Tonight I did something I haven’t done in awhile: I made dinner for myself. And something happened that hasn’t happened in even longer: it was delicious. (I’ve had some …. mishaps. lately. Don’t sub lemon juice from the bottle for lemon juice from the lemon, guys. Just trust me on this one.)
I actually prefer cooking to baking, though you’d never know it from this blog. Cooking was how I first found my way to the stove as an adult-type-person. Cooking makes more intuitive sense to me than baking, and I get more satisfaction from a well-made dinner than from a well-baked dessert due to the greater potential for innovation in the dinner. (Yes, I know you can innovate with baked goods, but it’s a fuckton harder. You need to learn all the rules and figure out every ingredient’s chemical purpose, and I’d like to but I’m a bum. Maybe someone should buy me a book.) The thing is, you see, I live with my parents, who are lovely kind people who do things like make or provide dinner most every night. So when I was working until 6 PM every night, their ability to feed me upon arrival home vastly outweighed my desire to cook. (I’m laid off for the summer, so hopefully I will be less of a bum and start cooking more again. If I do, you’ll hear about it.) But my parents were out tonight, and in the spirit of being less of an unemployed hobo, I decided to forage.
What I wound up making – an awesome chicken dish that I’m going to provide you with the recipe in a minute, chill out – is a testament to the importance of reading better cooks in your personal learning process. Before I started reading food blogs, I could never have put together a dish like this. It’s not that this was a particularly complicated dish, because it wasn’t. It’s that the techniques involved, though simple, were unfamiliar to me because they’re not how my family cooks. My parents roast or grill meat (yes, we grill year-round, and no, I don’t recommend this if you don’t have a back deck), and the meat, vegetable and starch components of a meal usually come to the table separately. There are a few one-pot meals in their repertoire, but it’s just not their style. Don’t get me wrong, their style is fucking delicious. It is just not the world’s most diverse. But because I’ve spent a few years now reading about food every single day, I’ve learned all sorts of new techniques without even practicing them. I’ve learned to think about flavors more harmoniously. In a nutshell, I am learning how to do the thing I’ve always thought of as the mark of a Good Fucking Cook: open the (reasonably well-stocked) fridge and find dinner. And that’s thanks to, among others, Adam, and Jenny and Andy, and even fucking Ree, with all her faults and foibles. (This might be a good time to tell you guys that I am working on a food-blog-review series of posts! Look for them soon. They are gonna be sweet.)
So let me tell you about the meal I made. And along the way, I’ll point out to you techniques that I’ve only learned since reading food blogs. This recipe was very seat-of-the-pants, and along the way there are any number of ways you could do it differently and probably somewhat more sensibly; I will indicate those moments too. Finally, when I cook on my own I don’t measure. Obviously. I will try to estimate quantities along the way.
Chicken (you could use whatever you want here, really. we had cutlets, they cook up fast, and I like working with them because I hate negotiating bone-in meats outside of the grilled-or-roasted context. but do you.)
Oil I used canola, because I’m a rebel. Against … myself. Let’s not discuss it.
White wine which I never cook with, because my mom can’t have yeast, but I was inspired. you could probably sub chicken or vegetable broth. if I make this again I might.
Orange juice your chosen level of pulp.
Red onion not white or yellow.
Start with a pot. Put oil in the pot, enough to coat the bottom but not much more. I used canola, for no reason I can intelligently defend; olive would be fine. Olive is what I’d usually use, but for some reason I’m feeling proprietary about the use of neutral oil in this recipe. (Knowledge of the existence of neutral oils: food blogs.) Go figure. So, canola oil.
Put the pot over high heat and let the oil get hot. I made an error and did it over medium, again for no reason I can intelligently defend. So when I put in my chicken pieces – the next step! I used four and built this recipe around four, so all amounts given are roughly for four – they didn’t brown at first. They just sort of … whited. So I turned up the heat under the oil, which started to sizzle and go crazy and get fucking everywhere because the meat I was using wasn’t fully defrosted and was releasing lots of water and ice and fun stuff into the oil. You should prooooobably use fully defrosted meat. But I never have the patience or foresight.
So now you’re browning the chicken on both sides. You can, at this point, salt and pepper it right into the pot, or you can be sensible and salt and pepper it before you put it into the pot. I was not sensible. (The up side of salt and peppering the chicken in the pot is that the salt and pepper also get cooked into the oil, increasing your flavor base.) I plead with you: use good salt and good pepper. Morton’s is for pasta water and baking, seriously, do not cook with it. I used pink Himalayan sea salt for this because we have it and it’s delicious, but you should probably not run out to Williams-Sonoma and get pink Himalayan sea salt. Kosher salt is fine and is what I usually use.
ANYWAY. If you’re using cutlets, 2 – 3 minutes per side should do it. I’m gonna be honest: I have no idea why we sear meat, or why we like to do it such that it browns and develops a nice color. My parents say it’s to seal in moisture, which makes sense. Ree says it creates “flavor,” but Ree has a brain the size of a walnut and tends to describe anything she does as being for the purpose of flavor, be it searing meat or using thirteen sticks of butter in a recipe. Anyway, I don’t know why we do it, but everyone in the blog world does it, and it does make the meat look nice if you don’t fuck it up. Plus it creates crispy bits, and I basically live for crispy bits. And the crispy bits help develop your flavor base! In case you couldn’t tell, this recipe is all about flavor base.
So. Chicken. Salt and pepper. Brown. Both sides. 2 – 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
Now you’ve got a pot of hot oil and lots of stuff on the sides and bottom from your chicken-browning experiment. Turn the oil down to medium so you don’t totally terrify your aromatics, which you’re gonna add next. Prior to this conversation we’re having, you chopped up about half a biggish red onion into large strips and diced a couple cloves of garlic (I used four). Go ahead and add them to the oil, stirring them around so they don’t get totally burned and upset by the hot oil, and then add your white wine and STEP BACK. It’s gonna steam like mad and bubble like mad as the alcohol cooks off, and you don’t wanna be there for that. It’ll hurt your face. (I actually did not learn that from hurt-face experience for once.) Once the bubbling and steaming has gone down to a dull roar, begin furiously deglazing. Deglazing, for those of you who do not know, is using liquid + a whisk or other good tool to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom and sides of the pan and into the sauce. They will help provide the base for the flavor you’re creating. (Knowledge of deglazing: food blogs. Knowledge of building flavor bases: food blogs.)
Now, the sauce is basically white cooking wine + orange juice, and you’re looking for equal parts white wine and orange juice. (Idea of and knowledge of how to make pan sauce: food blogs.) I would say I used about 3/4 cup of each? Either way, use equal amounts. Once you’ve furiously deglazed with the white wine, add the orange juice and let it all cook for a minute or two.
I wanna take a sec and talk about the orange juice. My inspiration for using the orange juice came from two places: this completely outstanding recipe, which I got from a food blog and uses orange juice as the entire liquid component of its pan sauce, and from thinking about flavors and harmony. As I said, I chose to use red onion instead of white for this recipe, largely because we had a whole bunch of it half-sliced. Red onions are sharper than white or yellow when they’re raw, but they cook up sweeter. Because I knew I was working with a sweeter ingredient, it made sense to use a sweeter liquid. So: orange juice. (Thinking about flavors in this manner: enhanced by food blogs.)
After a minute or two, you can go ahead and put the chicken back in the pan. You’re going to finish its cooking in the pan at the same time as the sauce thickens. (Finishing meat in pan sauces: food blogs.) Now you can add the sriracha! I probably used about two tablespoons. The nice thing about cooking the sriracha into the sauce rather than finishing the dish with it is that it becomes part of the flavor base. So rather than being smacked in the mouth with fire, the heat of the hot sauce is a slow burn that builds bite by bite. I find this to be a very pleasant flavor and sensation! If you don’t, you’re probably reading the wrong shit, here.
At this point, cook it till it’s done – 5 – 6 more minutes is sufficient – and with 2 – 3 minutes left, throw in the green beans. I do not think they are the most harmonious flavor for this dish, but they are delicious and we had them and they added some sorely needed nutrition to the dish (and as you guys know, I’m a nut for nutrition.) And seriously, taste it and adjust seasonings to taste. Do this and you will rarely go wrong. (Knowledge of tasting as you go: my dad. Let’s get real here.)