Barley Salad with Kalamata Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Parsley

I have cooked with whole grains for a long time.  My fascination began, simply enough, with bulgur wheat used to make tabouleh.  It was a gateway to all sorts of other grains; winter wheat, soft summer wheat, oat groats, farro,  you get the idea.  There are lots of grains readily available that a few short years ago were very difficult to locate.  A good earthy health food store went a long way to rectifying the shortage but now about every food store carries some sort of whole grain. Continue reading →

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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.

Sautéed Chicken with Pepperoni and Olives

I can tell you, with great certainty, how good a restaurant is going to be by the temperature of their plates.  If I get a stone cold plate with hot food chances are the dinner will be average.  If I get a cold salad on a warm plate just out of the dish machine, again, I know the rest of my dinner has more of a chance being bad then good.  It tells me whether or not the kitchen cares.

When I worked in commercial kitchens it was a bone of contention with me and those who worked for me.  Your plates needed to be hot for hot food and cold for cold food, period.

There was a time at home, back before we had kids, when I would always warm our plates in the oven.  Probably sounds completely retentive, for all I know it might be, but I have never really given a rats butt what others think.  I did it because my wife and I enjoyed being at the table together, taking our time eating, and having some quality conversation.  Hots plates keeping your food warm is a nice touch.

We had this for dinner the other day, I warmed the plates.

Serves 2

olive oil

2 each 6 ounce boneless skinless chicken breast

1/4 cup pepperoni, 1/4 inch dice

1/4 cup Picholine olives, pitted and halved

1/4 cup tomato, diced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1 tablespoon currants

2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt. 

2. Place a heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot but not smoking add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Gently lay the chicken breast, what would be skin side down, into the pan being careful not to splash hot oil.

3. Brown the chicken on both sides.  Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil from burning.  Once both sides have caramelized remove them to a plate or pan and let them rest.  Pour out any excess grease.

4. Meanwhile put the pan back on the heat and add the pepperoni, olives and tomato.  Stir and toss it around until fragrant then add the white wine to deglaze the pan.   Using a wooden spoon scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Once the wine has reduced by half add the pine nuts and currants.

5. Give everything a stir and then place the breast back into the pan.  If the liquid in the pan seems at all dry add a 1/4 cup of water.  Braise the breast until they are cooked through which shouldn’t be long if you browned them well.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, add the parsley and stir to combine. 

6. Place the chicken breast onto warm plates skin side up,  top with the sauce, serve immediately.