Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Test Kitchen

This is a new feature. I rarely make up my own recipes. To be blunt, I don't have the confidence. Cooks who can create, like my friend Claudia or the Iron Chefs on Food Network, blow me away. You need real talent and/or years of experience to turn a set of ingredients into something original and appetizing.

I think I'm like most cooks who find a recipe, try it and, if they like the result, adapt it to their particular taste or needs. So I'm constantly looking for new recipes, especially ones that can be done in 45 minutes or less. In this feature, I will rank recipes on four criteria: Overall; Difficulty; Expense and Time.

For my maiden run, I tried Chicken in Tomato Sauce with Kalamata Olives and Feta, a recipe on For the Love of Cooking, a blog I recently linked to with many recipes that fit my family's taste.

I used canned black olives instead of Kalamatas and three instead of four breasts, each trimmed of their tenders. I sliced the breasts into two pieces each with the thicker part a little smaller. I love garlic, but don't like too much, so I chopped one clove instead of three to four. Knowing how strong fennel seeds taste, I reduced to one teaspoon.

I followed the directions. As I expected it took a little longer to brown the chicken than the recipe says, about four to five minutes extra. One advantage of cutting the breasts in half was it allowed you to see their centers and monitor doneness.

I made the sauce using homemade broth. Once the chicken was done, I poured the sauce into the Dutch oven to reduce. After the requisite 10 minutes, it was still very soupy. It smelled wonderful, but the soupiness would clearly detract as well as make an unappetizing mess on the plate. I continued reducing about another 15 or so minutes until the tomatoes were pulpy with just a little liquid at the edges. I removed the smaller pieces with about five minutes to go so they wouldn't overcook.

I put the chicken in a serving dish, poured the sauce over it and put the feta on the side. Served over rice, it was outstanding. The sauce had a rich, tangy flavor. Every now and then a fennel seed exploded in your mouth, a perfect companion to the chicken and tomato sauce. The feta was the icing on the cake. The sharpness of the cheese really kicked the flavor to the next level.

My daughter had seconds, a rarity for chicken breasts (she much prefers thighs and legs).

Rankings based on one to five stars

Overall: ****

A wonderful dish, hearty and flavorful.

Difficulty: ***

A significant number of steps that require close attention. Not especially tough to execute, but demands attention to detail and adjustments.

Expense: ***

Chicken breasts are relatively cheap, as are canned tomatoes. If you have no fennel seeds, that's a one time expense.

Time: **

This recipe took significantly longer than the instructions said, about an hour. As much as I like it, it takes too long to add to my weekday menu.

Comment: Dusting the breasts in flour might improve this by holding in moisture, creating a pleasing crustiness and thickening the sauce faster.

1 comment:

  1. One trick I learned from watching the chef at my frat house was to keep a supply of roux on hand to thicken sauces or soups. I forget the proportions, but basically you cook flour and butter together as an almost dry paste, whisking constantly so it doesn't brown or burn. Then store it and add a spoonful or two to whatever needs thickening.