Chicken with Shallots

Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts.  So now that I’ve got the essentials down it’s time to branch out. I’ll choose a recipe from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

 Chicken with Shallots | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken with Shallots | Image: Laura Messersmith

Episode: “Make It Fast”

The Set-up: Ina shares some of her best recipes and tips for a quick dinner party.

The Menu: Roasted Salmon with Green Herbs, Chicken with Shallots, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Sugar Snap Peas, Haricot Vert with Herb Butter

0:53 – The first recipe up is Roasted Salmon with Green Herbs and I can tell this is going to be a speedy one, the up tempo “getting things done” music is in the background.

1:02 – Pro Tip #1: Outsource. Ina asked to have the salmon skin removed at the fish counter. This is a good call; presumably their fish handling skills are better than mine (middling to poor at best!)

1:58 – Now for the green herbs. Ina does not recommend trying to pick off the parsley leaves one by one. “You’ll go crazy!” She doesn’t say specifically, but I think this advice stands whether you’re in a hurry or not. We all have better things to do, yes?

2:32 – I agree with Ina that the orange of the fish (aka salmon colored) does look really nice with the bright green herbs. And, she says that since the cooking time is short (10 minutes) they should keep their vibrant color.

3:07 – Now we’re getting a table setting lesson from Ina’s friend William Yeoward a stylist and designer who also has a shop and showroom in London.

3:23 – Over in the U.K. William gives us 5 tips for setting a “lovely table.” One: potted plants instead of cut flowers, two: pre-set small snacks like breadsticks, three: a pitcher of water with mint and lime, four: assemble small picnic bags with the place settings and ask your guests to set their own five: give the cloth bag to your guests as a party gift.

4:55 – I’m sorry William, you have a charming British accent but your advice is suspect. Making your guests set the table seems very much like cheating, and I think putting those bags together – glassware and all! – would take me longer than 5 minutes. Good effort, though!

5:05 – Back at Ina’s to take the salmon out of the oven. She starts to tell us that if the salmon is firm to the touch and springs back a little that it’s done, but then goes full disclosure and reveals that the only way she knows for sure is to cut into the center and check. It’s okay, Ina, we’re friends here in the circle of trust.

10:22 – Time for quick dinner option number two: Chicken with Shallots. Ina recommends the more ‘elegant’ chicken breast with the skin on and bone removed – outsourcing again, but this time it’s the butcher who comes to the rescue. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen chicken sold this way, so definitely a special request.

10:31 – Pro Tips #2 & #3: To ensure a good sear on the chicken pat it dry with paper towels before seasoning, AND don’t try to move or turn the pieces while it’s searing.

11:13 – Over to Bridgehampton Florist for 5 minute flower arrangement session with Michael Grim. I think he took my critique of William to heart because he’s talking like this is a MicroMachines commercial. Whew!

11:42 – Michael, wearing a fetching robin’s egg blue sweater, recommends making a flower ball using a monochromatic flower like peonies. This actually seems pretty simple so while I think 5 minutes might be cutting it a little short I’ll let this one slide.

12:39 – We’re back with Ina to finish up the chicken and while the pieces finish cooking she’s reducing white wine (pinot grigio), lemon juice, cream, butter and shallots to make a sauce, using which she compares to beurre blanc.

13:25 – I have an embarrassing fondness for beurre blanc sauce, so I’m guessing I would L-O-V-E this. I think Ina agrees, “Oh my God this looks delicious!”

19:19 – Okay, now some easy side dishes to go with the quickie main courses. First: Roasted Cherry Tomatoes which is literally tomatoes + salt & pepper + olive oil + oven then wait 20 minutes. Ina’s right, it took me longer to type that than for her to prep the dish.

20:04 – Onward! Second: Sugar Snap Peas sautéed in olive oil with salt & pepper. I’m noticing a theme… Third: blanched Haricot Vert - aka French string beans - tossed with herb butter (softened butter + salt & pepper + scallions + dill + parsley)

27:13 – Ask Ina time! The first question is how to be calm before a dinner party. Pro Tip #4: Organize your menu so that one dish cooks in the oven, one on the stove top, and one is done ahead and can be served at room temperature. This is such good advice as is the rule that Jeffrey can’t talk to Ina in the 15 minutes before guests arrive. “Don’t talk to me I’m too busy!!” Preach.

28:10 – Question number two is how many appetizers to serve so that guests aren’t too full for dinner. Pro Tip #5: Serve two options, make sure they’re something store-bought, on the lighter side, and don’t require additional cooking. Ina’s examples are salted cashews and prosciutto wrapped melon.

28:56 – Question three is a request for dessert ideas that travel well and appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Ina suggests fresh strawberries tossed in balsamic vinegar, sugar, and black pepper served over vanilla ice cream with a little lemon zest. That seems to fit the bill and, that’s a wrap, folks!

Final Thoughts:

The timing of a dinner party is always the hardest for me and Pro Tip #4 is such a game changer. It makes so much sense!

I’m a little relieved that my vegetable ‘recipes’ sound pretty similar to Ina’s – make vegetables warm, put butter on them, season and serve.

The thought of Ina chasing Jeffrey out of the kitchen in a pre-dinner party meltdown made me laugh. Not because I can relate or anything…

 Chicken with Shallots | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken with Shallots | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned: I am all about fast and easy recipes, so I was excited to try some new ones and since I’ve made salmon several times already I decided to go with the  Chicken with Shallots. This recipe is really easy, requires very few ingredients, and it does come together in about 30 minutes. Honestly, the hardest part was removing the bones from the split chicken breast, so having a professional at the butcher counter do this for you is definitely the best-case scenario. However, I do think that it’s worth it because then the seasoning is directly on the meat and I suspect it makes the cooking process faster too.

Absolutely a small kitchen friendly recipe – I used a cast iron skillet, small sauté pan, chef’s knife, cutting board, and a few basic kitchen tools (measuring cups, tongs, etc.) Something else to note – the oven temperature (425°F) is just about right for roasting vegetables, so putting a sheet pan with asparagus spears in about half way through the cooking time made a side dish easy too.

The Verdict:

Mike and I both really liked this dish and I’m planning to bring it into regular rotation. When cooked according to Ina’s instructions the chicken came out perfectly done, but still juicy. The white wine, lemon, shallot and butter sauce was really bright and flavorful. The addition of the beurre blanc sauce makes this more than “just” chicken, and I have to agree with Ina -  this recipe really would be a perfect, no stress dinner for ‘company.’ I love having a dinner idea in my back pocket for times when I want to impress my guest without losing my mind. Always a plus, right?