Sometimes I feel inspired just to get out some spices I haven’t used very much and put together something using basic ideas I’ve picked up along the way from cooking shows, recipe books, and experimentation. It’s really fun — especially if it turns out to be good. When I cook this way, I usually learn something to do differently next time (or several somethings). I’ll talk about that more at the end.
The basic ideas include:
(1) starting with a meat and deciding whether or not to braise (as I did tonight), bake, fry, grill, or broil.
(2) spices (salt & pepper, of course, and then a plethora of options)
(3) vegetables, if desired (possibilities include but are not limited to onions, garlic, celery, hot or mild peppers, carrots, mushrooms)
(4) oil (olive, vegetable, bacon grease, butter, etc.)
(5) liquid (wine, beer, chicken or beef broth, water, milk, canned soups or sauces, etc.)
(6) vegetable sides if you want to cook them with the meat and sauce (potatoes, carrots, etc.) or separate.
First tonight, I had bought bone-in chicken breasts, which I will now try to remember not to do. So I deboned 2 breasts. Then I meant to pound them to about 1/4-inch thick, but I forgot (the grease got hot). So, I pounded them later, after they were browned and not in oil, with the side of a small plate. I do NOT recommend doing it this way, but it worked pretty well in a pinch. Flattening them helps them cook more evenly and more quickly.
Before I put the chicken breasts in the skillet, I sprinkled one side with salt and pepper (S&P) and paprika. Then I put them in hot olive oil (not smoking hot) in a heavy skillet. When you put the meat in a hot skillet with the olive oil hot, they will appear to stick, but just don’t try to move the meat too soon. It will almost magically release itself from the skillet when it’s brown.
While they were browning, I added sliced onions and chopped garlic to the skillet and crushed red pepper flakes and sprinkled the chicken with S&P, coriander, ground ginger, and cumin. Then when I turned them, the full flavor of the dried spices was boosted awake in the hot oil. The same was true with the paprika on the first side.
After turning the chicken, I added sliced mushrooms about a minute before the browning was done.
When browned, I removed the chicken to a plate, added Marsala wine to the pan and deglazed it (scraping loose any residue – sucs or fond – stuck to the bottom that the wine helped to release) while over medium heat.
I returned the chicken to the pan, covered the skillet with a lid, and cooked on medium-low (or enough to keep the liquid bubbling gently) until the chicken was tender and done – about 10 minutes in this case. Finish with a sprinkling of parsley and lemon juice.
I served the combination of mushrooms, onions, and sauce over the chicken and white rice. The side was asparagus.
The pairing of wine was pinot noir. You can always choose your favorite wine, of course. Some would say it should be white with chicken. But I find that pinot noir pairs nicely with just about anything, and I thought it was especially good with the mushrooms.
What did I learn tonight?
I like foods pretty spicy, so I think I was a little timid with the spices tonight. I’m sure that had something to do with the fact that they were unfamiliar spices to my cooking with chicken.
Also, there were lots of really good tasting and moist mushrooms and onions, but not enough liquid (gravy) left at the end to serve over the rice and chicken. Next time I’d add quite a bit more wine to assure that it doesn’t all absorb into the food or cook away.
Experiment! Be brave! Bon appetite!