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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In the Laboratory...Skillet Chicken

In September, this photo was on the cover of Bon Appetit's restaurant issue. I tucked away the magazine and recently found it again when I was cleaning off my desk. Roast chicken is something I love but have never really perfected -- or honestly even tried that often.

Ben made an awesome roast chicken when we were in the Hamptons for Neil's birthday, so I was determined to try again.
However, this recipe (Skillet-Roasted Chicken with Faro and Herbed Pistou) is practically a science experiment! It comes from Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, and the magazine adapted his technique for home cooks. Brock starts by using a sous vide technique to poach the chicken.

You make a marinade of herbs, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil and marinate the bird overnight. (Instead of following the recipe exactly, which calls for cooking two bird halves, I simply purchased two breasts and two leg/thigh quarters.)

HOWEVER, you don't simply marinate the chicken. You create a vacuum seal for your bags of marinade. This involves submerging your almost fully zipped plastic bags into a pot of hot water and removing the excess air.
After marinating, the chicken is poached in hot water. You place the bagged chicken inside a pot of water and heat to 150 degrees. Cover, turn off the heat, and let the chicken poach for 50 minutes.
Remove the chicken bags from the hot water and let them cool in an ice water bath for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, while the chicken is poaching and cooling, you're cooking the faro with squash and kale. The grain is prepared risotto-style by gradually adding hot broth to the cooking grains. I had barley on hand, so I substituted that, and it worked perfectly.

The barley gets tossed in some hot oil before it's toasted in the oven. Then you set the toasted barley aside, wipe out your pan, and use the pan to cook an onion. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, deglaze the pan with wine, then add the barley back and gradually begin to add the broth. I was worried the recipe's instruction to cook the barley/faro over high heat might be a little off, but it was fine.

Meanwhile, Kurt helped me clean and blanch the kale, then we added it to yet another ice bath. (This recipe requires three ice baths, in case you're more for the herb pistou.)
The acorn squash had roasted in the oven...I'd probably do butternut if I did this again. Acorn squash is a real hassle to peel.
I did not get a photo of the best part, which was when I seared the chicken in a hot skillet, but that's because the kitchen got so incredibly smoky I could hardly see. Not sure if I got the oil too hot or what, but it was quite a show. Kurt went to work opening windows and setting up fans so our dinner guest, Matt, wouldn't walk in and start coughing once he arrived. (I would likely have fallen off the rails without Kurt's help, as I quickly realized I'd bitten off more than I could chew with this recipe.)

Thank goodness Matt was a few minutes late. By the time he finally walked in, most of the smoke had dissipated. Unfortunately, this required me to chop herbs for the pistou in front of a wide-open kitchen window with a fan blowing on a very cold winter night. Never say I don't suffer for my art!
Here's the final product. I did not follow the recipe for the pistou, which called for 3/4 cup of water. That just sounded odd to me, but now that I've looked a the original picture again, I can see it's meant to be more of a thin gravy than a thicker pesto.

Either way, the end result was pretty fabulous! The herbed chicken was perfectly moist, crisp and flavorful, with perfect brightness from the lemon and herbs. The barley risotto rocked my world -- the barley and kale were chewy and added interesting texture, while the acorn squash was sweet and rich. It was completely worthy of the bottle of Wolffer Estate rose I'd been saving since my birthday (thanks, Christine!).

All in all, so glad I made it. Thank heavens for my awesome sous chef Kurt. If you try this one yourself, just make sure your lab -- er, kitchen -- is well-ventilated.

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