Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Ceiling's Raining Chicken (Pan Seared Chicken with Mushrooms, Shallots, and Dijon)

A little over two years ago, my husband and I moved from corporate housing into our new NYC townhouse. We were ecstatic. The townhouse was located in the West Village on a quaint, tree lined street. The building we moved into was even featured on the historic walking tour (it's rumored to be the building John Wilkes Boothe conspired to kill Lincoln in, was used as in the film 'Reds' as Jack Nicholsen's character's home and was also real life home to poet Hart Crane.)

The apartment fulfilled my New York fantasy to a T, looking similar to the one in Rosemary's Baby (my favorite movie) with 18' ceilings, classic details throughout, and an imported Venetian chandelier that was so gaudy you couldn't NOT fall in love with it.

The love affair was short lived. We hadn't been in the apartment two weeks when things started going awry. The hot water mysteriously vanished each morning, just as we were showering for work. And with those high ceilings and only a window unit to cool things down in a New York August, it was HOT. For someone who loves to cook, this wasn't only inconvenient but devastating. I began to actually fear my oven, as turning it on meant raising the temp another 20 degrees inside.

But we were still new to NY and blindly in love so we dealt with it. The water went out altogether one day and our landlord, who I began to despise and bizarrely love at the same time (he called us back which is unusual for landlords in this city) would come over, scratch his head and say 'Welcome to New York' as if each hardship we were endured was a fraternity pledge week ritual and something we would look back upon later as necessary stepping stones to becoming a true New Yorker.

The Friday before Labor Day weekend, we came home to a particularly nasty stepping stone. The ceiling in the kitchen was leaking. And I don't mean 'drip-drip-drip' kind of leaking - I mean a steady stream of horse pee coming down through a bubble in the ceiling with another bubble welling up just a couple of feet down. The kind of leaking that if uninterrupted, could result in the entire ceiling coming down on top of our heads.

I sprinted out the apartment door and up the hallway stairs to our neighbors who incredibly, were home (holiday weekends in New York are a mystery in and of themselves - all the residents literally do a disappearing act and become replaced by camera wielding tourists.) The problem was - it wasn't coming from them - but instead from the 3rd or 4th floor whose tenants were out of town.

So began the panic stricken call to our beloved/hated landlord.

"It's fine," he said. "This sort of thing happens all the time. We'll get it looked at on Tuesday."

Fine???? We tried to explain - in as slow and rational English as possible that it wasn't only not fine - but that the damage about to happen would run him thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

"Picture this," I said, trying to speak calmly though tears were shooting from my eyeballs in spurts as if from a cheap, miniature water gun inside of them. "Your ceiling is about to come down. That means that the apartment it's coming from somewhere above us could be flooded. And eventually that water will make its way down - floor by floor, rendering all of the renovation you've done on the building nill. You could be out of tenants by Monday."

That got his attention and soon enough a handyman who mysteriously had keys to the building appeared along with a plumber (this I can assure you - on a Friday night before Labor Day - is as rare as reuniting with your first armpit hair. It just doesn't happen.)

Eventually the water went from a steady stream to a drip-drip-drip indicating they had found the source above and stopped it. And everything was fine. We were living in an apartment - the rent of which I am too ashamed to admit to most sober, rational people - that had been more of a pain in the ass in the first two weeks than sextuplets with a bad case of diaper rash. Because of the rainy ceiling, we had to set so many buckets out to catch the mold/asbestos/lead water that you couldn't walk through the kitchen without playing a mean game of Twister.

As I looked around the kitchen , observing what just hours before had been freshly painted walls, now wet and sodden flanking the nearly caved-in ceiling overhead, all of the panic/fear/anxiety suddenly left me. I still don't recall this, but apparently I went to the cabinet to retrieve pots and pans, then to the fridge.

"You're cooking?" my husband asked, rightfully fearful of this sudden, ill-timed zen-ness.

The following recipe is what came out. As I chopped the shallots and watched them become pink and then translucent in the pan, I began to breathe again. Everything was going to be alright.

I was a New Yorker. I couldn't control the hot water, the ceiling caving in, or the homeless person who occasionally pooped in our entryway. But by God - I could control my own dinner. So I did.

Pan Seared Chicken with Mushrooms, Shallots, and Dijon
Serves 3.

1 tablespoon olive oil (enough to coat your skillet with a thin layer)
3 boneless skinless chicken breast, seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper and dredged lightly in 1/3 flour
Additional olive oil - about a teaspoon
1 heaping cup thinly sliced shallots
white pepper and salt, for seasoning
5 oz package sliced Shitake mushrooms
1 cup dry white wine or Champagne
1/2 teaspoon whole grain dijon mustard
1 tablespoon butter

Heat the olive oil in a large, rimmed nonstick skillet (with a lid) over medium heat for at least one minute, until glistening and 'hisses' when you add your chicken. Add the chicken, cooking about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, then flipped and cooked another 3-4 minutes or golden brown on the other side.

Remove the chicken to a waiting plate. Add the additional olive oil to the pan, then the shallots seasoning with salt and white pepper. This next step is important - reduce the heat a little as you DO NOT want to cook the shallots too quickly or they won't soften and release their starches. Saute them slowly - about 8 minutes until they begin to soften and become translucent. Add the mushrooms, seasoning with a little more salt. Place the lid on the pan and cook over low-medium heat for 4 minutes, until the mushrooms release some of their liquid and wilt/brown.

Remove the lid and add the white wine or Champagne, raising the heat back to medium/high to bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom. Let the liquid cook down, stirring occasionally for about 6-8 minutes until the majority of the wine has evaporated. Add the mustard and butter, lowering the heat to low and stirring well to incorporate. Return the chicken to the mixture to reheat for 2 minutes.

Serve warm.

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