Monday, September 7, 2009

Thyme Coated Chicken with Balsamic Reduction

This chicken is another riff of an Andrea Immer Robinson recipe. She constantly preaches the wine-friendliness of dried thyme, to the point where I worry about the state of her darling mind. But like any good parishioner, I finally broke down and bought a bottle.

I was afraid that using dried thyme to coat protein would be too earthy, like biting into a hay bale, but I was wrong. The flavors were delicate and mellow, actually accentuating the juiciness of the chicken rather than taking center stage. And the balsamic reduction that goes with it? I could bathe in the stuff. The addition of chocolate is optional - if you only have milk or semi sweet on hand instead of dark, omit the honey and taste first. It might be sweet enough without it.

BTW - this is LOVELY with Pinot Noir, for my wino readers out there.

TIP 1: Buy chicken breast cutlets versus breasts so you don't have to pound them yourself or ask your butcher to pound them into scallopini for you.

TIP 2: Get your oil in the pan hot before searing your chicken, letting it heat through for at least a minute before adding the meat. You can test it buy dipping just the edge of a chicken cutlet into the oil. If it sits there lackadaisically in silence, keep waiting. Otherwise you'll get heavy, lifeless chicken versus juicy seared pieces.

Thyme Coated Chicken with Balsamic Reduction
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets, or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise in half and pounded into 1/2 thickness giving you 4 pieces
Lots of dried thyme - about 2 heaping tablespoons or more, for coating
salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 tablespoon butter (small pat)
1 lady's thumb-sized piece of dark chocolate (I use Green and Black's 70% Dark Chocolate)
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees - or 'warmer' setting.

Season both sides of your chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, then pour the dried thyme over them, turning to coat and making sure every inch is covered with the green flecks (you may need more than 2 tablespoons.) Don't worry - the chicken can only hold so much so you won't 'over do it' - but you want a good coating.

Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large, rimmed skillet and bring to medium heat, letting the oil heat through for at least one minute (see tip above.) Once the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts carefully spreading out evenly in the pan, then don't touch them for 3 minutes. (If your oil is really spitting like mad after they've all been added, reduce your heat slightly.) After 3 minutes, lift up one of the edges of the chicken, checking to see if you've got a nice, golden crust yet. If so, carefully flip. If not, wait another minute, then check again. Once on the second side - they should only need another 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.

Transfer the chicken to a heat proof dish and put in a low oven to keep warm (about 200 degrees.) If you're worried your oven is too hot - keep the door open - you don't want to dry the chicken out.

Meanwhile, drain any extra oil from your pan and discard, leaving just a thin layer behind. Return to medium heat, then add the balsamic vinegar, stirring briefly to scrape up any browned bits off the bottom, then letting it bubble and hiss away like witches' brew for a couple of minutes until it reduces and thickens (a good trick is to see if your wooden spoon leaves a wake behind when you drag it through. If it does - it's thickened.) Carefully add your red wine (the proper police say to take it off the heat briefly to do so.) Stir quickly, then let bubble and reduce down some more - about 2 minutes - or until what you're staring at in the pan is no doubt, SAUCE looking. Reduce heat to low and stir in your honey and butter and chocolate if adding. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, tasting before adding more. Don't ask me why but this sauce seems to mellow and taste even better if allowed to sit for a few minutes contemplating life - which is fine, given that you can leave the chicken in the LOW oven during this time. Not a necessary step, but a good one.

Remove chicken from the oven, plate, and drizzle the reduction over and around.

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