Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Chicken

Three surefire signs of Spring?
1. Daffodils
2. Longer days
3. Budding trees

There's just that vibe of rebirth in the air. And I wanted to make something that felt like a Spring celebration — both for my eyes and my mouth. And this is it. I'm calling it my Spring Chicken.

Actually, it's really Grace Parisi's Spring Chicken, although she officially calls hers Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas.

It's a simple yet elegant — and definitely Spring-like— dish. The pop of green made me smile. And smelling it cooking made me smile. And eating it really made me smile.

Grace Parisi is a senior recipe developer at Food & Wine, my favorite cooking magazine. She authors the What to Cook Next column, and over the years I feel like she's become my trusted cooking advisor. She's like an old friend you can always count on. Without fail her recipes delight. They're straight-forward to cook and you know it's going to turn out delicious. They often become my standbys. Frankly, she's dependable. And that counts for a lot in my (cooking) book.

So when she "told" me that this dish was elegant enough to entertain with and easy enough to make on a weeknight, I believed her without hesitation—even though I've never braised something in vinegar, and white balsamic vinegar at that, and it was a Tuesday. And as expected, once again, she delivered. So pull out that boneless, skinless chicken breast from your freezer, along with the bag of peas you've probably had in there for months (if you're like me), invite some friends over, whip this up, and lick your lips as you savor each delicious bite and rave review.

Happy Spring and Happy (Early) Easter!

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas
from Food & Wine

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts*
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-in pieces
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
10 oz package of frozen baby peas
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (not fat-free)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season generously the chicken with salt and pepper.

2. In a large skillet, heat half the oil and butter over medium-high heat and brown the chicken breasts on each side (about 5 minutes total). Note, you may have to do this in two batches if you don't have a skillet large enough to accommodate all the breasts at once.

3. In a second skillet (or I guess you could clean the one you used for the chicken if you didn't want to multi-task), heat the remaining oil and butter and cook the leeks over medium-high heat until just beginning to soften, about 2-4 minutes. Add the broth and vinegar and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a medium roasting pan.

4. Set the chicken breasts onto the leeks and roast for about 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. It may take closer to 30 minutes if the breasts are pretty large. If you're nervous about the chicken drying out, you may want to cover the pan with aluminum foil for the last 5-10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a rimmed serving platter.

5. Place the roasting pan over a burner and boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the peas, herbs and crème fraîche and simmer until the sauce is hot and slightly thickened, about 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

*Note: This recipe originally called for 8 whole chicken legs (cut halfway through the joint). If you use those, you'll simply cook the chicken skin side up on high heat for 5 minutes. Turn the cook the chicken for another minute. Follow the rest of the recipe except you'll cook in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.

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