through a cheese grater and that will make a nice addition to the sauce. Anyway, do as you see fit on that front. Just remember that the more you cook something spicy, the less spicy it tends to get. If you're using fresh hot pepper, add them earlier. If you are using lame frank's red hot, just add it at the end.

Once you're done fiddling with all of this, cover your chicken in its sauce and tend to your rice. Get a nice big plate, and lay out the rice in a volcano shape, as if it were mashed potatoes and you were 10 years old. When the chicken thighs are done, you are going to put 1 or 2 of them in the volcano part of the rice mountain. This makes it look more appealing than just slapping the chicken onto a paper plate and diving in with a plastic fork.

Give it 20 minutes or so, covered and simmered, and check on your thighs. Cut one open and make sure that it is cooked 100 % through. I usually give myself the one that I cut in half, so everyone has the benefit of a nice presentation. Some people like it cut in half for them, though, so whatever you think is best probably is.

Don't forget to eat some vegetables too!

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