Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A sour dinner story (with a happy ending)

It was late. I got home and fell asleep on the couch, but when I woke up - I still had to make dinner and do the dishes. I was feeling pretty sour and it showed.

The chicken was completely thawed and downright weepy in its own wrapping. I didn't care and rinsed it throughly under cold water. It was pretty slimy, but still fresh. I slammed it onto a clean plate, where my attentions seemed to just make it weep a bit more. I ignored it.

Leeks and I just don't know each other well; and maybe this was not the best way to introduce ourselves. They were cold and hard from the fridge. I got rid of their tough green leaves, leaving the whites to chill on the chopping block. Once quartered and rinsed, they were starting to open up, despite my sour mood.

I could still tell there was some dirt yet undiscovered amongst their many layers. Another rinse or two made sure I had the whole story.

I quartered the quarters and then began the laborious process of dicing them as finely as my chef's knife would allow. As the cutting board got full, I put the remains of my work into a small bowl to one side. As I went the leaks began to weep a bit, making them clingy. They clung to the knife, so I scraped them off. When they clung to my hands - I used the knife to scrape them off again. They sat in the bowl, resentful. I worked over all chunks, bringing them down to size. By the time I was done, my arms were tired.

With them set aside, I took out the butter and cut two portions of roughly 2 tablespoons each from the block. The butter was soft and willing. I threw one portion casually into a hot pan, and it danced with joy. I added the leaks once the butter was exhausted, and stired them both briskly around the pan until the butter and the leaks merged into one.

I let them sit in the hot pan for 5 minutes or so while I did dishes.

My chicken broth was so uptight it had gelled, so I was unable to measure it exactly - but ended up dumping a cup into the leaks, rather than the 1/2 cup that the recipe called for. The heat made it relax, and it began to mix with the leaks without my forcing the issue. To that I added a big pinch of thyme, some freshly ground pepper and some salt. The herbs mixed with the broth made a heavenly scent that almost covered the strong oniony smell of the leaks.

To this I added a few shots of lemon juice, just to sour the mood. The chicken went in atop the bed of wilted leaks, and sat proudly there, no longer weeping. I dumped their water into the pan and closed the lid.

Ten minutes later the chicken were truely steamed. I took them out and set them on a clean plate beside the stove to cool down. I then pulled all the sauce out of the pan and beat it into submission. The smooth pale yellow sauce that resulted definitely showed the presence of lemon, but it smelled of thyme, pepper and leak.

The sauce (and a good helping of white wine) went back into the pan, and the chicken were carefully covered. The heat went up and I covered the pan once more to bring everyone back up to temperature.

I served it with steamed peas (microwaved with a bit of water), and brown rice. The rice was bland in comparison, but the sauce was delicious. So much so, I'm having this version of lemony chicken for lunch.

Lemony chicken
Recipe by Mark Bittman.
4 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, washed and well diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
parsley, minced fresh (garnish)

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until softened (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add the stock and thyme.
  4. Bring the dish to a boil and allow it to bubble for a minute, or two.
  5. Ad the chicken.
  6. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the meat is just cooked through (about 5 to 6 minutes).
  7. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
  8. Turn the heat to high and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until 3/4 of a cup remains (about 10 minutes).
  9. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice.
  10. Add the remaining butter slowly, stirring all the while.
  11. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the sauce to heat through.
  12. Serve over rice.

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