Saturday, January 30, 2010

Golden Pan Seared Chicken with Quick Bacon Tomato Sauce

Tomato paste is the Spanx of ingredients. It gives an instant lift to practically anything - that little somethin' something'. You can use it for its hit-you-over-the-head tomato kick or simply to round out an unbalanced sauce by adding just a dab.

Here I do want that hit-you-over-the-head tomato flavor to play off the salty bacon and sweet shallots, but as you can see it doesn't take much. And I should caveat that when I say 'sauce' here, I don't mean the traditional Italian grandma kind you make by the bucket full. By the time you reduce the white wine and stir in the paste, there will be just enough of it to coat the chicken in its auburn stickiness. But what it lacks in volume it makes up for in flavor. (Spanx, remember?)

The most exciting part of making this is that you have a chance to steer the fates of others with a simple wave of your wooden spoon. You can add a luscious hit of carmelized garlic at the end cooking by mushing the cloves into the pan sauce (1 or both - depends on how much garlic flavor you want) or you can omit them. Garlic haters will never know it was there as the cloves remain whole throughout cooking infusing the sauce with an ever so subtle but important sweetness. As for me - I mushed in a clove on my own plate to avoid any grief from the husband. He tends to side with the vampires on that particular vegetable...

Golden Pan Seared Chicken with Quick Bacon Tomato Sauce

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
kosher or sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
pinch sea or kosher salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly 'smashed'
4 strips good quality bacon, snipped with kitchen shears into 1/4 inch wide strips
1/3 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1/4 teaspoon double concentrated tomato paste, such as Amore brand

Season your chicken on one side with salt and pepper then lightly dredge both sides in flour shaking off excess. Set aside. Add your olive oil and butter to a large, rimmed skillet and bring over medium heat until melted and coating the entire bottom. Add the shallots and garlic cloves to the pan, seasoning with salt and pepper and cook, stirring every so often until softened - about 5 minutes. If they fry and spit too much when you add them, reduce the heat a little. Slow and steady is the key to bringing out their sweetness plus you don't want to burn the garlic. Add in the bacon, stirring in and letting cook for another 5-7 minutes until cooked through and lightly crispy but not hard.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon/shallots/garlic to a small bowl and set aside, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible. Bring the pan back over medium heat, adding in more olive oil if for some reason the pan looks dry. Once hot again, add the chicken breasts, placing them evenly around the pan and getting a nice sear.

Let cook for about 4 minutes on the first side (you can pick up the corner of one with your tongs - if it's nice and golden, it's ready to flip.) Then carefully flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the second side or until cooked through. IF YOU HAVE UNUSUALLY THICK CHICKEN BREASTS, YOU CAN TRANSFER THEM TO A 350 OVEN TO LET FINISH COOKING OTHERWISE THE LEFTOVER RESIDUE ON THE BOTTOM OF YOUR PAN MAY BEGIN TO GET TOO DARK AND BURN.

Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the chicken to a plate and tint with foil to keep warm. Put the pan back on the heat and pour over the white wine or vermouth. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and reduce the wine by half. At this point, lower the heat and dump the shallot mixture back in stirring well to blend with the wine. Stir in the tomato paste then add your chicken breasts back in, nestling in the sauce to coat (I like to turn them over in it) and letting warm back through for a couple of minutes with the heat on low.

At this point you can decide the fate of the garlic cloves - either mushing them into the sauce or tossing them out - then plate up, piling the sticky shallot and bacon mixture over the top of each breast.

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