MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

We are coming into the last week of January 2009’s Magazine of the Month, which happens to be the February 2009 edition of Food & Wine. We’ll continue to confuse you with dates later.

Food & Wine February 2009

Next week, we’ll announce the next Magazine of the Month but for now, let’s keep cruising with Food & Wine.

Continuing with the whole chicken motif that I have really been digging, I came across a listing for a breast with two sides. That really interested me, because all too often do I find main course, then I have absolutely no idea what to plate with it.

F&W Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

The “potatoes and mashed peas” is not a word mix-up. I didn’t assign an adjective to the wrong noun. As you can see in the photo above, garden peas are given a little texture twist by whirling half of them in the food processor until just coarsely ground — but we’ll get to that.

Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Mashed Peas
Courtesy of Food & Wine February 2009

2 pounds fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons chilled
Four 3/4-pound chicken breast halves on the bone
2 large thyme sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Two 10-ounce packages of frozen baby peas
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

I was making this for just two people so I cut the ingredients in half. Also, I really wanted to get rid of the extra drumsticks I had from the Chicken Sofrito, so I used those instead of breasts. In hindsight, that was a bad idea. I couldn’t get enough fat to come off of the drumsticks and they took a really long time to cook – a lot longer than I expected. After plating them, we realized they were not cooked all the way and they had to go back into the oven. That was embarrassing.

Preheat the oven to 425°. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the halved potatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for about 35 minutes or until tender and browned. Set the potatoes aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

I couldn’t find fingerling potatoes at the store, so I just went with these little white creamer potatoes and used them instead. They didn’t take nearly as long to bake, about 25 minutes.

Also, I put mine in a bowl to coat with olive oil, because I can be a little clumsy. I envisioned half of my potatoes rocketing off of the cookie sheet and onto the floor.

Potatoes in Bowl

Then I put them on a sheet with foil and added my salt and pepper.

Potatoes on Cookie Sheet

Meanwhile, in a large ovenproof skillet, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter. Season the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper and add to the skillet, skin side down, along with the thyme sprigs. Cook over moderately low heat until the skin is well browned, about 15 minutes. Turn and cook for 5 minutes longer, basting occasionally with the pan juices.

So here are my drumsticks – I just put as many into the pan as I could fit, like a little jigsaw puzzle.

Drumsticks in Frying Pan 1

Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, until cooked through. Add the chicken to the potatoes and keep warm. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the melted fat from the skillet.

Drumsticks in Frying Pan 2

My frying pan was popped right into the oven to bake, rather than putting these onto another cookie sheet.

I want to point out the whole thing about reserving the three tablespoons of fat from the skillet (it will go into the peas) — but as you can see from the photo, I didn’t have that.

Also, I was really concerned about the drumsticks getting too dry in the oven because I had to bake them for a really long time, so I kept adding a little bit of low-sodium broth to the pan and basted the drumsticks periodically. Truth be told, that was a little more trouble than it was worth and by that point, I was wishing I had gone with the breasts.

Now for the gravy:

Pour off the remaining fat from the skillet and discard the thyme sprigs. Add 1/2 cup of the wine to the skillet and boil over moderately high heat, scraping up the browned bits, until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and boil until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped thyme and 2 tablespoons of chilled butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper.

Either my gravy never really thickened, or I just have an idea that gravy should be thicker than the recipe allowed – I thought it was too much like a jus. To make up the difference, I added about a tablespoon of cornstarch and whisked until it was a little thick. Maybe the original concoction never thickened because I ended up not having much poultry fat; it was mostly stock that I had to keep adding during the baking process.

Not that I’m complaining; the gravy ended up being pretty good. I was happy with the taste, and I’m a gravy fan.

Now for the peas. Alas, the peas. And I was so excited about them, too.

Peas in Processor

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the green peas, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the peas, transfer half to a food processor and coarsely puree. Stir the puree back into the remaining peas. Add the reserved fat from the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of wine and the mint. Season with salt and pepper.

I absolutely loved the texture of the peas. Mixing half mashed with whole — why hadn’t I ever thought of this before? Unfortunately, everything else tasted miserable to me. I did like the attempt at brightening up the meal with some mint and wine, but I just wasn’t a fan. Possibly the problem was that I didn’t have the three tablespoons of chicken fat to add to the peas, but I don’t think it would have saved it from the mint. Neither of us touched our peas and we agreed that it should have just had a little simple butter.

Peas in Pot - Mashed & Whole Mixed Together

On the plus side, I am now a huge fan of the half pureed peas and half whole, which I think is pretty amazing, since peas aren’t exactly my vegetable to eat as a side. If I had made this with a little butter or salt, it would have been dynamite.

Transfer the chicken breasts and potatoes to plates. Spoon the mashed peas alongside and serve with the pan sauce.

Here’s the plated finale (yeah, with my sunny plates again), right before we dug into the drumsticks and put them back into the oven – a big disappointment, especially since I really did like the gravy.

Chicken with Potatoes and Mashed Peas

Overall, this was fantastic. With a little bit of tweaking, this could become a regular dish in my house. I liked the gravy very much, the potatoes were simple and delicious and, if I switched the poultry to be breasts, it would be a winner. The peas will appear on the side of many dishes to come, though mixed only with a bit of salted butter. Forget the mint? I already have.

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