Sunday, February 16, 2014

Provençal Chicken with Olive Tapenade

This just might be my favorite chicken recipe of all. It passed our "Would you pay for this entree in a nice restaurant?" and "Would you go back and order it again?" tests with flying colors.

There's time and effort involved, but I have a few tips to make it easy and fast and it's worth it. There's a lot you can do in advance ~ in fact, you could make the entire dish in advance and reheat it just before serving, so it would be great for a dinner party or special occasion.  Serves 4

Tip #1: Breaking down a chicken takes time, especially if you haven't had a lot of practice. Do it the same day you go to the market. Cut off the back, neck, and wing tips and freeze in a ziploc bag for stock. Separate the thigh from the drumstick. Cut the breast in half down the center of the breastbone, and then cut each of these in half crosswise so you have 4 equal size pieces of breast.

Remove as much skin and fat as possible. Trimming away all the fat now will save you the tedious step of having to pour off, cool and skim the sauce just before reducing and serving, so it's worth doing. Besides, it's much healthier ;-).

Put the chicken pieces in a ziploc freezer bag and store in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours or put in the freezer until you're ready to make this recipe. See that tiny little piece of meat in the upper left-hand corner of the photo? That came off the underside of a breast piece. Don't sweat it if this happens. Just cook it with the giblets for your pets ;-).

Tip #2: Make the tapenade in advance, even the day before. Make sure you're buying pitted olives, or you'll spend a good 45 minutes standing there wrestling with the tiny, stubborn things. A kitchen tool called a 'cherry pitter' works well on larger olives like Kalamata, not so well on the ones in this recipe.

Tip #2.5 It looks like a lot of tapenade. Maybe too much. It's not.

Tip #3: This was originally a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for a slow-cooker. You can still cook the chicken in one for 3 hours on low, but it only takes 30 minutes at a slow simmer on the stove top, and all the other browning and reducing still has to happen. You decide.

Here we go:

1 chicken cut, skinned, and trimmed of fat as shown above
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c yellow onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 bay leaves (4 if using the smaller Turkish ones)
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 c dry white wine
1/2 c homemade chicken stock

Olive Tapenade
1 c green olives such as Picholine or Lucques
1 c Niçoise olives
2 dried figs, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1-2 TB brandy (I use Decourtet)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced

Make the tapenade first. Put the olives, figs, 2 TB EVOO, lemon zest and rosemary in a food processor and pulse to a coarse texture. Put into a small serving bowl. Stir in enough additional EVOO to keep it moist but not too oily. Add 1 TB brandy, stir well and taste to see if it needs more. It will be perfect when there's just the barest hint of alcohol but it doesn't burn when you take a bite. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside.

Now start the chicken. Heat 2 TB of EVOO over medium heat in a Dutch oven large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in one layer. (It's ok if you have doubled the recipe, you'll just want to move the pieces around more during the cooking process.) Dry all the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown about 5-6 minutes on each side, moving them gently when they're ready to turn and removing to a plate when they're done. You might need to turn the heat down a bit as the oil gets hotter.

It will be a little trickier not tearing the flesh when you don't have skin. Just be gentle but firm, don't move the pieces too soon and don't be afraid to add more EVOO if you need to. I ended up using an entire 1/4 c during the browning stage.

Remove the last batch of browned chicken. Ladle off and discard all but 2 TB EVOO. Add the onion, and cook and stir about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the wine, stock, tarragon, 1/2 tsp salt and about 10-12 grinds of pepper and stir to combine everything. Put the chicken back in the pot like this and nestle the bay leaves down in the broth:

Cover and simmer on low for 25-30 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through. The tarragon will smell really strong and you might worry there's too much. There isn't. The smell is much stronger than the taste, which is perfect.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter. Turn the heat up to high and reduce the sauce to just less than half. Now taste for salt and pepper, although it probably won't need either. Pour the concentrated sauce and all the goodies over the chicken. Serve with tapenade on the side.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sicilian-Style Fennel with Orange and Olives

Oh my heavens you are going to love this! Williams-Sonoma did this as a slow-cooker recipe, but I think it should be made in a Dutch oven on the stove top. It took me less than an hour, refrigerator to dinner table. Jeff and I have strange dreams if we over-eat fennel (does that happen to you, or is it just us?) but this is so good, we both just went for broke. Everything comes together so perfectly: hot, sweet, citrus, tart, salt - my mouth didn't know where to go first! YUM! Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs
1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 c)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 TB dry white wine
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 c homemade chicken stock
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 orange
1/2 c Niçoise olives*

*If at all possible, get your olives from a deli or specialty food store. They are much more flavorful and way less salty than those in the salad bar at the grocery store. Niçoise aren't usually pitted. If this is an issue for you, use Kalamata olives instead. Just don't use the bland, sweet-ish black olives that come in a can!

Preparing your fennel:

Cut off the tops and save a little of the fronds (feathery bits) for garnish. Cut the bulb into 4ths, then halve each again for a total of 8 wedges per bulb. Use a paring knife to cut away most of the hard core in the center bottom of the bulb, but leave just a little bit so each wedge holds together. 

Heat 2 TB EVOO in a small Dutch oven or deep-sided cast-iron pan over medium heat. Saute the shallots for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute another 3 minutes or so, till everything starts to soften but not turn brown. Add the wine and vinegar, stir to loosen up any bits, then add the chicken stock, oregano, a little less than 1/2 tsp salt, and about 5 or 6 grinds of pepper. Stir to combine everything and bring to a simmer.

Add your fennel wedges. Pick the pan up off the stove and swirl around to help cover the fennel with all the good stuff. Gently turn with tongs to finish coating. 

Cover tightly and simmer on low for about 40 minutes, turning the pieces gently a couple of times during the cooking process to make sure everything cooks evenly. The fennel should be soft but not mushy, kind of like the texture (but not taste!) of a rib of cooked cabbage. The sauce will have cooked down a lot, and this is why you don't want to over-salt in the beginning of the cooking process. Taste now to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or acid (a splash of wine or vinegar).

While the fennel is cooking, prep your orange. Zest it first, then use a paring knife to "supreme" it. Cut each end off. Stand it on one end and use a paring knife to cut all the skin and pith away. Then slice down both sides of each section, cutting away the orange pieces like this:

Cut each orange piece in half to make 2 "chunks". 

Now you're ready to assemble the dish. I just had to show you my "Italy" serving plate. It was a wedding present from my very dear friend Margaret H. and I think of her every time I use it. I thought it was fitting, since this is a real Sicilian dish! (Yes, I know Florence is far to the north of Sicily, but it's still Italy!

Combine the fennel, olives, orange zest and pieces in a serving dish and toss to combine, being careful not to smush the orange pieces. Garnish with bits of saved fennel frond. Remember two things as you eat: 1) your olives may have pits - don't crack a tooth on them, and 2) the fennel chunks have a little bit of core holding them together. Jeff doesn't mind eating it, I cut mine away.
Era buono pazzesco!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Halibut with Cabbage, Bacon and Potatoes

My husband loves cabbage but I don't. I know it's a really healthful vegetable, so I try to find new ways to make it more appealing. This worked. It so worked. Baby potatoes brown and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Sweet, tender, moist fish. Cabbage braised in wine and herbs. Bacon, bacon everywhere. Serves 2-3.

1/2 to 3/4 lb halibut cut into 4 oz filets
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, cored and sliced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme or about 2 tsp dried leaves
1/2 c white wine
1/2 c chicken stock

2-3 slices bacon: 2 if lean, 3 if fatty

2-ish lbs small red potatoes, larger ones cut in half
1/2 tsp thyme leaves

Optional: few sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400*F

>>Everything is baked in the oven, in separate dishes at first and then combined in the end. Easy prep, easy clean-up.

Combine the cabbage, herbs, wine and stock in a medium-sized glass baking dish, like 11x7. Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

Trim all the excess fat off the bacon and put it in a toaster-oven sized broiler pan (so everything will fit in the oven). Use a rack if you have one to keep the bacon out of the rendered grease. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes until it's quite brown and crispy. Alternatively, you can cook it on the stovetop. Either way, once it's cooked, drain on paper towels and chop into large bite-sized pieces.

Wash the potatoes, cut the larger ones in half so they all cook evenly, toss with EVOO in a shallow roasting pan and sprinkle a bit of salt and the thyme on them.

Bake for 20 minutes, use a spatula to move and turn them over, and cut all the pieces, whether they were halved or whole, in half again. Some will be quarters and some will be halves. This way the inside surface gets brown and the potatoes will start to puff up a little, and this also helps make them creamier ;-). Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Last step. Combine the cooked cabbage with sauce, potatoes and bacon in a larger baking dish. Lightly coat the fish with EVOO, salt & pepper. Bake for 12 minutes or until the fish is cooked all the way through but still tender and moist.

When serving, spoon the reduced wine/stock sauce over the fish so it gets a little bit of acid. You can add the bit of parsley for color but I really didn't think it needed any more flavor.