The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.

Potato Cake

Potato CakeWhat thrills me the most about potato cakes like this is the crispy top and creamy interior.  If you use good potatoes the flavor is unbeatable and if you are creative you can even layer the interior with things like roasted garlic, wilted onions, green onions or even chopped frozen broccoli that has been thawed and drained of excess moisture.

Yukon Golds
Yukon Golds

There are few products that I recommend, or in this case don’t recommend, and those are conventional potatoes and canned tomatoes.  I don’t like conventional potatoes because they spray them with an anti-sprouting spray which means they have a longer shelf life.  I don’t know if the spray is good for you or not but I want potatoes that aren’t far from the harvest because I want fresh potatoes.  They taste better and I know they do, it’s that simple.  Organic potatoes can’t lollygag around and therfore are generally fresh.

The two types of potato most readily available at most groceries that would work for this dish are Russet Burbanks(Idaho) or Yukon Golds.  Both brown up nicely and both create a creamy interior.

As for tomatoes, I don’t like canned tomatoes because the acid leaches out the chemical from the liner of the can.  I only by tomatoes in glass or those nifty carton type boxes.

Cost to make the potatoes:

  • one bag of organic russet potatoes $3.49 about 10 per bag or $1.75 
  • unsalted butter .10 cents
  • canola oil  and salt .10 cents

Total cost to make this dish: $1.95

Serves 4 as a side dish

5 good sized russet potatoes, scrubbed under cold water with a brush

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon canola oil

kosher salt

white pepper if you have it

1. Smear the bottom of a 10 inch non-stick skillet with soften butter.  Make sure to spread it evenly across the bottom.  Drizzle the oil into the pan too.

2. Slice the potatoes into very thin slices, a 1/16 of an inch would be great but no more then an 1/8 inch.

3. Starting in the middle of the pan spiral the potatoes by fanning them.  They should overlap about half the potato before them, if that makes since or you should cover the potato before the one you are putting into the pan by half by the one you are putting into the pan.

4. Lightly season each layer of potato with a pinch of salt.  Once the first layer is down you can layer the rest of the potatoes into the pan without detail to fanning them.

5. Heat the oven to 350˚ F.  Place the pan over medium heat to begin browning the bottom layer.  This always takes longer then I expect. I also have a baking stone that has a permanent spot in my oven so I also know then the pan goes into the oven it will continue to brown the potatoes.

6.  Once the bottom is browned nicely cover the pan and slide it into the oven.  Bake until the potatoes in the middle are tender.  Depending on how many layers you created anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes.

7. Remove the pan from the oven with a oven mitt or towel.  Place a pizza tray or the bottom of a sheet tray across the top of the pan.  In one swift motion invert the pan and tray.  Place the tray into the oven and let the cake bake another 5 to 10 minutes to crisp the top.  Serve.

Smothered Chicken

foodquarterlyServes 4

Smothered chicken makes for a comforting Sunday dinner.  It’s the kind of dinner that will bring the kids back on Sundays after they have left home to be on their own.  The combination of peppers, onions and celery (known as the trinity in cooking) is very warming and homey.

It is a great dish to serve over boiled rice and if you were to serve green beans and biscuits with it you would, or at least I would, be in heaven.

Cost to make this dinner entree:

  • package of 8 chicken thighs $4.83
  • 1 bunch of celery $1.29
  • 2 onions .74 cents
  • 1 head of garlic .49 cents
  • 1 bell pepper $1.00
  • Loose cost of vegetable oil, spices, salt and flour $1.00
  • Total cost to make the dinner: $9.35

For the spice mix:

2 tablespoons paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the chicken:

6 to 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

2 cups yellow onions, julienned

3/4 cups green bell peppers, julienned

3/4 cups celery, julienned

water

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons flour

vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1. Combine all the spice ingredients in a small bowl. Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and then with the spice mixture. You may or may not have extra spice depending on how heavy your hand is and whether or not you season 6 or 8 thighs.

2. Place a heavy, large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to the pan to easily coat the bottom completely. When it is hot add the thighs skin side down and brown them deeply. Once they are brown do the same to the other side.

3. Remove the thighs to a plate. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery to the pan. Season them with salt and pepper. If the pan is to hot turn down the heat and cook down the vegetables until they are brown and soft. Add the flour and sauté everything for a bit longer to cook out the flour flavor.

4. Add the garlic cloves and give the veggies a stir. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan and add enough water to cover the thighs by three quarters. The crispy tops should just be peeking out of the gravy. Add all but a tablespoon of the green onions to the sauce.

5. When the gravy comes to a boil reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, this should take about thirty minutes. Season the gravy, stir and taste.

6. If the gravy is reducing to fast and getting to thick add more water and stir.  If you added more water bring the sauce to a boil and serve.