Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today we cook!

this looks much easier on TV...

Equipped with my gleaming white chef's coat, pants, cap, apron, and the proper closed-toe, non-skid shoes (a.k.a. sneakers - trainers in the U.K.), we put heat to food and step up to a well-used Wolf gas cook top whose burners look like inverted Space Shuttle engines.

Our task is to prepare an herb rub, insert it under the skin of some boneless chicken breasts, sauté the breasts until they're browned, and chuck them into the oven to finish cooking. While the breasts are underway, we prepare a sauce from the fond left in the pan. We also make mashed potatoes as our starch. The garnish will be a leafy stalk of basil.

The chicken breasts are huge, like they came from some avian porn star. Thick. Not something that would be thoroughly cooked through to a safe internal temperature of 160° F in the allotted time. Day one, and we're already behind.

The sauce, sitting in a pan over a burner whose lowest setting seems to be "char", goes quickly. Too quickly. Even setting the pan on the warming shelf doesn't stop the slow loss of liquid - it evaporates out of the pan, leaving the shallots and garlic behind like salt crystals at Badwater.

The mashed potatoes worked fine. We even added a bit of garlic to make them more interesting. They await the chicken.

We take the chicken out of the oven, slice it. Pink in the center. Back in it goes. Again. Pink. Back in.

Finally, the chicken is ready. Each breast has to be sliced diagonally into five pieces. Four pieces are not as aesthetic, sort of like rocks in a Zen garden. Except that this is burning hot chicken, we're behind and the plates and oval mounds of mashed potatoes are waiting to receive the slices that will be fanned beautifully over them. Then the sauce will coat the chicken in a shimmery, luscious nape for the piece de resistance.

The sauce, bane of my existence. I add the butter, for the "monter au beurre" step, whisking frantically to try emulsifying the little liquid that remains into the butter. Too much butter, too little liquid. I cannot change the laws of physics, I shout. Nonetheless, I manage to achieve something that resembles a sauce, although it's really more bits of soggy shallots drowned in a massive amount of butter.

On goes the sauce, decorative sprigs of basil crown the oeuvre, and we're ready for evaluation. Late. Bad sauce. Chicken cooked. Basil should grow "naturally" from the dish. I withhold comments about this novel type of horticulture. Epiphytic basil that grows on chicken... that would reduce the chicken farm's carbon footprint, but GMO basil would never pass as organic.

Day one over, and much pondering to do over how to manage the thermonuclear heat of the burners and become their master, find where everything is located for next time, delve into the chemistry of sauces, and wonder if all this is going to work out in the end.

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