Hhhmmmm…Why am I still awake after midnight???? I’m still thinking about tonight’s dinner and no it’s not indigestion. It’s unbelievable bliss…
I love those dinners that “fit.” Everything about the meal blends perfectly with the other parts of the meal. The star of the show (meat/tofu/fish/whatever) goes perfectly with the sauce which blends beautifully with the vegetable, both of which compliment the starch, etc. It’s food Nirvana! Acids, brightness, earthiness, undertones, smoothness, texture, it all comes together to tantalize your palate and play with your dreams to provide you the ultimate pièce de résistance. This was tonight’s (or last night because it’s after midnight) meal. Truly memorable. So good, in fact, I am trying to stay awake to post this recipe.
I keep telling my children it’s how you season your food that transforms a meal from a meal into a “pièce de résistance.” With the availability of fine food today, it’s not so much the quality of the ingredients (although they still are important) as much as what you do with those ingredients, i.e. how you cook the ingredients and how you season those ingredients. Most everyone knows how to cook proteins, i.e. meats. The problem is how to season them beyond boring salt and pepper. While everyone remembers marinades, with all of the heart conscious misunderstandings, people have wholly forgotten about brines. My recent rubberized chicken salad at the O’Hare Airport Romano’s Macaroni Grill was a rude reminder that people routinely overcook lean chicken and wonder why their meal is 1) lacking in flavor, and 2) dry and tough (rubbery). Brining lean meats is the answer.
Without going into a lot of food science, suffice it to say that brining doesn’t simply add salt to your meat (actually the salt is minimal) but it carries the spices into the flesh of the meat providing you an unbelievable depth of flavor in every bite. This is what we did with the chicken tonight. The result was a dish that I would sell to anyone and numerous people would stand in line to buy. Give this a try.
For the brine
- 1 gal. water
- 2/3 cup coarse sea salt
- 2 whole star anise
- (2) 2 inch sticks of cinnamon
- 2 oranges cut into quarters and squeezed
- 3 laurel bay leaves
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 Tbsp lavender petals
For the Sauce
- Supremes of 2 Oranges
- 1 orange zested and julienned
- 2 cups rich chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- Salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp Grand Marnier
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 cup water
For the chicken
- 4 Chicken Quarters (or 1 whole chicken)
- 2 tbsp herbs d’ provence
- 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
First step is to make the brine. Add all of the brining ingredients to a large pot.
Bring the mixture to a boil to dissolve the salt and bring out the flavors of the spices. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When cooled, put the chicken in a large zip lock bag. We use the 2 gallon size Zip Locks. Add the brine and allow to sit in the brine for 4- 5 hours. Allowing it to sit in the brine for more than 5 hours will result in a very salty chicken.
After 4-5 hours remove chicken from the brine. Place on paper towels and pat dry.
Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with herbs d’ provence and crushed red pepper. Heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil. When the olive oil begins to smoke, add the chicken quarters and sear on both sides.
After searing both sides place chicken in a preheated 350 F oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until done.
In the meantime, supreme two oranges, squeezing the juice from the skins and pulp into the container holding the supremes.
Add 1 cup water and the julienned zest to a small sauce pot with 1 Tbsp sugar and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and reserve.
Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Add 2 Tbsp flour and whisk together until smooth. Continue to cook whisking frequently until you begin to smell the aroma of roasting hazelnuts. Add 2 cups of rich chicken broth and the juice from the supremes to the roux and whisk until smooth with the roux fully incorporated. Reduce heat to medium/medium low and bring sauce to a simmer stirring occasionally to allow the flour to cook out and thicken the sauce.
Remove the zest from the liquid and add to the simmering sauce along with 2 Tbsp of the liquid. Let simmer reducing the volume by 1/4. Salt to taste. Add the supremes to heat through. Finish away from the heat by adding 1Tbsp of Grand Marnier. Stir gently so as not to break up the supremes.
To serve, place a mound of warm rice on the plate. Put the chicken quarter on top of the rice. Add the sauce (roughly 5 Tbsp per quarter) capturing some of the julienned zest and the supremes. Top with chopped cilantro or parsley. Enjoy! We did.