It was late, about 8 o'clock. I had a large chicken breast thawed. I was considering my options, thinking maybe I'd caramelize it like the pork from the other day. I then decided that I wanted to use up the last package of instant potatoes and that can of sweet corn that I had in the pantry. The caramelized version wasn't saucy enough for that. I wanted a sauce to pour over the corn and potatoes, so I decided to cook down a lot of onion and garlic and make a basic pan sauce. I didn't start taking pictures until it was almost done. (It's hard to get good pictures in this house with no natural light. The fluorescents just don't work as well.)
My grandmother taught me to mix my vegetables with my potatoes. This works with peas, beans, carrots. etc.
My grandmother was not a cook. She was good with jell-o and she made a pretty bangin' turkey stuffing, but that was about it. According to family lore, my grandfather was an excellent cook, but in my experience he did so rarely. He was grill-master at our family picnics and he made some mean baked beans. But I don't recall seeing him working in the kitchen on any but the biggest holidays. (Granted, he generally scared the shit out of me so I was most likely avoiding the kitchen any time he was in there.) His single most noteworthy addition to the pantheon of family recipes was made for me more often by my mother than by him. It came to be known as "Grandpa's Chicken #1".
Grandpa's Chicken #2 included a basil-cream sauce that was pretty darn tasty.
We won't discuss #3, it was terrible.
If I remember correctly, the provenance of this dish started with a veal recipe that Grandpa Bob, in his exuberant thriftyness, decided to make with chicken. It is a family favorite, and even garnered an entry into the Kathie Smith memorial cookbook.
Originally, we would pound the chicken breasts thinly, scaloppine style. However, since mom was cooking for a horde, she decided to simply slice her chicken breasts in half to create thin cutlets. It worked out much faster that way. The chicken was then dredged in a light coating of bread crumbs.
This was not your standard, thick, crispy flour-egg-breadcrumb crust. This was just breadcrumbs, much of which would fall off the chicken while it simmered. The fallen crusty bits actually help to thicken the sauce, so don't worry about it... and don't expect beautiful crusted cutlets. (It can still impress, the sauce easily hides any imperfections.)
The chicken then gets a quick saute in some oil over medium heat. Just enough to brown the cutlets, not enough to cook them all the way through. The chicken is set aside.
In the same pan, we then sauteed onions and garlic and then drowned them in white wine and chicken stock, nestling the chicken pieces in the sauce. The whole thing was then covered and simmered for 20 minutes.
I did things a little bit differently this time. (This stems from the fact that I didn't even think about Grandpa's Chicken #1 until I took my first bite.)
Upon pulling my chicken out of the freezer, I doused it with italian dressing and let it thaw for a few hours. The dressing did triple duty here... it punched up the flavor of the chicken, it helped the bread crumbs to adhere to the chicken a little better than normal and it helped increase the tanginess of the sauce in the absence of white wine. When it was thawed enough, I cut the chicken in half lengthwise and placed it back in the dressing to continue thawing and marinating. When it was completely thawed, I pulled each piece of chicken out of the dressing, sluicing some of the marinade off with my fingers. I dipped them in store-bought breadcrumbs (you know, the italian seasoned ones). I pressed down on and continued flipping the chicken pieces to ensure that they were as completely coated as possible. (Again, a good amount of these breadcrumbs will fall off and become a part of the sauce.) I sauteed the chicken in vegetable oil like usual, cooking it on each side until it developed a tasty-looking brown color. This took about 3-4 minutes per side. I set the chicken aside.
(There will be breadcrumb bits burnt to the bottom of the pan. It will look inedible and probably a pain the ass to clean. Do. Not. Worry. Just keep on keepin' on. Trust me.)
I thinly sliced a large vidalia onion (yup, they were on sale again... any kind of onion will do) and three medium cloves of garlic. (Note: I did not mince the garlic. In sauces like this I like round slices. The long simmer time still gives you the fantastic garlic flavor of a fine mince, but also gives you a hit of sweet mellow garlic when you bite into one of the slices.) I sprinkled the onions with a teaspoon of dried thyme. I popped the onions into the hot pan with about a tablespoon or so of butter, letting them cook until the onions picked up some color from the bits of burnt breadcrumbs in the bottom of the pan. (About 5 minutes). About halfway through cooking the onions, I added the sliced garlic as well.
Once everything has cooked down, I poured in:
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of the dressing the chicken had been marinating in.
If I had it, I would have replaced 1/2 cup of the chicken broth with white wine. Any time you can, you should replace 1/2 cup of chicken broth with white wine. (or replace 1/2 cup of beef broth with red wine). Just do it. Don't ask questions. Don't worry about if it's going to screw up the recipe somehow. Trust me.
Once everything came to a boil and I had scraped up all the crap from the bottom of the pan, I nestled the chicken into the sauce, covered the pan and turned the heat down to low.
The original recipe calls for this to simmer for 20 minutes. This does ensure that the chicken is cooked all the way through. In fact, in ensures that the chicken is obliterated. It becomes tough and stringy. 15 minutes will alleviate this slightly without causing any concern about under-cooked chicken. This is why we sliced the breasts into thin cutlets to begin with. I may reduce the time even more in the future, but for now I'm certain that 15 minutes is sufficient. (If you're insane, you can stick with the original cooking time. It will still be farking delicious, you just may need to break out the steak knives to cut the chicken.)
Once the timer goes off, plate the chicken and bring the sauce to a boil, uncovered. Taste the sauce every 2-3 minutes until it is as strongly flavored as you want. (It will be delicious right away, but after a bit more reduction, it will be divine.) I let mine cook down until it looked like this...
Pour the sauce over everything on your plate (potatoes, vegetables, bread... everything.)
I will admit that this recipe is a tad larger than I usually post on here. It will make enough for two (or even three, if one of those three is a child). I used only one chicken breast, though you can easily add another without having to increase the amount of sauce.
I did this on purpose.
The leftovers are AMAZING.