Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Manly Men Doing Manly Things

Master chef Ken RobertsThere are two things my father and I do when I pay a visit: golf and cook. Well, we eat too, so better make that three things. Usually, I can't get an elbow in the kitchen when Dad's around, but lately he's relinquished his apron and wooden spoon. I still defer to the master, however.

Last visit I managed two whole dinners under his watchful eye. The first wasn't much, just a 4-alarm, three-meat chili with cornbread. Pop loves cornbread. The second, however, was a real winner; my version of chicken cacciatore served over parmesan polenta. Dad was hooked.

Cacciatore is a "hunter" style dish with a tomato, onion, mushroom and herb base. There are lots of variations based mainly on what happens to be in your larder at any given moment. Don't be afraid to experiment. The key is to marry flavors in a hearty and satisfying way.
 
Chicken cacciatore
4lbs fryer chicken legs and thighs
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1½ cups baby portabella mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
2Tbs capers
4 anchovy filets
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1½ cups dry white wine
2½ cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Parmesan Polenta
1 cup polenta (yellow corn meal)
4 cups chicken stock
4 strips thick cut smoky bacon
½ cup grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4Tbs unsalted butter, cubed
 
Vegetable prepIt's best to get all your prep work out of the way first so that you can have a smooth-running assembly line once you begin browning your chicken and bacon.

Place the bacon in the freezer while you're chopping the rest of your vegetables. This will make it easier to cube later.

Brush off the mushrooms to remove loose soil, de-stem, halve the smaller caps and quarter the larger ones. Halve the onion and give a medium slice. Set up a dredging station with one large shallow bowl for flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and another for the eggs whisked into the milk.

Remove the bacon from the freezer after about 10 minutes, make thin slices length-wise down each piece (about ¼" wide). Cube each slice at ¼" and brown in a small skillet over medium heat.
 
Bacon browning in skillet While bacon is browning, sop chicken pieces in egg wash, then dredge through the flour, shaking off excess. Arrange chicken pieces in a Dutch oven pre-heated with oil over medium-high heat. Keep some space between chicken pieces. If your Dutch oven is not big enough to accommodate all the chicken, cook in batches. Brown chicken on both sides (8-10 minutes per side), remove from pot and set aside. Remove browned bacon from skillet and set aside as well.
 
Browning mushroomsAdd bay leaves, capers and anchovy to the bottom of the Dutch oven and heat through until the filets dissolve. Add onion and garlic and let sweat until translucent. Toss in mushrooms and begin to brown until most of the moisture has evaporated from the caps. Pour in the crushed tomatoes heat through and then nestle the browned chicken into the bottom of the pot. Add the wine and chicken stock. You want just enough liquid to come up to the top of the chicken, but it should not be swimming in sauce.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover Dutch oven and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken meat begins to fall off the bone. Remove from heat and allow to set while covered.
 
While the chicken simmers, slowly pour polenta into a large sauce pan of boiling chicken broth, whisking constantly until all the corn meal is added. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to stir polenta regularly, making sure to scrape the corners of your sauce pan to prevent burning.

After about 25 minutes the corn meal should have thickened considerably and much of the moisture reduced. Remove polenta from heat and stir in the bacon, add the grated cheese and incorporate thoroughly. Just before serving, stir in the butter a few pieces at a time to add a silkiness to your polenta.

I do not salt my polenta. The cheese should have plenty of saltiness to it, but you should taste the polenta before serving and adjust the seasoning.
 
Ladle a healthy portion of polenta into a shallow bowl. Spoon chicken and sauce over the top. Garnish with some shaved Parmigiano cheese and serve. Serves four with plenty left over for the next day's lunch when the sauce will be even richer and more powerful.
 
Polenta is just a finer grind of cornmeal. Like grits uptown, I guess you could say. Pour any leftover grits into a small, square baking pan, cover and refrigerate. The next day, you can cut up and fry polenta squares to serve with breakfast, or bake the whole pan, cutting the finished polenta into wedges and serving as a side with dinner. Polenta is just amazingly versatile.
 
Chicken cacciatore and polentaThis dish will have rich earthy flavors from the mushrooms and tomatoes, tender chicken and a fresh, almost lemony lightness from the wine, bay leaves and capers. The polenta adds a sweet bass note from the corn and a salty textured feel from the bacon and cheese.

Pinot noirs and Beaujolais compliment this dish perfectly. If people don't go for seconds with this one, I'll give you your money back.
 
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
 

1 comment:

SurfLlama said...

It's Pops O' Food. I love that guy!