June 9, 2009
by Gareth Mark
I had just finished breaking down a chicken for a photo session when I realized that it was time to eat. Fortunately, I had some chicken on the cutting board. A quick trip to the pantry for inspiration yielded sweet Marsala wine and veal demiglace. Sometimes you need to test recipes a lot to get them right. Other times you can just throw something together and it's virtually perfect.
First, I prepped the chicken breasts. Bone-in and skin on is the juiciest way to prepare chicken breasts, but I'd deboned and removed the skin on the breasts for photos, so boneless, skinless chicken breasts seemed an excellent choice. A quick rinse and pat dry with a paper towel, then salt and pepper (3 kinds) completed the prep.
I try never to start cooking without thinking things through and getting organized. While the chicken rested for a few minutes, I prepared my mise en place: slice some onion and crimini mushrooms; have a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter ready for the pan; pour a couple tablespoons of marsala into a prep bowl so I won't be pouring alcohol from a bottle into a hot pan; make sure to have a tablespoon or so of demiglace ready. Okay, I'm set and I have a plan.
When I'm doing classes and demos, I hear lots of questions about food sticking to the pan. I rarely have that problem, and here's why. First, I let the protein I'm cooking come to room temperature or as near to it as 30 minutes sitting out will do. Then I put some fat in the pan, usually olive oil, butter, or both. Then I preheat the pan--never preheat an empty pan, it can burn. The pan is ready when the oil shimmers or the butter foams. Only then do I put the protein into the pan.
Patience is a virtue when cooking. It's really important to wait until the protein is ready before turning it. With most meats you'll be able to see that the color has changed. Turn it once and let it finish. The small bits that cling to the pan are what makes sauces so flavorful.
When the chicken is almost done, lift it out and set it aside, covered. If you cover it, residual heat will finish the cooking. Add butter and maybe a bit of olive oil to the pan and sauté the mushrooms and onions. Be sure to add salt and pepper.
Push the mushrooms and onions to one side of the pan and deglaze with marsala. Be sure to keep your face back when pouring the wine into the hot pan just in case it ignites. Wine rarely ignites, but there's really no point in taking the risk. Stir in the demiglace, mix everything nicely, and taste. It's probably just fine, but taste it to make sure and adjust the seasoning, as necessary.
Plate the chicken, add a nice potato gratin and salad greens dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette, then spoon the marsala sauce over the chicken. And that's how I paid the photographer. Thanks, Dad!