Sunday, April 7, 2019

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash

You know the basics of cooking. Let's now ramp it up!
Learning to cook is easy for some, but most have issues out of fear. My husband told me a lovely piece of wisdom in reference to creating a design or a piece of art: "You have to make a mistake at least once." The best part about mistakes when cooking? You still get to eat it, even if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you've planned. Chef make mistakes all the time and that's okay if you do, too.

I read somewhere that about 25% of all restaurant meals are eaten at home, meaning DoorDash, Uber Eats, and GrubHub are a far better business model than anyone ever expected. If you look on Craigslist you can make a living just delivering food for people, and it looks to be a decent amount. It's a good side-hustle if you're looking to pick up an extra hundred bucks over the weekend or on a spare night. For the consumer, though, it's the eternal struggle:

Do I eat out or stay in? Or do I stay in and get delivery? If I get delivery I still have to tip the driver. But if I get takeout I have to leave the house. But if I'm going to leave the house I may as well just eat out. But I don't want to leave the house or spend money. Should I cook? I don't want to cook, I had a long day. But it's so expensive if I don't cook...

See the problem? With some basics, some practice, you can go from "eh" home cook to "hey!" home cook. This is a really simple recipe that you can prepare mostly ahead of time and that will produce restaurant-quality results. Marinade the chicken in the morning and then roast the squash up to six days before you reheat in the oven and produce the squash puree. The leeks take the shortest amount of time, so go ahead and do that right when you cook.

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash
perfect dinner for 2
  • 3 Tbsp good honey
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • A few grinds of green peppercorns
  • A pinch of sumac
    • Most stores carry this - it's bright red and is a powder. You can find them in specialty stores, too! 
  • 2 boneless-skinless chicken breasts, ideally around 6 oz
  • 1 small butternut squash
    • The smaller the better! The big ones have too much water in them and are not always as flavorful as the smaller ones. 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 oz (4 Tbsp) butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 1 small leek, sliced ultra-thin
  • Butter/oil for frying
  • Fresh or Dried mint for garnish
Start with the squash. Turn your oven to 325 degrees F and split the squash down the middle. You can pitch the seeds, or you can see if you want to plant them and grow your own squash. After all, it's spring! (And for anyone who wants to be all "ooohh but you're a SEASONAL cook why cook with squash "pls leave me alone I had it in the cellar from last fall and didn't want it to go bad) Squash is a pretty awesome fruit that is packed with vitamins. Plus, it's got a super-bright color! 

Winter squash has a gorgeous custardy quality when cooked. Roast it simply by splitting down the middle, scoring it  quite deeply with a paring knife (this just means you make slashes on the inside of the flesh). Rub with either butter or oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for an hour and change, or until unbelievably soft. You can do this ahead of time and reheat in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes with excellent results!

To marinate the chicken, simply combine the honey, vinegar, salt, green peppercorns, and sumac in a bowl with a whisk, and add your chicken. Rub it into the chicken breast and let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. The reason you can do this quickly is because of the honey. Honey has a wonderful group of enzymes that break down proteins. You can add a little honey to any dish with a lot of stringy thick muscular fibers, like brisket, to help speed up the process in tenderizing. I like to use honey instead of pineapple for this, as honey won't break anything down to the point of being slimy. 

When  you're ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and give it a quick rinse before patting dry. Discard the marinade. I like to use my cast iron griddle, but not everyone has one of those. You can use a good thick-bottomed frying pan so long as you get it hot. give the chicken a good hard sear with high heat for at least 2 minutes on one side before flipping over. Lower the heat to medium and add the shaved leeks. Cover and cook for another 4 minutes. This is called "sofrito" and it's a cooking technique that was developed a very long time ago, dating all the way back to the ancient Shepardi tribes in Jerusalem, travelling all the way up to Moorish Spain. 

Meanwhile, let's focus on the squash. Scrape out the squash from the skin with a spoon into the pitcher of your blender or food processor. I have a vitamix so I'm going to use that. Add your 2 oz of butter, and a fat pinch of salt. Simply blend this until ultra-smooth, stopping in between and scraping down the sides of the machine of your choice, and that's your puree. Don't worry, it'll stay plenty hot!

Now that your 4 minutes are up, turn off your heat and let sit while you contemplate your plating.



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(Follow @_Art of Plating on Instagram for more ideas!)

Plating a restaurant-worthy or even a restaurant-style dish is pretty easy. You have quite a few factors to play with and it can seem overwhelming. Every chef is like an artist and we all have different factors and techniques that we like to use and play with. When coming up with a dish, I think of the four pillars of salt, acid, fat, and heat as my foundation. Each dish must have those four components, no matter what. If I personally think about plating, my four pillars of things to play with are:
  • Color
  • Height
  • Texture
  • Negative space
With color: Is it visually pleasing? Will the colors in this dish be monochromatic or will they be opposing? 

Will the way I plate this be tall enough? How can I add height to this to make it seem more of a special thing? We associate tall things with marvels of engineering; how can I capture that in my dish?

Do I have too many smooth and creamy things? Do I have enough crunchy things? Do I have enough soft things to play against the hard things? How do the textures look compared to one another?

Am I going to fill up this plate or not?

Big rookie mistake: you don't have to use every single piece of space on the plate. Sometimes, it's better to just let things be. It's okay to just let things be and stand by your decisions. When things are left minimal, you know that they are done in a purposeful way. 

This sushi from Sakura shows a good play of negative space. Not every bit of plate needs to be taken up!

Plate with a big fat spoonful of our squash puree in a ring. I like circles and symmetry sometimes, so I figure that'll work. To get it nicely rounded without it being fussy, pour a big dollop in the center of your plate, pick up your plate, and then gently tap from the bottom with your fingers to spread it. 

The leeks will come next, and you can kind of do those however you like, but I like to try and keep them compact if I can, in either a single diagonal line across the circle or just in another circle that will mimic the shape. Finally, chicken goes on top! Sprinkle with mint, all over, and enjoy!

Now you, yes YOU, can take your own blurry food pics at home! 
With these simple tricks and techniques that anybody can learn, you can have the restaurant experience without the paycheck and the loud ambiance and the dim lighting so you can't see the food. I hope you've enjoyed! Happy cooking and happy eating!

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