Finally, a freakin’ chicken recipe! We’ve done clams, beef, pork, DUCK, Cornish hens, and now, finally, the humble chicken breast. Ahhh. And the menu is French. We are total Francophiles, especially The Husband, so let’s get to it.
Menu: Roast Chicken Breasts in Creamy Tarragon Sauce; Warm Lentils with Spinach; Caramelized Endive; Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce
The plan: Poach pears and make chocolate sauce (ruh roh); rub butter on chicken and roast, cook lentils; cook endive and make cream sauce; finish pears.
Chicken: The recipe calls for 4 12 oz chicken breasts; the ones I got were ENORMOUS, even though they supposedly weren’t factory chickens. Four of them ended up being 4 lbs, so I put one in the freezer. Left over chicken is fine, but that seemed like a ridiculous amount, and it wouldn’t all fit in the roasting pan, anyway.
*Random story diversion: When we lived in NYC, I was walking around our neighborhood when a little Dominican boy on a bike yelled at me, “You have big joombas (hoombas?)!” I went home and told The Husband and we laughed. Later in the week we went to the Dominican rotisserie place down the street, and he was trying to order a chicken breast from the cashier, who didn’t speak English. He couldn’t come up with the Spanish word for ‘breast,’ so he grabbed his chest and said, “Joombas?!” The clerk looked horrified and confused all at the same time. I don’t know how we figured it out, but we got the chicken and then took a short break from the place…
I mixed up a butter paste with chives, tarragon, salt and pepper and rubbed it in and under skin. Ick. I hate touching raw meat. Even washing it and drying it is gross. So I got that out of the way as quickly as possible, and then popped them in the oven to roast at 450 for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes the skin wasn’t even brown, so, I kept them in for a bit longer. Once the temp reached 160 I scooped out the fat and liquid from the roasting pan, and threw in a half cup of cream mixed with a quarter cup of stock and tarragon leaves (10 were prescribed), basted the chicken, then put it back in the oven until the sauce thickened slightly and boiled, about 5 minutes.
The results: Oh Em Gee, this was terrific! The chicken was nice and tender, and the skin finally browned after it was basted with the cream sauce. The tarragon and chives held onto the chicken in clumps and was very flavorful. Tarragon is hit or miss with me, as sometimes it tastes too licorice-y. But this worked quite well! The Husband LOVED the sauce. LOVED. IT. He said, “This is almost as good as Julia Child’s,” which is about as high praise as any he will give. He suggested we get a tub of the sauce. He likes pretty much any combination of crème and l’Estragon, so it was no surprise he liked it. But he LOVED it.
Here is where I admit that I used dried, not fresh herbs, in this. Imagine how much better it would have been? Is that even possible?
Endive: First off, do you pronounce endive as EN-dive, or as ohn-DEEV? We’ve been doing it the second way, but then we giggle, so maybe we aren’t as fancy as we think. (Hey, Nancy: “I dropped the ohn-DEEV in the FOY-yay!”)
I shopped at Fresh Market this week, because I was in the neighborhood and knew they’d have an assortment of pears and the lentils I needed. I didn’t see any endive at first, which surprised me, but then I spotted a box on the shelf, and inside was some endive wrapped in paper. I wasn’t sure if they were throwing it out or putting in on display, because it was pretty anemic looking. Well, even more anemic than usual, I should say. The recipe called for four, but they were $2 each, and I thought it seemed insane to spend $8 on endive for two people, when I didn’t even know if it would be good as left overs. So, I bought the most decent one and that’s that. The recipe does say you can substitute shallots or fennel. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yes?
Results: I misread the directions and put these in the oven too late. The chicken was done, but these, and the lentils, still had a long time to cook. I forgot to get sherry vinegar, so I used balsamic. It was horrendously bitter. AGAIN. I really don’t want to waste any more time or analogies on her bitter winter green recipes.
Lentils and Spinach : This is one of our favorite combinations, so I was eager to try Martha’s version. If you haven’t discovered French green lentils (or lentils du Puy) you must buy some immediately. They hold up to cooking much better than ordinary brown lentils, and have a meatier taste. J’adore!
They can be found in the bulk aisle at places like Ellwood Thompsons or Whole Foods, and some supermarkets carry them bagged. The ones I bought this time are labeled as French Green Lentils/Lentejas Verdes Francesas. I thought that was a little odd, since usually they are labeled with their French aka. This wasn’t the brand I had purchased at Fresh Market in the past.
The recipe calls for boiling/simmering a cup of lentils with two celery stalks, two shallots, and two cloves of garlic, all chopped fine, until the lentils are tender. Then the lentils are drained,dressed with two tablespoons of olive oil, added to baby spinach to wilt it, and then topped with salt and pepper.
The results: The lentils must have been old, because they took quite a long time to turn tender. They also lacked the smokiness that this type of lentils usually has. Next time I am getting the bulk lentils at Whole Foods, as those are the best I’ve tried.
In all, this dish was very bland and quite disappointing. It seemed to enrage The Husband a bit; he went off on how Martha shouldn’t have published a recipe without sufficient seasoning. Yes, the chicken should be the star of the show, but this was just blah. I wonder if sautéing the garlic and shallots first would have helped. Now we have a giant bowl of bland left over lentils to deal with. I am thinking of adding some capers and some other stuff to pump it up. Or maybe some curry powder and caramelized onion.
Poached pears: More booze! The recipe calls for four Forelle pears. Seriously? I have never seen this breed. Breed isn’t right, is it? Variety! Whatever. They had the back-up Comice pears but they were hard as rocks, so I got two giant red pears instead. They might not work right, but let’s be honest; I was merely planning to Hoover up the Riesling and nibble on the pear enough to review it.
To make the pears, I had to peel them then core them from the bottom, which wasn’t as easy as you might think since the seeds were pretty far up. They were boiled with a mixture of water, Riesling, light brown sugar, and a vanilla bean whose seeds had been scraped into the pan, then simmered with a circle of parchment paper resting atop the pears in the pan. Unspeakably precious.
After the pears are tender, they, and the vanilla beans, are removed. The liquid is supposed to reduce and turn into a light syrup after 10 minutes of boiling, but after nearly 30 it was reduced by more than half and it wasn’t anything close to what I could call a syrup, so I gave up. I mixed in some bittersweet chocolate to make a sauce, and then kept it warm on the stove, per Martha’s instructions, and it got grainy.
The Husband hates “quitting,” so later on he attempted to fix the sauce. We had more than half of the poaching liquid left, so he added some vanilla sugar, and boiled it until it finally turned a tad syrupy. It was reduced down about 90%, then he added the chocolate. It was lovely–the chocolate tasted like it had been infused with pear, and had a nice round, not overly sweet, taste.
I can’t eat chocolate without getting a migraine lately, so I only ate the tiniest bite of this with sauce. Neither one of us is a huge chocolate and fruit fan, but this was really quite good. The Husband said if he got it in a restaurant he would be very happy.
Not pretty. (ETA: I have been informed it looks like a turd, but isn’t the plate cute? )We would serve it to company if we could plate it better :
Also, a note on the delicious Riesling we bought to use in the recipe and have with our lunch. (Yes, we just ate this for Sunday brunch, and I am not sorry!) We are big Riesling fans, and this one, Bex, is from Pfalz, Germany and was very dry and quite lovely. We’ll be getting it again.
It’s more photogenic than the pear, too:
The chicken was so good that I am left feeling happy after the meal, even though 1/2 of it totally underwhelmed us.
It took about an hour and forty minutes to complete, not counting the pear reduction.
Endive: The Husband says, “Since we didn’t use the required vinegar, I can’t grade this, but I can put some tarragon cream sauce on it!”
Spinach and Lentils: F/C The Husband has given Martha an F for her lack of efforts to season this dish, but the actual taste gets a C. Nothing special. But it’s also helped by tarragon cream sauce.
Poached Pear: Cooked per Martha’s recipe: The Husband said it would be a D if a coworker had given us the recipe, but “since she’s a professional, who gets all that money for publishing cookbooks, it’s a big fat F- -, for imprecision and bad advice”
The final version, as completed by The Husband, earns this an A.
Next week is the most random of random menus she has ever put together. There are chicken livers in the freezer, waiting.