Seared Chicken Breasts with Perfect Pan Sauce

Phot credit - Food Lab, a great recipe source!
Phot credit – Food Lab, a great recipe source!

I’ve known how to make great seared chicken breasts for many years, but always found the sauce too thin and runny, even when I allowed extra time for reduction or finished with an extra dollop butter.  But when I ordered the same dish at a decent restaurant, the sauce was always beautifully thick and satisfying.  So I asked if the chef would share his/her secret.  Here’s what came back – add gelatin!

I tested it, and then googled it and found the Food Lab’s recipe (click image above to open in new window), and compared both versions.  I share the highly satisfying result with you here.

Ingredients:

  • One boneless chicken breast per person (this assures leftovers) – I prefer skin on – allowed to dry in refrigerator for at least four hours, or overnight.
  • ½ cup dry white wine, unoaked or lightly oaked
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1½ tsp powdered gelatin (tapioca powder also works)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (about one clove)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • Fresh herbs, minced (any or all of chives, parsley, tarragon and chervil)

Procedure
With oven rack placed at center height, pre-heat oven to 450.  Liberally season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. 

Combine wine and chicken stock and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Set aside.

Heat a wide, flat, oven-proof skillet (stainless steel, if you have it) over medium high for 3-4 minutes; add the oil and then the chicken breasts, skin-side down.  RESIST touching the chicken for about five minutes, then check on progress – flip the breasts when the skin is deep golden brown, usually about six minutes if your heat is right.  After flipping, transfer your skillet to the oven.

When a thermometer (inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breast) registers an internal temperature of 150 degrees (6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the poultry), place the skillet on a burner and transfer chicken to a cutting board to rest before carving.

Pour off all but ~1 Tbsp of chicken fat from the skillet, then set your fire to high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and stir until fragrant – just 30 seconds or so.  Add the stock/wine/gelatin mixture and deglaze the pan, stirring up any of the fond – the brown bits from the chicken.  Reduce by 2/3 (4-6 minutes, depending on your heat) then finish your sauce by whisking in the butter and soy, cooking for several seconds at a high boil until emulsified.  Remove from heat, stir in the minced herbs, and add any salt/pepper to taste.

Slice the chicken breasts into ¾ inch slices and transfer the whole breast to individual plates, overlapping the slices before spooning on the sauce.  Serve with choice of potatoes and green vegetable. 

Difficulty: Easy-Medium.  Time required: 45-60 minutes, depending on wine consumption.

Wine Pairing: This dish is rich enough to compliment medim-full bodied white wines, most Rosés, and even light reds such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or lighter Zins.

Variations: this basic recipe can be taken in a million different directions.  Think about adding sautéed mushrooms to pull it in an earthy direction, or dried cherries/cranberries for a sweet/savory direction.  Pound out the breasts and add lemon and capers and you’ve got Piccata.  Or add a bit of cumin, raisins and pine nuts and head towards Morocco!

What Wine Pairs With Spring Salads?

White wines with Spring salds

Spring arrived early this year.  And though I am covering my optimism with some naked puts on late frosts, we are enjoying our warm spring weather as we live in denial of California’s ongoing drought.

One of the early indicators of Spring at our olive ‘farm’ in Boonville is the arrival of Miner’s Lettuce (AKA Winter Purslane.  See photo.) along or walking route on Anderson Valley Way.  Foraging for this tasty but short-lived treat has become part of our seasonal ritual.  Dress these greens very simply with a squeeze of lemon, our Lila Farms EVOO and a bit of crunchy, flaky sea salt – our favorite comes from Mendocino’s Bob La Mar, or simply “Captain Bob’s” in our household.

We’ve harvested many baskets worth of Miner’s Lettuce over the past few years.  It has a thicker texture than most lettuces, with less veins and more leaf.  One might say it’s meaty in its texture, though that description seems a bit lacking – the flesh of an animal used to describe a vegetarian delight?  Maybe it’s best described as just this side of baby spinach, with the hopes that you know what that delight is like.  But don’t steam or saute this treat or you’ll miss it’s toothiness.

Recommended Wine Pairing
The wine to pair with Miner’s Lettuce doesn’t differ all that much from the wines that pair with most spring salads.  Spring greens exude an enthusiasm for life, a fresh greeniness that the wine needs to compliment.  For this reason, and I hate to dissapoint the “I drink red with everything” crowd, you really must eschew anything with more than a tint of color.  Crisp, dry Rose’s work well.  Heavy Chardonnay does not, Chablis-style does.  Sauvignon Blanc is brilliant, though the extreme versions from New Zealand would over-power.  Crisp whites from Northern Italy or Iberia are brilliant.  But, when are they not?

A Word on Acidity
Salad dressing is the one ingredient that ruins most wine pairings, so the wise host will focus the wine choice around the dressing.  Here’s your fool-proof guide – pair acid with acid.  In other words, if you have a dressing that features vinegar or citric acid, ask your local fine wine merchant for a white wine with similar acidity.  Because the wine world has its own vocabulary, you might hear words such as “Crisp” and “good structure” or “acidic backbone” when referring to such wines.  

Happy Merchant Cropped for webCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Combining Food and Wine: Basic Guidelines

wine & food guidelinesBy Lily McCann

Food and drink articles and programs often stress the importance of combining food with the right type of wines. There can sometimes be an element of snobbery attached to this subject.  At the end of the day, enjoying food and wine is a subjective experience and people can try and enjoy any combination that suits them.  That said, understanding the basic principles of matching food and wine may help you find some combinations you really enjoy.

Staying local
Traditional advice is to combine regional wines with authentic local dishes and this is a wisdom that rarely fails. Claret or Rioja with roasted lamb, or Muscadet with fresh shell-fish are classic combinations and their success outlines some of the principles that can guide the best pairings of food and wine.

Balancing food and wine
Ensuring that food and wine have a similar weight or presence is often advised. Delicate dishes go better with lighter wines while rich foods fare better with something bigger. This is where the age-old ideas of matching fish with white wine and red meats with red wines come from. Chicken and pork will usually work with both, depending on the sauce they are cooked in. Of course these rules are there to be broken – fish can be enjoyed with red wine but ideally a wine low in tannin and high in acid such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Bardolino, and even then, the pairing is best when the fish is rich in oil and flavor.  Cooking the fish with tomato and olive also strengthens the flavor bridge to these red wines.

Acidity 
Crisp, unoaked white wines are generally seen as a good accompaniment to shellfish and fish dishes. This is even truer with fish served with a wedge of lemon because the citric acid in the lemon increases the acidity in the dish. And a good rule of thumb with wine and food parings is to match acidic dishes with acidic wines.  Wines with marked acidity include dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or other white wines from oceanic growing regions.  Oh, and preferably unoaked wines – oak flavors fight with the briny flavors of these fish and seafoods.

One other thing to keep in mind, two of the most overlooked and food-friendly wines on the market are dry Rosès and Sparkling wines.  Both contain enough acidity to refresh your palate between bites, and enough body to complement your food.

Red wine and meat
Many red wines are loaded with tannins that leave the palate dry and almost gritty.  They also overpower the flavor of many foods. Choosing foods that provide a protein or cream barrier are ways to compliment this trait. Tannin wants to latch onto the nearest available protein and if nothing else is available, gums and teeth will do! Occupying the tannin with the fat molecules from a good steak or rare cooked lamb will mop up the tannin in a young Claret or Cabernet, giving a softer and sweeter edge to the wine.

Soft, creamy cheeses can perform a similar task, providing a coat of fat and protein on the palate. Conversely, hard cheeses are less efficient at doing this, and tend not to pair as well with tannic red wines. A diet of red meat, red wine and soft cheese may not be the healthiest way to eat every day, but there are plenty of healthy living blogs such as those highlighted by KwikMed that will provide a range of lower fat recipes using these foods that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

For other meats such as chicken and pork which are well cooked in roasts or casseroles, try rich white wines or livelier, fruitier red wines with softer tannins.

Fusion foods
Fusion foods are arguably responsible for the breakdown in the traditional food and wine partnerships. The inventive combinations of flavors and ingredients from different parts of the world can leave wine drinkers wondering where to start. The only way to work out the best wine for a fusion dish is to look at what it contains in the way of acidity, sweetness, protein and heat and go from there. Spicier dishes are best combined with off-dry and unoaked white wines and sometimes pair well with softer red wines. If a dish has a lot of sweetness to it, try and find a wine with even greater sweetness. It’s a difficult task and even the best food and wine experts can struggle to match complex fusion dishes with a suitable wine.

Enjoy it!
As stated above, the most important thing is always to enjoy your food and wine however you choose to combine them. Even if you make a particular effort to match food and wine you will still probably get it wrong on occasions. Try and keep a note of combinations that have worked well for you and understand why the worked. If you can build up a good repertoire of food and drink combinations that you enjoy, you can return to them whenever you like.  Or you can choose to branch out and be a bit more adventurous.  Who knows? as Dave the Wine Merchant says in his tagline, you might just “Discover your next favorite!”

Wine-Friendly Recipe: Robust Red & Goat Cheese Lamb Burgers

Bistro RalphI took my first of many wine vacations in 1988.  I was staying in what was then the small town of Healdsburg, quaintly nestled in Sonoma.  When it came time for dinner, the owners of the Camelia Inn B&B directed me  to one of the few restaurants in town back then – Bistro Ralph.  I’ve been in love with that place ever since.

I recently introduced some friends to Bistro Ralph, where we shared a leisurely lunch.  The combination of this lamb burger and the Rhone wine we selected was so memorable, it’s become one of my favorite easy meals.

This recipe originally appeared in the December, 2008 shipment to our club members.  It played chaperon to a bottle of the Tous les Jours syrah from Andrew Murray Vineyards, and that youthful wine remained well behaved under its careful tutelage.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)
Olive oil
1 Red onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Goat cheese, or to taste
1 ½ – 2 Lbs ground lamb
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cumin
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt, to taste
4 -6 Good buns
1-2 Heads Bibb lettuce

Procedure
Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat until hot, add the olive oil then the onion.  Sauté until well caramelized and dark but not crispy – 10-15 minutes.  Add the balsamic and integrate well, remove from heat and add the goat cheese. Stir to coat and melt slightly. Set aside. Can be re-heated

In a large bowl, combine minced garlic, thyme, cumin, pepper, and salt. Add the ground lamb and combine. Be careful not to over-handle the meat (and I caution those of you with dirty minds to get them out of the gutter right now) or the consistency of your burger will be mushy.

Form 4 patties, each about 3/4 inch thick. Place on a medium-high grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side, or broil or sauté for ~5 minutes per side.

Brush buns with olive oil, toast slightly, scrape once with a peeled garlic clove, and set aside.

Assembly – Place burger on bun, top with lettuce, then with onions.  Spread goat cheese on underside of top bun, pour a glass of wine, and call me if this isn’t transcendent.

Wine Pairings
For my recommended Syrah and other Rhone Varietals, click here
For Zinfandels, click here
For Pinot Noir, click here
And if your idea of the perfect red wine is Cabernet, click here

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com