Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Simple Weeknight Cooking

For reasons related to her health and food allergies, Jessica is eliminating starches, legumes, and high sugar foods from her diet for a little while. Since she already avoids gluten and dairy, this leaves a limited palette of culinary colors to cook with. As always, I enjoy a challenge and find that changing constraints provide an environment ripe for learning and creativity.

Usually, I don't cook that often on weeknights, as I am usually absorbed in work or errands or something productive like that. Given the lack of decent food that Jessica can find that supports her diet, I wanted to save her from another night of salad variation #127.

Since it was a weeknight, I kept it simple and took the opportunity to use some great produce that I'd picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend and not yet had a chance to use.

Pan roasted chicken breast with rosemary and garlic confit. Sherried crimini mushrooms with thyme. Ratatouille of pattypan squash, heirloom zucchini, and Italian eggplant with opal basil and parsley. Broccoli with crushed red pepper and garlic confit.


I used Thomas Keller's ever-so-effective "big pot blanching" approach to the broccoli. As always it worked like a charm. I would rate big pot blanching up there with Jean-Georges' scrambled eggs as one of the great cookbook driven cooking revelations I have experienced. I would also say that Keller's "green salt" technique was quite valuable. Thus far, however, my most important cookbook revelation came from many sources all at once... The importance of homemade stock. Every serious chef you ever study will harp on it over and over. It simply cannot be underestimated. Without homemade stock, you are hard pressed to make real sauces. Without real sauces, your capabilities as a cook are severely limited. It is fundamental.

For this particular dish, I tossed a few homemade frozen cubes of 4x reduced chicken stock into the saucepan after I took the chicken off to rest and deglazed it with sherry... just before I tossed the already sweated mushrooms in. I let the mixture reduce to a thin syrup to where it was thick enough to coat the mushrooms.

The dish came out very well indeed... Sometimes it is the most simple dishes that, when done well, can be quite stunning. In this case I was able to check all the technical boxes... chicken cooked to perfect temperature and correctly rested, bright green perfectly cooked broccoli, very nicely seasoned ratatouille, excellent mushroom sherry sauce... unison... harmony... simplicity.